I’m a London-dwelling Aussie, who loves start ups, coffee and the transformative power of the right pair of shoes. My family comprises my lovely husband James and our kids: Sam who is 6½ and usually found making something or climbing a tree, and Sydney who is 4½ going on 12 and spends most of her time ordering us to “just pretend” something or other. I’m sure you know how important those extra half years are!
My main focus is Runneth London, a career and start up coaching business I launched in 2015 to help women to achieve the working life they want. I love helping people work out what they want to do next in their career or business, and then giving them the tools to make it a reality. I have co-founded and founded various businesses over the years – a luxury matchmaking business, a parenting advisory business, a social media agency and Runneth – all of which have at their heart a focus on helping people and on matching.
Kinfo: What have you found the most challenging thing since you became a mum? And the most enjoyable part?
Many of the women I coach find the balancing of work and family demands the hardest challenge in the parenthood transition. In this respect, I feel I was very lucky to have already made the move from corporate life – at big businesses like BT and PwC, then smaller businesses like Everyman Cinemas – to working for myself before kids came along. I was already marketing myself, running a small consulting business, and working flexibly and often at home, so none of these things were new to me when my co-founder Suze and I set up our first business together (the matchmaking business). Soon after, I became pregnant with my son. Having a co-founder meant that I could step away from the business for as long as I needed when Sam was born, although I chose to ease back in to work after about three months. Suze and I went on to have 3 more babies between us over the following 3 years, with alternating pregnancies, so luckily one of us was always there to hold the fort. We both theoretically worked part time and flexibly once we had children – although often the actual hours would equate to a full time plus, City-style, job.
So my biggest challenge was not that, it was something quite different. It was being forced to be (somewhat) more organised. I am really a creative entrepreneur at heart and I thrive on variety and newness, which is great but not entirely practical when there are now also 2 children and 2 businesses to organise. But I have surprised myself by actually starting to enjoy it. I now live and die by my paper-based Masterplan Diary and a printed Excel spreadsheet (for the kids various weekday activities, drop off and pick up arrangements, homework due dates, etc). I’m also slowly KonMarie’ing our home, which helps keep things under control.
As for the most enjoyable bit of being a parent, that’s easy – my kids! I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed every stage so far, from newborns to toddlers, and now that they are very funny small people. With the odd tantrum of course, and several ‘not sleeping’ phases along the way. But aside from that, it’s been great fun. Someone once said that children bring colour to your life and I heartily agree.
Kinfo: As a serial entrepreneur, how do you manage your home/life balance? Do you have any tips for working mums on how to get best of their time with the kids?
Over the years I’ve had different work schedules to fit around my work commitments and available childcare. At the moment, I work 2-3 full days per week (8.30am-6.00pm), and 2-3 shorter days (8.30-2.30pm). I collect my children from school on the shorter days so we have some midweek time together – usually spent ferrying them to activities or “encouraging” them to do their homework. And then I log on and usually work until close to midnight. On the flip side, I get to see my kids in the mornings, collect them from school some days, and am almost always there for school plays, sports days, etc.
I feel very lucky in the balance that I have but know that each person’s balance is different. My working pattern will definitely not suit everyone.
I often suggest to my clients that they really step back and think hard about what time they want to spend with their family. For some people, dropping off and collecting their children from childcare/school is core to how they envisage parenting. For others, perhaps they are an early riser and most productive in the mornings, so they might head into the office very early, leaving the drop off to their partner or nanny/au pair. But, having started early, they might be back in time to spend some time with their family in afternoons or early evenings. Or the opposite. Some people would rather (or have to) focus entirely on their work during the week, and are very squeezed even to be there for the occasional good morning or good night kiss with their children – but they might keep the weekends sacred and not work at all.
There is no right and no wrong. Children will be happy and will thrive if their parents have their personal balance right, so I always say to follow your heart on this as much as the practicalities allow.
As for other tips, I recommend:
- Build a team of supporters. You may have a partner/nanny/au pair/babysitter/grandparent/friend who can help and that’s great but what if he/she is sick/away/otherwise committed. I always try to have several people I could call in an emergency or for random extra work days and babysitting. I currently have five such people on speed dial plus a wonderful mother-in-law.
- Online grocery shopping is your friend – it saves time and money!
- Outsource where you can – ironing, cleaning, a travel agent, even a virtual PA if you need some help with just generally organising things.
- Look at your workload at home and discuss the balance with your partner. As I’ve talked about before, my husband would freak out if asked to decide what to dress our kids in – despite being better at selecting outfits than me on the rare occasions he has done it – but he does more than his share of laundry, grocery shopping, dishwasher stacking, and even runs our family social diary. Open up a conversation and see how you can effectively manage what needs to be done between you, or agree what can be outsourced (see above). Also remember that children can help out as they get bigger – research shows that it’s great for their self-esteem as well as developing life skills.
- Include the kids where you can in your own activities. For example, exercising - more than once my son has cycled alongside (or rather, in front of) me when I’ve been out for a jog, and we sometimes take our kids swimming at the weekends but my husband and I each escape for a quick 20 minutes to do some laps while the other parent plays with the kids.
- Batch cook and/or build a list of super quick and easy recipes that can be on the table in 5 minutes flat (eggy toast, breakfast cereal for dinner, etc).
- Check your energy levels and make sure you are keeping 20% in the tank for the unexpected, emergencies, late nights, illness, work crises, etc. Exercise, healthy food, some quiet time (reading, meditating), or doing something creative, can all help to recharge those batteries.
- [Holidays sometimes help but if you have a baby or very small children you may well come back more exhausted than when you set off J It does get better, I promise!]
- And my final tip, remember to spend 10% (or more) of your working time ON your job not just IN your job. Working mothers seem to be amazing at getting the job done – we are super efficient, calm in a crisis, not distracted by petty office politics. But we often forget that work is not just about ticking off tasks. It is also about all the wider network building, ongoing learning, and so on. We also need to work ON our careers in order to thrive in the long term.
Kinfo: What do you do regarding work when your kids are sick?
I am very lucky to mostly be able to dictate my own diary and, unless I have a client or partner meeting booked, I will take time off to look after my children when they are ill. However, it’s not always possible and then I call on my lovely army (see answer 2) to step in. My husband also sometimes works from home and can, on those days, oversee a not-so-sick-that-she-can’t-watch-Moana-again child. Luckily something has always worked out and, equally luckily, my kids don’t often get sick.
Research shows that getting outside and getting dirty can really help with immunity so I guess that’s one upside of all the muddy clothes we wash!
Kinfo: What would make your life easier as a working mother?
All the T’s:
- a tele-transporter, so I can be anywhere in an instant – with the school run done in 2 minutes flat, dashing from meeting to meeting in mere seconds.
- a time machine, so that I could stretch time and have 40 hours in a day – with more time at work, more time with my family and friends, and more time for myself.
tax-free childcare. Like many working parents, my childcare is not a luxury: it is a necessity for me to work. So it seems crazy that it is not either tax-free (beyond the very limited old Childcare Voucher or new Tax Free Childcare schemes) or an allowable tax-deductible expense.
Kinfo: How important are outdoor activities for your children and your family in general? How do you manage them when it’s rainy/cold/dark at 3pm?
Great question! I’m Australian and was raised outdoors – cycling to school every day, playing in the garden, swimming at the beach, canoeing across a lake from my Grandparents’ home to a remote National Park for afternoons of rock hopping and tree climbing. And many of my childhood memories of my mum involve her scooting us kids outside for “some fresh air”. So I am delighted that my kids have an equally outdoorsy life in London. We are very fortunate to live on a communal garden which means that, even on lazy days, there are trees to climb, friends to meet, bugs to be inspected, and swings to be swung. We also try to cycle to school some days (although not in Winter!).
The long afternoons used to feel much longer when my kids were littler, but now they get home at around 4ish, so there’s often just time for a quick play or homework, before we start the dinner/reading/bedtime dash. When they were smaller, we would just dress for the weather and still go out – London’s weather is never actually as bad as it looks when you are indoors looking out at it! Or I would set up a step ladder in our lounge, or a sofa/chair obstacle course, and let them climb/jump to their heart’s content. They now make their own obstacle courses or jump out their seemingly boundless energy on our bed!
Kinfo: Do your kids use screens at home? Do you have any rules about screen time? Any other tips to help parents managing the increasing digital demand of their kids ?
Yes, my kids use screens. So do I. I’m a pragmatist. Mostly my children play with somewhat educational apps – Thinkrolls, CBeebies, Teach Your Monster to Read, Squeebles, DragonBox – when they are ready for school early (which is rare), or for half an hour’s downtime at weekends. Luckily they both love making things – my recycling box is never safe! – so they are just as likely to be busy building something out of cardboard, or making up a play, or kicking a football.
We did have one problem though. Over a few months, my daughter became semi-addicted to Youtube videos of dolls called Ania and Elsia (with a vague Frozen connection), which are made up by American girls. They had no real plot and, although they were entirely benign, I found that she would want to watch hours of them and then would go crazy when we tried to take away the tablet. So, that is now banned. We’re all much happier without it in our lives.
I don’t have any amazing tips for parents except that you can control which apps on your iPhone or tablet can be accessed without a password (via security settings). So you can require a password before your child can use Safari (to find YouTube videos, for example). YouTube Kids is also safer than the normal YouTube app (except for music videos which it seems to lack), especially if you turn off the automated suggestions in the Parental Control section, so that kids can’t navigate their way to content you don’t want them to see. This suggestion for ending screentime without tantrums has also been getting a good response and might be worth trying: https://www.parent.com/how-to-end-screen-time-without-a-struggle/
These ideas will perhaps help parents with younger children but keeping an open discussion and helping children to learn about safe usage is probably the best strategy. After all, it won’t be long before our tiny app-loving kids are demanding Snapchat, Instagram, and the-latest-US-teen-app which we know little about, and our ability to control what they use/see will be lost. So setting good foundations is crucial.
Kinfo: What are your go-to resources when thinking about what to do during the weekends or holidays?
Other mums. Very occasionally I will look up activities or holidays, but for the most part I ask friends or use their recommendations. Mums really do know best!
Kinfo: As Christmas is around the corner: can you recommend toys your kids have received and loved it more than any others? Any recommended Christmas events?
Last year we got an Elf (Elf on the Shelf), which made the lead up to Christmas fun. He was very naughty and got up to lots of mischief each night. We also love the Christmas Carols by candlelight at St Marks Church on Hamilton Terrace, which is warm and welcoming to non-churchgoers like us. This Christmas we are going to do a reverse Advent Calendar, where we will put canned food items in a basket each day and then donate it to the North Paddington Food Bank.
As for Christmas presents to recommend… I find the traditional gifts are the ones that last - books, scooters, bikes, board games, etc. Last year both my kids were given a magazine subscription by their aunt and uncle and they have enjoyed both receiving post in their own name and the magazines themselves. My daughter got the Okido one, my son got Whizz Pop Bang. We’ll do something similar this year.
Kinfo: Finally, where can other parents find you? (Blog, Twitter handle, Facebook pages etc)?
Please come and say Hi on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn – we’re everywhere under the name Runneth London or @runnethlondon. We also have a Facebook group called Working Mum's Hub for mums who are currently working or would like to return to work. On our website, www.runnethlondon.com, and on our social media, we regularly share family-friendly jobs, and jobs for returners, plus career and start up tips and advice, and our inspiring interviews with real working mums.
If you’d like to focus on your career in 2018 (to step up, return to work, or change careers), we’re running a free online career bootcamp in January, which you are very welcome to join. More details and how to join are here: http://bit.ly/JanuaryCareerBootcamp
Interview realised in November 2017.