Stay at Home Mum. Is It Enough?

I’ve lost count of the amount of times people have asked me “When are you going back to work?”

Sometimes I’m amused by this question. Other times I’m irritated and other times, it depresses the hell out of me.

Being a Full Time Mum

My Old Job

Five years ago I was an Online Marketing Manager for a clothing company in London. I had hoped to go back to work after the birth of my eldest, Alice. When the time came for the inevitable back to work discussions. It all went a bit wrong. I was told there was no scope for flexibility. I couldn’t work from home at all and it wasn’t possible to reduce my hours. At all.

I couldn’t bear the thought of dropping my 1 year old baby off to nursery at 7am and not collecting her until 6pm 5 days a week. The commute into and out of London somehow seemed to be so much longer and fraught with potential for more problems and delays than ever before. And so, with some reluctance, I quit.

I was lucky to find some freelance marketing and copywriting work not long after with 1 major client. And this gradually expanded so that I was working with several different clients.

Freelance Work

When It’s Good…. It’s Very Very Good…..

On the good days, when I’ve got work on the go and I can cope with juggling everything in around the children then freelancing is great. I enjoy the flexibility it gives me. I love the fact that I can work the hours that suit me.

…..But When It’s Bad It is Horrid

The are several downsides of freelancing but the biggest is the unpredictability. I’m often quiet with little or no work on. Which makes money unreliable. I frequently lose heart. I wonder what the hell I’m doing. Whether I’ll ever have work again or do anything more meaningful than referee my kids’ arguments and try and placate the toddler’s list of meltdowns. 

Can Being a Mum Ever Be Enough?

At the school gates, I’m well aware that along with 1 other mum, we are completely in the minority. I don’t work in the conventional sense. I don’t keep the usual office hours.  And when all the other mums ask me what I do, I feel the need to justify myself and talk up my freelance business. Why do I find it so hard to answer “I’m primarily a stay at home mum for now and juggling some writing work when I can.”

It’s strange isn’t it, but when did simply “Being a mum” become such a bad thing? Why is there always so much pressure to do something else?

I appreciate I’m lucky. Many other women don’t have a choice and have to go back to work for their family to survive. We can live on my husband’s wage, but during the slow times, I feel increasingly frustrated and weird about not being financially independent. I get frustrated that despite it being 2016, the “flexible” work options still aren’t really that flexible in most jobs. I’m frustrated that unless they choose to be the primary carer, most men don’t seem to have this issue.

Some of my good friends and my family remind me that actually being a full time mum is a big enough job in itself. The nursery down the road from me charges £55 a day. If I could charge that every day for looking after my two, I’d be happy enough! Plus there’s the issue of being on call non stop 24/7 and covering every role from teacher, supervisor, cook, cleaner, entertainer and referee.

Why Do We Want More?

There’s no doubt about it. Being a mum can be frustrating,monotonous and exasperating. I can understand why many mums choose to go back to work; to use their brain, to enjoy some adult conversation, to retain their financial independence or even just to have a lunch hour in peace.

My freelance work and this blog are my way of trying to gain some sense of balance. The blog is my creative outlet and to keep up my love of writing.  The dream is to increase the freelance work to make it more consistent.  But I need to learn to have some patience and not to get upset about it when things slow down.

And I know that next September when my youngest starts school, I will have suddenly more time on my hands to concentrate on driving this. I don’t want to wish this time away. Our children are small only for a little while and I don’t want to regret missing out on them. I need to keep reminding myself about this whenever I next feel exasperated. I need to remind myself that for now, this is enough.

 

Mummascribbles

Cuddle Fairy

Guilt and our Demanding Lives

 

Feeling Guilty
Feeling Guilty? You’re Not Alone

I’ve spoken to lots of friends recently who are all suffering with the same type of disease: guilt. It seems that the everyday demands seems to be a constant worry and source of guilt for many women in today’s world.

What are we Feeling Guilty About?

Everything and anything judging by the conversations I’ve been having. From not spending enough time with the extended family to not eating healthily or doing enough exercise. Becoming a parent makes the guilt sky-rocket. I quite often feel guilty about the effects of what I’m doing is having on my kids. Am I being too strict? Not strict enough? Not giving them enough attention? I’ve spoken to working mums who are feeling guilty about not spending enough time with their children and full-time mums that are worrying about not giving their children enough stimulation. I’ve even had conversations with some women who are feeling guilty about not spending enough time on the chores or work around the house.

My Personal Guilt List

At the moment my guilty worry list consists of the following:

  • Losing my patience with my eldest daughter on a daily basis in the battle to get her to go to school.
  • Juggling working from home with every spare scrap of time that I have, and worrying about the impact on my children.
  • Not seeing enough of all my friends.
  • Not visiting my nan enough.

Why?

So why are so many of us feeling guilty for so much of the time? I’m no expert but I think a lot of the problem is down to how busy we all are and how demanding our lives have become. It seems that everything is competing for our time and attention and we are being pulled apart by the strains. We are constantly trying to juggle work, children, relationships as well as the mundane chores and feel a huge sense of guilt if we can’t meet all of these things or give them all the dedicated time they deserve. Technology may well help ease some of the problems in our lives, but can ironically add to the guilt too. I often find that a “quick” check of my email on my phone whilst spending time with the kids sucks me into a whole host of nonsense on Facebook and it can be some time before I’m snapped back into reality and then immediately feel guilty about it.

How to Lose The Guilt

I read an article the other day that said we all need to treat ourselves more kindly and stop being so hard on ourselves; we are all doing the best that we can to get by. If we could only talk to ourselves like we would a friend who was asking for help we would be better off.  We need to acknowledge that we are not perfect and we can’t always give our all to everyone all of the time. We need to give ourselves a break, it’s a tough enough trying to get on in this world without dragging ourselves down!

Do you agree? I’d love to hear what you think about guilt.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

The List

Busy Busy Bee

Busy Bees in Work and Social Life

I’ve just looked at my calendar today and realised that I don’t have a free weekend spare now until the middle of August! How can it be possible that I have something booked in every weekend for practically a quarter of the year? It feels ridiculous, but yet somehow fairly easy to achieve when you consider there’s always friends and family to see, holidays, kids’ parties and two milestone birthdays in the next few months ahead of us.

I know some people like having a busy social life, but I’m not a fan of always having something planned and my husband absolutely hates it; you begin to almost feel like you’re constrained by the diary and can’t do anything spontaneous.

Never Enough Time

Many of us are now busier than ever. Busy juggling work, children, the daily commute, school pick-ups and drop offs not to mention the inane household chores, time really does become the most precious of commodities. Yes, it’s important to stay in touch with friends and catch up with the family, but I really do believe that sometimes it’s just as important to stop, take stock and breathe. Time to just chill out, think and do whatever it is that YOU want to do.

Too many of us are concerned about trying to please other people or minimise offending others, so we rush around chaotically trying to do everything to please other people, to fit everything in and often neglect ourselves.

Work

It’s not just family and social life that this all applies too, but work too. I know people who always seem to be absolutely manic. As a freelancer, I’m fortunate enough right now to be busy but not swamped, but I know other freelancers who are fraught, trying to juggle their life around work because they don’t want to turn projects down. Like our social lives, it’s just as important to take stock and look at the situation. I wrote recently about how I’ve just gained the confidence to turn work down that I don’t think is of value either financially or in terms of the type of work I want to focus on. Whatever the nature of your work, whether it’s full time, part time or freelancing, I think it’s always really worthwhile to stop every now and then and look at what we’re doing. Are there some projects or some bits of work that can be delegated to someone else or delayed or abandoned all together? All too often we run around like headless chickens being busy that sometimes a bit of time out to re-assess can really help us get back on track and be more productive.

Be a Little Selfish

It’s important to every now and then, be a little bit selfish. Think about what you want to do. That and learn to say no to people more often. The other thing that I need to do more often is to plan free weekends into the diary. Free from making commitments, free from seeing other people and free to do what we as a family want to do. I used to work with a girl who every couple of months would plan with her husband to have a weekend spent “pulling up the drawbridge”, they wouldn’t go out and no one else would come in, and they would spend that weekend how they pleased together.

We’re all busy, but I hope this post at least makes you stop and think awhile. As John Lennon said “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

Are you a busy bee?  Do you like having lots to do and being on the go? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Never Knowingly Undersold

Don't undervalue yourself as a freelancer

About a week ago, I lost out on a fair sized freelancing job because I undersold myself.  I was talking to a prospective client on the phone and when the subject of my costs came up, I gave an approximate figure. There was a silence from the other end. This I’ve come to learn is the first rule of valuing yourself: Hold firm! Don’t fill the silence! But as the seconds ticked on, I felt the need to impress and show my efficiency so I uttered the fateful words “Of course, I may even be able to do the work in less time and therefore my price would be X.”

Stupidly, I’d gone lower when the client was in fact expecting a higher price! The client in this case was fortunately completely honest and told me the price he would usually look to pay. It’s perhaps no coincidence that I didn’t win that work. By undervaluing myself I probably didn’t install much confidence that I could do the job to a decent standard. Luckily for me, he has taken me on for another project.

Turning Work Down

On a similar note, I was recently offered two regular freelancing jobs. Both blog writing for two very different clients. I thought long and hard about them before turning them both down. Why? Because it would have been a fair amount of work, commitment and in one of the cases – research into a subject matter that I didn’t know about, for not very much pay. If it was a one off job, I probably would have done it, but I didn’t want to be tied into work that takes up a lot of time for when other projects hopefully start to come in.

It’s all about getting the balance right and this is yet another tricky element of the freelancing world; weighing up whether you can afford to take on the work or afford to turn it down. There’s a risk of not knowing what’s around the next corner, but I believe you’ve got to give yourself a certain value. You’ve got to place a value on yourself and your time.

A Life Lesson

Surely the principle of valuing yourself isn’t just a rule for freelancing, but life in general too? Whether you’re thinking about finding a new full-time job, or even when meeting a new friend, a new partner or buying a new house. The notion still applies even if we aren’t fully aware of it. How much do we want this? How much time and effort are we prepared to put in with it? What will you get from it in the long term? How much do you value yourself?

The Moral of The Story

There are several lessons and I’m still getting to grips with them:

  • Know your self-worth. In terms of freelancing this means having a clear understanding in your head of your rate of pay. Whether it’s an hourly, daily or project rate.
  • There is probably more to a project than meets the eye. A brief chat with a client on the phone will only convey so much. Once you get going with a task there is likely to be more work to do such as research, admin and meetings. You need to think about these extra tasks before committing yourself and a price to a client.
  •  Think about the long term and what you want. A regular freelancing gig may initially seem great, but if it’s not paying well it may later become a burden and a cross to bear.

What do you think? Freelancers do you agree with me? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

Why is “Flexible Working” Still So Inflexible?

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We live in a digital age, apparently. We have technology available at our finger-tips, supposedly. Why is it then that many businesses still can’t use this technology to allow their employees a better work / life balance?

According to a recent survey, a whopping 80% of employees say they would be happier with more flexible working options. Better work flexibility means greater happiness and more productivity for business. And yet why are we still not getting this quite right? Why is it that the majority of working people I know are still plodding through a 9 to 5 hour day for 5 days a week chained to their office desk?

My Ultimatum

Four years ago, I had a job that I loved in London. I went on maternity leave and was hoping to go back. I asked to return on a part-time basis but that wasn’t deemed possible. So then I asked if I could work from home but apparently that wouldn’t work with the systems in place. Eventually, I was told that I either had to return in a full-time capacity or not at all. And so I made the difficult decision to leave. I couldn’t face working full-time with a heavy commute, and leaving a young baby for so long.

It still makes me quite cross now. Why should this have to be the case? Why in this digital age can’t there be more working from home? Why can’t there be more flexi-time? Why can’t there be more job-sharing or part-time work?

A Question of Trust

I can only assume that it is because of a question of trust. If technology can make us all work faster, smarter and in any location, the reason most businesses don’t employ flexible working practices is because they are suspicious of what might be going on if they can’t keep a beady eye on their employees. Perhaps organisations think that if they can’t see their employees grappling with an excel spread sheet they may instead be at home with their feet up or putting the washing on dancing round the kitchen to Uptown Funk?

Their Loss?

I passionately believe that many businesses are losing out in not offering flexible working patterns. My talented sister used to work at a well-known children’s publisher, she quit her job along with 5 other senior, well-regarded women in one year because they would not allow any of them to work a 4 day week in the office and 1 day at home. This to me seems ludicrous. Surely it would be more beneficial for the organisation to try and accommodate these women than to go through the painful procedure of recruiting, training and replacing the staff who all had valuable years’ experience?

When I started writing this post I was mostly thinking about mums and how there should be more flexibility for working mothers. But really, why can’t there just be more flexibility for workers full-stop? Why can’t organisations trust their work-force to get the job done in whatever time suits them best? If employees are happy they will be more productive. Better productivity equals better profit. Output should be measured on achievements, not on how many hours are being clocked up at the office desk.

I’d love to know what you think. Are you a parent who would like the opportunity to have more flexible working hours? Would you be more productive if you could work from home more often? Or do you disagree with me entirely?!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly World of Freelancing

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I knew when I started freelance writing that there would be some good and bad points. Some of these have become clearer to me over the past few months and let’s just say I was completely unprepared for the ugly!

The Good

  • I couldn’t contemplate going back to my full-time job along with a heavy commute after the birth of my first daughter, so flexibility for me is the main “good” point about freelancing. I can work my hours completely around my children. I can (and often do) work many evenings just so that I can enjoy the benefits of looking after my children whilst working too.
  •  There is no commuting for me anymore. I can work at whatever time I choose and wherever I like (usually my kitchen table).
  • I love the fact that I work for myself. Whatever I put in, I get out. All the money I earn is completely down to me. I’m no longer lining the pockets for a boss because I am the boss!

The Bad

  • The biggest ‘bad’ of freelancing has to be not knowing what the next project will be and where the next payment is coming from. It can be rewarding working for yourself, but it also takes hard work and dedication in finding the next project. I had no idea when I started out about the amount of time I would need to spend on promoting myself. As well as setting up a website and pushing myself on social media, I generally need to be persistent and get into people’s faces. If I’m not working, I’m knocking on doors and quite often getting turned away. Finding work is in itself hard work.
  •  As a freelancer, you never switch off. If I had a full or even part-time job I would work my set hours, come home and cook dinner for my family. Now I find that if I’m not actually working, then I’m thinking about working. And if I’m not thinking about working, I’m thinking about how I can promote myself more in order to get more work.

The Ugly

  • Lo and behold there have been some occasions when the work and the children cross paths. And it isn’t pretty. This usually happens when I have to speak on the phone. I was once talking to a new client when my eldest daughter decided this was the moment to have a melt-down about needing to “do a poo right now!” The client calmly said “I can tell this isn’t a good time, shall I call back?” Which he luckily did but not before I’d beaten myself up about appearing unprofessional and losing a potential client.

Then there was the time when my youngest daughter woke up unusually early from her nap whilst I was on a scheduled conference call and proceeded to scream the house down until I’d brought her downstairs… You just don’t get this kind of thing in the office.

For me, the ‘good’ of freelancing still outweighs the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’. What do you think? If you’re a freelancer have you encountered any more good, bad or ugly factors that I haven’t mentioned? If you’re a working parent does freelancing have any appeal or would you rather stick to a regular paid job with regular hours? I’d love to hear from you.

Why Self Promotion is Critical

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I have a confession to make. I’ve been freelancing for over two years now and I’ve been lucky enough to have been very busy with a constant flow of work. But in the midst of all that hard work writing copy and marketing other businesses, I’ve managed to neglect the promotion of my own business.

It’s such a ridiculous and cardinal sin of a marketer – to disregard your own promotion. I’ve talked to many clients about the importance of having a regularly updated blog and written their blogs for them, but yet I’ve not taken the time to write my own. I suppose my only excuse is that I naively felt that I didn’t need to do it as I was so busy.

A lesson that I’ve quickly had to learn in the world of freelancing is that nothing remains constant. There are times when it can be incredibly busy and you wonder how you’re going to cope. Then it will suddenly change and you’re left scratching around for work. This is probably true of many small business owners, but one thing that I’ve learnt is that to remain competitive, you have to spend a huge percentage of your time promoting yourself.

The Art of Self Promotion

As an owner of a small business, there’s no room for shyness or being self-effacing. If you don’t promote yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. It’s essential to keep reminding others what you do and why or risk losing out to the competition. You know your business best and therefore you’re the most able person to promote yourself, but if you simply don’t have time to keep on top of it, let others help you.

Social Media

Consumers expect to be able to see you and follow you on Twitter and Facebook. Yes, it’s time consuming, but it’s also essential. Twitter is a great way to network to find new clients or prospects who might be interested in your product or services. It’s also a great way to find like-minded people to learn from. If your business is creative and lends itself to products which are more visual – make use of the other social media tools like Instagram and Pinterest.

Blogs

Blogs let others know what you’re doing. They can be more personal and let customers know more about your personality and your thoughts on a subject. They not only promote you and your business, but they act as a retention method to keep your customers coming back to find out more. They also drive traffic to your website – if somebody stumbles upon a blog post on a Google search and they like what they read they will be more likely to click through to your website and will be a step closer to making a sale or enquiry. Finally, regularly updated blogs are loved by the search engines such as Google which means your website will gradually rank higher.

PR

Nothing beats a bit of self-promotion like an article in a magazine or newspaper, an interview on radio or some favourable write up online. The key to PR is finding a hook which will interest the different media and their respective followers / readers. So perhaps you’re launching a new product that is completely different to anything else in the market. Or maybe your business is approaching a landmark anniversary. There are plenty of things that can act as a good hook, it just needs some thought and some dedication to contact the relevant media.

So what have I learnt? Never assume that work will remain constant or that business will continue to boom. You need to spend a large percentage of your time promoting yourself. In doing so you’ll be seen as a key player and remain competitive. Self-promotion takes time and dedication and sometimes it can be a chore, but in this cut-throat world of business, it’s absolutely vital.

Perhaps you’re struggling with the art of self-promotion or you don’t trust your writing skills to maintain a blog? Maybe you’re running out of things to say on social media or you’re unsure about contacting the press. Get in touch and I’ll gladly give you some pointers.