Working Mums Club — what it’s really like to juggle work + parenting
With two working mums at the helm of Mustard, we know the juggle of trying to ‘have it all’ oh so well. What is that ‘all’? Some kind of balance between paid work, parenting, creating a happy, mostly tidy home, self-care, having a social life, eating regularly (and not always kids’ leftovers), getting fresh air and meditating on the reg. Well, something like that anyway. It’s enough to make us wonder… how do other women do it?
The truth is, bias against women, particularly mothers, contributes to them being less likely to be considered for roles than their male counterparts, and women are more likely to consider leaving their jobs due to inflexibility of employers or being judged more harshly than their male colleagues. Being a woman in the workplace isn’t always so straightforward, which makes ‘having it all’ for working Mums a bit tricker when the odds are already stacked against you!
At Mustard, we want to take steps towards changing that. Now we’re certainly not here to breed any more comparisonitis, every mother finds their own path and no doubt has their own struggles and triumphs. We asked the mothers here at Mustard some questions to see what we could learn from each other this IWD, and also, how we could support them better too.
Becca • Mum to Dylan (12) Ellis (5) Otis (1)
Why do you work?
I had Dylan when I was 21 so adult life for me has really always been about mixing parenting and work. There have been times where I’ve worked more and times I haven’t worked at all since he was born so I feel like I’ve experienced many different seasons in my parenting journey. I’ve always wanted my three children to see that I’m a whole, complex, interesting person so doing things separate from them (work or otherwise) has been important to me. I really started working for myself because I felt like I was unemployable as a (then) single mother and after a bad experience with an inflexible employer, I started plotting my own path to creating my first real business. Now it’s such a part of who I am and gives me a deep sense of satisfaction and achievement. I also now have a responsibility to my team to show up for them and keep trying my best to nurture this business and the careers they are evolving within it.
What’s the hardest part about being a working mum?
With three kids and a more-than-full-time job, there isn’t a whole lot of time in the week for me. I’d love some more time to relax, to see friends or have hobbies!
What have you learnt the hard way?
Working for myself has given me a lot of freedom, I can choose my own hours which is invaluable to me. On the flip side, it’s really hard to switch off and while the hours are flexible, I work a lot and always feel like there’s more I could do. One of the hardest lessons for me to learn was to keep work and parenting separate. Life is so much better when I can focus on one thing at a time and not be working when my kids are around! Now I have set working hours when my children are at daycare and school and I work in our lovely office, not at home, so I’m not constantly switching modes or trying to get the laundry done!
Jess • Mum to Poppy (6 months)
What do you wish someone told you before you became a mother?
I am not sure that there is one piece of advice that would have made the past 6 months easier but I would say there have been nuggets along the way that have helped in the wee hours of the night.
“Everything is a phase”
“Don’t compare yourself or your baby to others around you”
“Your baby loves you no matter how much they cry at you”
“You are all your baby needs”
What has helped you juggle work and parenting?
Marc. And a very understanding team at Mustard.
Marc has been my saviour and without him by my side things would have been a whole lot tougher. I would have been a lot tougher on myself. He has patience when Poppy cries, stamina to rock for hours on end and he cooks.
My team have been amazing. They have been supportive of us as a family and been there to answer my sometimes blunt, badly-written-at-3am work requests.
Have you discovered any parenting hacks to help you get work done?
Not sure it is a hack but trying to work whilst holding a baby is just not a thing. It is hard, exhausting and unproductive. The time to work is those snippets of time you have away from your baby. Maybe whilst they nap or maybe whilst they have been taken out for a walk. Make mum time be mum time and work time be work time. Mixing the two is unfair and hard work.
Tash • Mum to Peyton (8) Scarlett (6) Quinn (3)
With three kids and working three days a week, how do you find time for yourself?
It took me a really long time to carve this out but Wednesday is ‘my day’ - the day I don’t hold myself accountable if I don’t do the laundry. Until School pickup if I want to pop to a Pilates class or go for a wander around town I can and I’m incredibly fortunate to have that. It’s essential to my emotional wellbeing and my mental health. Life is busy and intense and it’s the time I get to slow down and listen to my own needs. My eldest has special needs and as other SEN parents + caregivers will know, having time to yourself is essential. I also try to creep away and have a hot bath once all the kids are down for the night, which resets me for the evening.
What’s the secret to a really good work day?
The best team, uplifting music, a clear space and head - oh and the best snacks :)
It’s also finding your rhythm - I know I work best first thing so I tackle the big tasks then when my head is the clearest.
How can employers make life easier for working mothers?
I think what Anna Whitehouse (aka Mother Pukka) is campaigning for with her #flexappeal is the place to start - flexible working. Allowing working mothers to carve out their own work week. The trust to know that if they are going on the school run that they will make up that time — and I’m so grateful that Mustard get that. In my experience working mothers work harder than anyone I know because they are so used to juggling so much all the time and having so many plates in the air. We get things done!
One of the silver linings of the past 2 years is that working from home has become more acceptable to employers. I split my time between the office and home which also makes my life easier figuring out who is taking or getting the kids (which my husband and I share). I love the collaborative office environment (it’s affectionately referred to as ‘my happy place’) and also being around my amazing and hilarious colleagues - but I also love getting my head down at home and being able to focus intensely on projects when needed.
Niki • Mum to Elsie (5) Flynn (2) Riley (1)
What’s the secret to nailing the juggle?
I don’t know if there’s any secret, or if I’ve ever actually nailed it :P I think having strong boundaries around my work time versus family time is really helpful, but not always something I remember to stick to!
I try to be realistic about the fact that I can’t do/be everything all at once and there will almost always be a ball or two that’s going to be dropped. Then it’s really about knowing which balls are ok to be dropped (like putting away the laundry), and which ones really need to be kept in the air (like quality time together, exercise, time on my own).
(Also, acknowledging that kids can be assholes and sometimes wine is the only answer seems to be helpful :P)
Is there anything you really wish people knew about what it’s like to return to work after having a baby?
Work is really important to me, it’s something I love and I know I’m a better mum when I’m able to have ‘grown up’ work time. It’s also really important to me that my kids know that there is more to my identity than ‘snack-maker’ aka mum, that I’m my own person outside of my relationship to them.
Having the flexibility to work in a way that suits my family and my availability gave me the option to come back into the workforce sooner. Bringing my littlest into the office with me here at Mustard last year, without feeling like I was losing time with my baby, helped me hold on to my sense of self, which is so easy to lose when you’re in the thick of the early parenting years.
Working with young kids is hard, but for me it’s invaluable, and I feel so lucky to be part of a team that gets it and actively supports us as mums. That shouldn’t be the exception, it should be the rule. The more we can do to support mums in returning to work, whether that’s at home, in the office or a combination of both, the better it is for everyone!
What does ‘having it all’ mean to you?
To me, having it all means having time for all the important things in my life. Enough time with my kids, with my hubby, on my own, for work, exercise, with friends and family… And then being present enough to enjoy each of those things as they’re happening! I guess, to go back to my earlier point, that means having strong personal boundaries that allow me to delineate between my time in all those areas, so I can focus on where I am, rather than being caught up in worrying about something else.
Emily • Mum to Finn (4) Mack (3) Ella (1)
What does work mean to you?
I’ve always loved working and I now value it even more as a parent. It allows me to be something other than Mum all the time, (even though I am still Mum at work) I am also Em - the very capable woman who can do many wonderful things at Mustard! It has been an adjustment as the kids have come along and learning the new work/life/family balance is definitely a transition, especially when more than one child is in the picture. But I have come to realise that I need to work as a Mum! I want to show my children that both parents can contribute to the family in all of the ways. Mum can work too and Dad can take time away from work to be with the family.
Is there something that could make it easier for you to master the art of the juggle?
Can I say a cook, cleaner and full time nanny? But genuinely the juggle of parenthood is such a learned skill and is always changing (still learning and evolving over here!). There isn’t a guide on how to do it and it looks different for every family. But I think what most families and parents have in common is that they quickly realise that something has got to give - there are only 24 hours in a day. Sometimes it’s time with your partner, time with the kids, sleep or house duties. I have learnt to manage my expectations and place importance on spending time on things that fill my cup and make my family happy and fulfilled (I say let the laundry sit there for another day).
What does your morning look like on a work day?
Morning time is my thrive time, I love it! 5am start everyday with ‘me’ time at the gym (I drag myself there regardless of how many times I was woken throughout the night) then home to sleepy babes around 6am and a hot coffee with Dylan. Then it is absolute chaos 4 days of the week, packing 464567 bags, remembering all the water bottles, changes of clothes, shoes and special daycare things… oh and my lunch and work computer too! Drop off the little one at Nana’s (or daycare depending on the day) and the big boys at daycare all by 7.30. Then a relaxing coffee filled half hour drive to work — isn’t it weird how a commute in peak hour is relaxing now :)
Vilma • Mum to Una (4)
What does flexible working mean for you?
It is the only way I could work as a mother, living in a big city like London. With flexible hours I can commute to the office a few times a week, get my work done, pick up my daughter from nursery, run errands and do housework. I am beyond grateful that Mustard has offered that flexibility since day one and it’s one of the big reasons why I love working here so much!
Tell us something you’ve learnt about parenting that you weren't expecting.
That it changes everything, I mean EVERYTHING. It changes you, it changes your relationships, how you see yourself, others and the world but mostly in a good way! I also wasn’t expecting to be able to survive and function with such little sleep (this was more when Una was a baby - pretty lucky to now have a girl who loves to sleep as much as I do!)
Is there such thing as work/life balance?
If there isn’t there 100% should be! I’ve been in some jobs in the past where there was no balance and it’s super draining and slowly eating you from the inside out. Having the work/life balance is just vital and means different things to different people but personally I find that it helps reduce stress, being present in the moment and just feeling more constantly steady!
It's the people who really make the Mustard you know (and hopefully love!) and we wouldn't be the business we are today without all of these wonderful working Mums on our team. To continue to #Breakthebias in the workplace and beyond, not just for Mothers but all women, the biggest strength we have are our own stories. By speaking out against the prejudices against us, we can begin to change the narrative.