Just to caveat, before we start that this is my experience as a working mum, and not at all intended to alienate other forms or parenthood of which there are many and each facing their own set of challenges some similar and some entirely different from mine.
Making the choice to go self employed and start my own business during maternity leave was something of a mixed bag of non-choices. For a start, financially it didn't make sense to go back to my employed job. After travel, childcare costs and doggy day care, I may have had enough money to just about buy myself a daily Asda meal deal and a sharing bag of cookies that I def wouldn't share. Looking around the office at other working mums, I wasn't entirely convinced I'd be offered the hours I wanted and the same position although I did have a very kind boss at the time who assured me it was up for discussion. If I'd been in love with my career in marketing then maybe it would have been worth forking out all my earnings on fur and baby care but I'd had the deep rooted call back to create reverberating within me and it had become harder and harder to ignore.
The biggest reason for not going back to my employed job became apparent when I was pregnant. It released something in me. A sense of needing to be completely.. well me. It's fairly common to have an identity wobble (or crisis) when becoming a mum and I certainly felt that, but it was more than that. I felt I owed this little tiny person to be completely true- that I had a weight of responsibility to actively strive to live (pardon the cheesy phrase) more authentically me and demonstrate that every day. It was a strange need to become aware of - as at the same time, I became acutely aware that somewhere along the line this scruffy art student had veered off course and was in, dare I say it... an office job. Ok so the people were bloody lovely, the meal deal was an M&S one, I was still scruffy but there was not a lot of art going on. All of a sudden I felt very much like a big hairy foot pushed into a polished stiletto*. A pregnant hairy foot.
I do recognise my own luck and privilege that allowed me to take the leap into a brave new world that included leaving a steady income. I say that, as many women don't have a choice but to go back to work and many women also don't have the choice but to leave. It's a whole other sore topic but basically it's an eye wateringly unfair system desperately lacking in support for families of young children - particularly women and if you want more information or to lend a hand combating it then look up pregnant then screwed.
I had intended on writing more about how to actually balance mumming with working as the title of this blog post indicates, but I do think the complexity of motherhood and working life can't just be about schedules and logistics. There is a whole wealth of emotion, feelings and soul searching that goes into being a working mum (or even just a parent) that just can't be wedged into one little blog post, but nor should it be ignored entirely.
So how will I try to continue to balance it all when I've finished this Maternity leave and back at the pottery wheel of work.
I TRY to be forgiving of myself - letting go the smaller niggles like a messy studio, or the email I should have sent yesterday. I do have that capability to set myself very high expectations which can get me extremely stressed -but I've learnt for the most part to lower them or remove them. It's rather liberating actually. Honestly, try it.
I have more recently promised myself I WILL rip off the band aid myself. This applies broadly to everything I do with my business. Some examples include: Making the uncomfortable phone calls first thing, not last thing- like the time I had to pull out of an exhibition due to an entire failed kiln load. Keeping customers abreast of delays, no matter the embarrassment. This ripping off of the band aid is particularly important as a mum because our time is so darn precious, our sleep so precarious and all systems are on GO constantly anyway. So procrastination leading to dread and shame are setting us up for miserable overload. Mistakes happen, own it and you can move on. Also see 'forgiving yourself' above.
I work odd hours. I don't really have the option for regular free childcare, so the only regular childcare is nursery 8 hours each week. Then I try and do 8 more at a weekend, when Nicks home, and I also work a little each day in the evenings, baby nap times, the GP's waiting room and even the loo if I get to shut the door. Mostly this is time for admin, social media, marketing, planning and research. I've yet to haul my wheel into the GP's surgery but if wait times extend there are those mini pottery wheels I'd like to give a go.. I don't think these working hours are for everyone, but they do allow me to do what I love and be flexible for my kids. It's not forever and to be honest I don't mind- I love what I do so it fills my mind a lot anyway.
I plan ahead. I actually rarely stick to a plan, but when feeling overwhelmed I spend an hour creating a spreadsheet (Office skills die hard) and I map out the coming weeks up to the deadline I'm worrying about. Just this alone can be a relief as instead my brain tries to map and remap it in my head until I'm overwhelmed and it all feels impossible. I don't pin plans to the wall to make me stick to them either, they just get filed on my laptop to be rarely seen again.
I try to manage my impatience. For years I worked full time hours, got a good nights sleep, got weekend breaks, had a social life to pep me up and generally had a whole load more energy (try telling my past self that though eh). Now I work minimal hours and have the energy of a rock rolling uphill, my work flow often feels like a snails slow dance. I have to try and remind myself not to compare and despair, and to be patient with my progress. Its possibly one of my greatest challenges and can lead me to say yes to things I shouldn't, over extend myself and generally start to lose the joy of it all. So patience my dears. And forgiveness yes.
I set myself up for shortcuts. I make little tools to help make repeated processes quicker, like right now I'm figuring out how to have a makeshift photography studio I can whip out at any time and take snaps of my work with a good camera, without the whole fuss of set up and pack down or needing to buy another shed for additional space.
I pull on my big girl pants and ask for help. Another learnt skill that hasn't come easy is to ask for help or find ways to make life easier for myself as I think a lot of us generally just want to do it all and not inconvenience anyone. I've found this can come in easier and harder forms for example for me: Easy: pay for a dog walker. Harder: ask a the grandparents to look after the kids. I did this recently, asking them to take the kids while I completed a glaze course and not only did they jump at it when asked, they also asked me questions about my glazing allowing me to totally geek out and chat their poor little ears off about it all. Sweet!
Support from my partner Nick. Not everyone has a partner or one that thinks becoming a poor artist is the right thing to do. Nick possibly quite bizarrely to some, whole heartedly agrees I am doing the right thing even when the numbers don't add up and I disappear yet again down to the shed. He spurs me on and only offers me encouragement which when we still have a mortgage and bills to pay is an incredibly patient, generous and long sighted thing to do - he is after all hoping I make it big and he'll have his turn to create for fun for a couple of years, but still, thank you Nick.
Those are the things that currently help me balance it all for now, but I know some things are missing and longer term I want to build in things like: relaxing down time (bahahaha I hear you scoff), Nick and Hels Go Drinking, more time in nature, days out with the kids, cleaning the house once a year, exercise and healthy eating. Phew. See forgiveness above right?
*Please note I have never worn stilettos in my life. This is just to illustrate my discomfort. I also happen not to have noticeably hairy feet.