Category Archives: Daily grind

Building from the bottom up: extending

Building an extensionI feel like life here has been like the weather – sunny and bright one minute, dark, grey and raining hard the next. We’ve had good news and terrible news in quick succession and although we’ve still got a lot to be grateful for, it’s been a difficult time.

It’s good to have something mundane to look forward to, and in our case that’s our building work finishing. Even if it has taken a while.

I’ve actually had lovely builders which is particularly important when you work from home and have small children running around half-naked, tripping over breeze blocks. In fact, D thinks (hopes) that our two main builders, Lionel and Nick, are moving into our house with us. Namely into the new office space. Well, we are planning to put a daybed in there so it’s not totally out of the question.

We’ve had delays and some unexpected costs, discontinued blocks, screed breaching (it’s a new thing), and a lot of dust everywhere that settles just as quickly as we can hoover, but I’m not losing sight of the fact that at the end of it we’ll have more space, an area for children’s toys (hooray!), a guest room and a dedicated office. My kitchen table working will be no more.

We’re very lucky to be able to do this and we’re thankful for that. Sometimes you need something solid to focus on and this is it. Cheers to bricks and mortar.

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The school run: 5 things I love and 6 things I really don’t

School RunSix months of school, six months of the school run. It’s definitely a different beast to the nursery or preschool runs – they might have been initiations but I couldn’t say they fully prepared me for the real thing.

I drop Scrip off every day and pick her up three times a week, so I’m a pretty permanent fixture at the school gates. Here’s what I do and don’t like about 8.40am and 3.30pm, every week day:

I love:

  1. Her enthusiasm as we approach the school (I’m guessing it won’t always be like this)
  2. Seeing new friends I might not have seen for a while – it’s nice to have a quick chat and catch up
  3. Getting out in the fresh air. We walk it a few times a week and it’s lovely (if it’s dry)
  4. Spending some nice, quality time with her each morning
  5. Dropping off a happy girl and going on to do my own things – either work or a day with D

I don’t love:

  1. Not just pulling on the first thing I find in the morning. These are smart parents – I feel like I need to be too
  2. The crush – I always seem to find the busiest time possible, cue lots of bumping into people and dragging D out of the way if he’s with me
  3. The uncertain greetings – seeing those people you kind of know, kind of don’t
  4. Pulling Baby D out of Scrip’s classroom EVERY TIME he comes with me
  5. Passing the sporty parents and feeling distinctly unsporty
  6. The traffic! Arrive a few minutes after the gates have opened and it’s never-seen before chaos

I’m guessing I’ll have to get used to this. It’s going to be like this for the next decade at least 😉

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Guest post: Are you driven by guilt or aspiration?

I know all too well how hard it is to strike “the balance” (I’m not sure I ever have done). My talented, driven, inspirational friend Lucy – who managed to create and launch her halterneck support product, Halto, with her sister whilst also being a working mum and singer – talks about her lightbulb moment.  Thank you Lucy 🙂

Lucy CoxHaving worked harder than average to get pregnant and then being blessed with a healthy baby girl, being a mum became both my conscious and unconscious priority in life from that moment on. The role to rule over every other role. But something surprising shifted in my mind-set last week, and I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner!

Just to scene set for a moment. Although we couldn’t really afford it, after having our daughter I took the full twelve months off work, and again with questionable affordability, decided to go back to work part-time. It felt right to build every detail of my life around my daughter. I had been waiting a long time for her, and this is what being a proud mum was all about, right? We needed to live, but my daughter needed me more than ‘stuff’, so that’s what she got. Me, as close as I could to 100% of the time. For five years.

Over this period I had also started a small business with my little sister, Halto, which we worked around the kids and other ‘stuff’. This was to be our ‘get out’ from the shackles of paid employment and enable us to spend more time being mums. The kids came everywhere with us, and anything we couldn’t do with the kids was banished to the twilight hours. It grew from a very small acorn, and soon gathered momentum.

I would tell people how lovely it was to work part-time, and how proud I was that I had built my life in this way, and I meant it. I focused solely on the positives of this situation, until I had a few health problems in 2015 that made me really question my lifestyle choices and I became far more aware of getting a better balance in life.

It took me far longer than it should have to understand that if you expect yourself up to be the perfect mother, wife, employee, friend, sister, daughter and business partner, you will fail. You will be enough to adequately label yourself as all those roles, but you won’t be 100% of what you aspire to be in any of them, and (from a bar set high in the first instance) that doesn’t feel good. It is so draining.

Fast forward to the present day, and during a business coaching session last week, I came to the crashing realisation that I had become driven more by guilt than aspiration. Satiating guilt was a much bigger priority than satisfying my own ambition. I keep my own business under the radar as much as possible, often being quite apologetic for it, and try to work when my family is either in bed or out so it doesn’t impact on them at all. And when it does, I feel guilty. I tie myself up in logistical knots making sure that I am there at the school drop-offs and pick-ups every day despite my ever-growing to do list, and I am so exhausted.

The coach at this session was discussing innovation, and what was stopping us achieving the goals we have for our businesses. Many talked of financial challenges, or finding the right staff. For some, it was how to access new countries or develop new products. Right at that moment it hit me so hard between the eyes. My attitude was the sole barrier to me and my business achieving. As long guilt was my main motivator, I would never be fully committed to growing the business to its full potential.

Another thing struck me at the same time. I had arrogantly always assumed that my family, friends and colleagues actually all wanted me 100% of the time! I had never asked them whether more was better? Perhaps less, but better quality would actually be preferable to all (including my sanity!).

The first thing I did was ask my family if they minded me condensing my employed hours into fewer days (meaning my daughter would need to go to after school club two days a week), and I would then take one whole day a week on my own business. To my delight (and frustration) they both said they were very happy with that. In fact, my daughter (who had been bugging me about going to after school club for months) actually sounded like she had just won the lottery!

So here we are, about to embark on a new chapter where I am no longer apologetic for being a working mum. I will never shed myself of mummy-guilt completely, because I am a great mum. But from now on I plan to be, at the very least, a realistic mum who can demonstrate a more balanced life.

And who knows, maybe my daughter will take over the family business one day!

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What children have taught me about work

children and workI compartmentalise my life – at least in my head. So hours are carved up into children at childcare/school, children with just me, children with both of us, children in bed and so on. It makes it easier to visualise chunks of time I have for work and for non-work (at least that’s the plan).

In reality, you can’t always focus your mind on just one thing or another; it’s called multi-tasking but often it’s multi-visualising because much of it is the thinking rather than the doing. Sometimes I long to concentrate on one task, be single-minded and do it really well.

But maybe the meeting of my two worlds isn’t always such a bad thing. I hope that my working has brought benefits to my children and I also think the reverse is true. Here’s what I think my children have taught me about work.

That persistence does pay off
I’m a persistent person – some may even say very determined (perhaps anyone who’s ever worked with me!) but sometimes it’s a challenge. It’s not always the easiest or most comfortable route. Right from the start of their lives children show us it’s about trying and trying until they master something. Just look at them learning to crawl, walk, use a knife and fork, talk. Without the challenge there’s no reward.

To embrace change
I can’t underestimate how much change they’ve had over the last 12 months. They’ve moved houses, counties, nurseries. They’ve had to make new friends, Scrip has started pre-school then school. Children are incredibly adaptable. In contrast, I could deal with change better.

To be brave
Neither are extroverts or are outgoing. They both need a lot of encouragement. But when I think about how brave they’ve been in their own little ways – Scrip with swimming, when she was terrified of going underwater at first – D with nursery which was totally new to him at 11 months – I’m so proud. I read a piece recently about getting used to feeling uncomfortable if you run your own business, and this is a similar thing.

To get along
OK, this doesn’t always happen, but I ask them to get along A LOT! And they generally respond (at least my four year old takes the lead in this). I can see it doesn’t always come naturally – it’s a learnt behaviour. Likewise, it sometimes goes against the grain for me. But they do it against their instinct and things get better.

The power of simplicity
Children see everyone as equal. They don’t notice colour, nationality, disability. And if they do question, they accept a simple response and carry on. I love that. There’s so much to be said for taking a simple outlook.

My irks with home working

Home WorkingIt’s been a tough couple of weeks, with yet more change and adjustments that need to be made, some much bigger than others. One of the positives (I’m starting to over-use that word) is Baby D’s new nursery which has so far gone well. I say new as after just a week’s notice (!) his first nursery closed its doors eight weeks after he started, and we had to find another one pronto and get him fully settled in. Thankfully, day one at nursery two went very well (despite the over-tiredness in the boy I put to bed an hour or so ago).

With both children in childcare full time, I had a day to work, work, work. I’m enjoying working for myself (although I have to say I’m now over the initial euphoria of being at home with a hot coffee and a laptop screen not being pawed at or slammed shut).

We’re creating a home office but in the meantime it’s the kitchen table, once the breakfast things have been cleared away. There are so many positive parts (that word again) to working for myself and I sometimes pinch myself that it’s actually happening. However, there are also the niggles that only come to light once you start. Here are a few things that have made me wish it wasn’t just me here today:

The printer – I consider myself reasonably tech savvy but I fail to be able to default to the right printer (why do I have a list of 15??), print on the right side of the paper or push page 20 of said paper in far enough to keep on printing.
My new email account – where’s the IT support when you need it? Answer – thousands of miles away on a virtual chat (probably answering a lot of other queries at the same time). I can receive but I still can’t send, a week later…
The workman’s drill – do you choose a day when there are no children to trip over pipes and wires or have a full day of drilling when you’re trying to have a client phone call?
The coffee overload – hot, freshly brewed coffee? Mmmmm. How many cups can I enjoy without getting the shakes? Not as many as I used to I realise as I bounce to the door to greet the postman manically.
The housework – not the temptation to spend my whole time doing it – the opposite. I feel like I need to make every moment of work count so I end up with a house messier than the days with the children plus a basket full of wet washing.
The mum guilt – it’s still there, niggling away. This isn’t a vanity project – I’m earning money for the family as well as doing something I hope I’m good at. Plus hopefully setting a good example for my children. But working from home feels the same as going out to work – you still get those moments where you feel you should be with your children, rational or not.

However on balance what a privilege to be able to do this and hopefully fit my work around my life rather than the other way around. I’m off to pick up the children (once the coffee shakes have subsided).

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Going back to work – 6 tips I’ve learnt

Toddler spilling pensBeing 31 weeks’ pregnant (it still doesn’t seem real – even when it’s there in black and white) work should be something I’m thinking about winding down rather than starting afresh. But a few things recently have made me cast my mind back to when I started again post-mat leave just over two years ago. I had a difficult time back then, partly down to issues that I hope I don’t ever have to face again. And that’s without factoring in missing your little one, parental guilt etc. etc.

But there are definitely also positive learnings to be made from my experiences and if I could help my younger self to cope and can also remind myself for next time, here’s what I’d say. Continue reading

Hiding the bump: clothes that disguise your growing tummy

Telling my boss was a nerve wracking moment and I breathed a sigh of relief when my pregnancy was out in the open at work (a few people seemed to have noticed the decaf tea and the constant nibbling so it probably wasn’t the big surprise I thought it might be). But the majority of my clients still don’t know, so until they do I’m having to be pretty choosy with what I wear from Tuesday to Friday.

I’m 16 weeks with a growing bump: nothing massive but noticeable, particularly at the end of a day filled with nibbling (see above: it’s still going on). So if you’re in a similar situation, here’s what I’ve found works for me: Continue reading

It’s about time

Child's clockAs much as I continue to hone my multi-tasking skills (and I still believe they’ve got a lot better since I had a baby), they’re still not going to magic me any more time. This week I’ve spent a lot of time wishing I had more time.

We talked about having no time in a (great) Vonage Workshop about blogging as a business I went to yesterday (write up to follow, when I have time…) and again at work today. In fact I often seem to find myself Continue reading

Don’t give up the day job: what a week

My husband’s cousin was staying with us for a few days this week as she did a course in London (she’s a super-smart Obs and Gyny Senior Registrar). It was lovely to have her up here, but she probably got the impression that this was a completely frantic household (which it can be sometimes) as my husband and I were hardly in at the same time. We had a clash of busy weeks, which meant our Nanny had to do some extra childcare, my in-laws had to fill in for a few hours as I went into town on my day off, I had various events to fit in, my husband was pitching so was out and about and it was generally pretty hectic. It was just one of those weeks.

Anyway, although I feel like I don’t know what day it is, I’m pretty sure it’s Friday and I’m glad of that. I work 4 days a week and it can get busy but I couldn’t keep up this week’s pace permanently – although I’m sure some people do and manage it well. Anyway, in amongst it all there were some nice moments of being in lovely places, enjoying the spring weather and life in London, so here’s a selection of my pics from my soon-to-be-retired iPhone (a new one is arriving tomorrow after a few false starts, fingers firmly crossed).

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New Year, no sleeping

Sleeping toddlerSleep’s got to be right up there as one of the, if not the, most talked about topics by parents across the land. At one stage, ‘how’s he/she sleeping?’ was the first question on my lips as I heaved my over-loaded pushchair into a cafe to sit and gulp down strong coffee with a group of other over-tired mums. That stage seemed to last for a while, as I’ve already written about.

It does get better (as I’d reassure my former sleep-deprived self if I could), but then there are lapses. And Continue reading