Working Mum

Mumpreneur: Positive or Negative?

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Having written last week about being a Mum and working flexibly around your family, I have been thinking about the term “Mumpreneur”.  I know that the term made it into the OED at the end of last year and that this caused a bit of a debate to arise.  There are many who seem to find the term derogatory, and yet since becoming a Mum and considering my options with regard to working around my family, I have also seen the term used positively by many individuals, communities and companies.

So, what’s the debate all about?

The first post I read, the one that made me think about this at all in fact, was a post by Lynn Harris.  Her perspective is that the term Mompreneur (she is writing for the American audience, hence “Mom”) is often used to patronise and belittle the achievements of women in business. “let’s face it: when we are not among other mothers who are prepared to salute and support us, the word “mom” has a different and diminutive connotation.” I’ll be honest; I hadn’t really considered this.  I am in awe of women who successfully have a family and run a business.  I find the idea of working for myself and doing it around my commitments to my family a really beguiling one.  But then I am one of the “other mothers who are prepared to salute and support”. I hadn’t thought about those who might not.  Those who might use the term to suggest that you were somehow not as serious about your job as a proper entrepreneur, after all you don’t hear of many men being called Dadpreneurs; men are entrepreneurs with a family.

So I searched about a bit and it seems that there are many people who subscribe to the same thoughts as Lynn Harris. Jen Walshaw of Mum in the Madhouse says that the term suggests that “not only do we often run a home, but in between it all we manage to do a little work” Rebecca Jones of Business in Red Shoes says that she has “asked men and women in business what they think and the majority worry that it implies they are a mum first and business comes second”, suggesting that the term may be “hindering their business appeal for those who worry their role as a mum will interfere with their abilities as a business woman.”  If this is the perception, then how come so many women in business do use and associate with the term?

I emailed Erica Douglas of littlemummy.com.  She is one half of Become a Mumpreneur, so I assumed that she must be able to tell me something positive about the term!  I saw Erica and her partner Antonia Chitty speak at the Business and Baby Show 2011 and have taken e-courses both via littlemummy and BAM, they are certainly using the term Mumpreneur to connect with their target market and seem to be encouraging women to embrace the term and use it to move themselves forward as both Mums and business women.

Erica’s response was very interesting.  She said that “a Mumpreneur is someone who has gone into business because they are a mum.” She also highlighted the sense of community that there can be with the term Mumpreneur “I think there are many mums in business who do identify with the term, and for them it gives them a group or ‘tribe’ to feel a part of and gain support from.”  Interestingly, Erica says that she feels that the term Mumpreneur only describes one stage of business and that there comes a time when your business and lifestyle move past this title; where children become less dependent.  This ties in with Rebecca Jones’ point.  Perhaps women who identify with the term are women who do put their family first and their business second?  I personally would see this as a strength in many ways, although I can see Rebecca’s point that as a client I may be less forgiving.

I suppose overall the key thing is that the term Mumpreneur can be useful if you identify with it, if your clientele identify with it in a positive manner and if it says the right things about you and your business.  It is not a useful term if it is applied to you in a pejorative way as a means of suggesting that you are not as good at your job as others who are not ‘distracted’ by family.  For me, one sentence stood out in Erica Douglas’ email and it was this “If I decide I’m going to do something then no terminology in the world will stop me aspiring to that.”

So, women who work for yourselves and have a family, keep aspiring to be the best you possibly can; refer to yourselves in whatever way you wish and do not be limited by language.

R

Flexible working with children

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Today’s post is part of a clever little linky dreamed up by Maria of FeistyTapas.com. She is a very hard working lady, juggling an 18 month old and a fulltime work-from-home job as a translator, oh and blogging about it all. (I bow to her superior abilities!)

Her linky  is all about working with children. The only real guidelines are that you should write about how you work around your kids – be it full or part-time working from home, running your own business, blogging or whatever you do – and what works/doesn’t work for you.

Maria’s idea is that as many people as possible link up with posts about how we work around our kids and once all the linking is done, we’ll have a database of advice for other Mum’s who may want to change, adapt or improve their working lifestyle.

So here is my (Ruth) two pennies worth of information about how working with a child has changed my work/life balance and how I manage working and family life…

Working from home

I’m a teacher.  When I went on maternity leave, I was a head of department in a ‘challenging’ London school and loved it.  Once I had my daughter, I knew that if I went back to work in the role I had been in, I would not be able to commit 100% either to my daughter or my job and that bothered me enough to quit.  I enjoyed being a stay at home mum and as we could survive on one wage, I didn’t even think about going back to work.

The way I kept my brain going during this time was to study (you may have read that in my previous post – sorry to keep repeating myself!).  I studied with the OU on a part-time MEd course.  I did my reading and wrote assignments in year one of my duaghter’s life, almost wholly in her nap times.  Then as she got older, nap-time got shorter and I had to do more work in the evenings.  At this time, however, her sleeping also got better, so I did have enough brain power to work in the evenings.  With the odd weekend where my husband did ‘Daddy-daughter’ things so that I could have a larger block of time at key moments, this is how I managed my study – and I have passed, so it worked!

When Munchkin was 18months, I landed a job that doesn’t really exist in teaching.  Essentially I now do curriculum development and staff training for an SEN school.  It just happened rather than being planned, but the Head offered me 11 hours a week from home for a short term contract, which has since been extended. The hours are flexible – some weeks I work much more and some weeks much less.  My Head doesn’t mind how things are completed, as long as they are completed to deadlines.

At the beginning I would do most of my hours from home and use email to keep in touch.  I popped in for meetings with the Head about twice a month and she was happy for Munchkin to come too.  As and when I needed more time in school, my mum would come to stay and then I’d head in for the day to blitz face-to-face things that needed to happen.  Training was all after school, so I’d drop Munchkin into hubby’s classroom for the hour or so that I was working.

One thing that you will notice is that a flexible and understanding boss is paramount if you work for someone.  It is also important that you have the understanding of colleagues.  On the whole, mine are great, but I know of other Mum’s who find office bitching and jealousy makes working flexibly in a majority full-time environment very stressful. I think you need a thick skin to work flexibly with others. The key thing that I have found is to ensure that you do your job impeccably and are utterly professional, but are also honest and up-front about what you can and can’t do in the time given.

Now that Munchkin is almost 3, has given up her daytime naps (*sob*) and I have started blogging (and who knows what else we’ll develop through More than a Mum!) I have had to make a few changes.  It was getting to the point where every hour was taken by being a Mum, working, blogging or studying.  There was no time for me and there was no time for my OH.  This was not a state of affairs I could stomach for long.  I love my job and More Than a Mum, but not over my relationship and sanity, therefore I decided that at least some of my work hours had to become regular and I needed to consider childcare.

Munchkin had been going to a crèche for 1.5hours every Friday while I ran a peer support group for breastfeeding mothers for about a year and loved it, so I decided that a few more hours of childcare were a) not going to harm her b) going to help me!

I went to my Head and as she wanted me to do a bit more in school support anyway I proposed that I should come in one morning a week. It’s only 4.5 hours, but that means a good chunk of my hours is completed and I have a better ability to keep in touch with staff.

Again you may have read my post about why I wont be sending Munchkin to pre-school, but in spite of this, I do believe that she needs to socialise with her peers without me, therefore nursery seemed a good option.  Munchkin was not impressed with me leaving her at nursery for a good few weeks and I did have several second thoughts as I peeled her off me and ran for the door with the screams echoing in my ears.  4 months down the line, however and even though she only goes once a week, she asked when she could go again this Christmas holiday. Phew!

Anyway, I have wittered on enough, I think that my top tips for making working with children work can be summed up as follows:

1)      Be organised – I make lists, but do what works for you.  I write down all the things I want to get done in the day (from work projects to washing up) and prioritise them, both for importance and time slots.  Some things can be done while Munchkin plays, some can be done with Munchkin and some have to be done while she watches Cbeebies or once she’s asleep.

2)      Be professional – people make value judgements about Mums, you need to prove them wrong, whatever sphere you are working in.

3)      Be honest with yourself and others – my priority is my daughter.  I wont neglect work, but I will much less neglect her.  If a project is too big for 11 hours a week, I wont take it on or I will work out how parts can be delegated to make it manageable.

4)      Be flexible – some weeks you’ll get loads done and find time in places you didn’t think there would be any, but some weeks you’ll slave away for hours and achieve very little.  Don’t worry about this, it’s pretty normal.

R

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What is a good childhood?

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As well as being a mum and a singer I also work as a radio presenter and producer. My show is for Unsigned artists and I meet some incredibly talented people.  This week an artist who is also a friend of mine (Jules Rendell) sent me a new track she has written which was inspired by the 2009 Children’s society report.  The song is called Never been Loved and it’s in response to the findings, which basically said that children are more anxious and troubled today than ever before.  It largely put this down to parents striving for material success and pursuing their own self-centered ends rather than the needs of their children.

Wikipedia puts it like this: The Inquiry’s report, A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age [8], was published in 2009 and received considerable media coverage, including from the BBC[9]. It found that ‘excessive individualism’ is causing a range of problems for children today, including family break-up, teenage unkindness, unprincipled advertising, too much competition in education and acceptance of income inequality.

The song is fantastic and speaks of discovering an unconditional love that can spur you on to hope but what really impacted me was the summary of the findings that she sent along with the track (above).

This ‘excessive individualism’ can be seen throughout our society and I agree that it’s spreading like an endemic disease. It is all the more deadly because it is not only seen as acceptable, but the norm. We are programmed from an early age to strive and compete to ‘have it all’.  In deed in this day and age we believe it is our ‘right’ and that we in fact deserve it.  What’s worse is many young people are growing up believing these ‘things’ should come their way without doing a thing to contribute to themselves or the society they live in.  This dissatisfaction with life is what I believe was at the root of the recent UK riots primarily amongst the youth: Young people who feel the world owes them more without having to earn it in any way.  And it is not just the under-privileged youths that have this attitude.  Middle class children who want for nothing, have the latest gadgets and get everything on their Christmas list are also turning into adults who ‘expect’ material gain with little effort.  But as super-nanny would say (bless her) usually it is not the child’s fault for their behavior and attitude.

Along with this, the lie is sold that by gaining these ‘things’ you gain happiness and fulfillment along with it.  Mums and dads who work all hours, most days just for a luxury 2-week holiday twice a year are modeling this same attitude.   I must say I get challenged every Christmas when I find myself wanting to buy BearCub every toy I see that I know he would love.  However I had a stark wake up call recently when he started to ask and expect a new toy every time we went out.  I had been spoiling my child.  At the risk of sounding all ‘when I was a wee lass’, when I was a child we had secondhand toys which we were overjoyed with and I remember my sister and I crying for joy when my mum managed to scrap together enough to get us a second-hand Commodore 64!

We ought to be showing our children what is important in life and the only way we can do that is to find out what really fulfills us and make sure we’re living our dreams too.  This will inspire our children that happiness and fulfillment equal success – whatever the route there may be for each individual.

L

Working Mum V Stay at home Mum

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It is with slight apprehension that I begin to write a blog post on Stay at home mums V working Mums.  Mainly because, like most things in life, I don’t believe there is a firm black or white, right or wrong answer.  However, today I saw the Myleene Klass Yahoo channel ‘Bumps, Babies & Beyond’ programme and it was discussing the common debate – Can mums really have it all? – so I thought I’d dive in.

Until fairly recently, Ruth and I (who run this blog together) represented both of these worlds with Ruth staying at home to bring up Munchkin and me working (albeit part time) with Bear Cub in nursery 2 days a week and 1 day with Aunty.  So this is a discussion we’ve had many a time and we both see the pros and cons of each choice.  I say ‘choice’ when actually many mum’s are unable to afford to stay at home and not work and it doesn’t feel like a choice at all.  But from first-hand experience I’d also argue it’s an equal financial struggle to afford the astronomical childcare costs these days if you decide to go back to work!

The controversial bit:  Personally I don’t really see the point in having kids if they are in nursery from 8am-6pm 5 days a week.   It seems a bit like when people have a dog and then keep it outside in the kennel all the time – I just don’t get it. Having said that, I don’t think I could not work at all a) for my own sanity and b) for financial reasons.  So I opted for working part time. Bear cub gets a lot out of nursery and enjoys it but, there is just no denying if he had the choice he’d want to be with mummy full time.

One of the mums in the Myleene Klass video spoke of how upset she was that she missed her child’s first steps and this was what prompted her to become a SAHM.  However, the other guest described how working actually enabled her to be a happier and more fulfilled woman and therefore a better mum.  Both are incredibly strong arguments.

So in the interests of sparking some feedback and discussion let’s really go there with the good, bad and ugly of both options.

STAY AT HOME MUM:

Good – Won’t miss out on any key ‘first’ moments, give a secure start to your little one, form a close bond, educate them yourself, influence according to your family rules and preferences

Bad – Can sometimes be boring, may miss engaging your brain beyond child level activities, may miss adult company/interaction, may get frustrated with little person due to so much time with them, tiring.

Ugly – Lose your sense of being a woman in the role of being a mum, only talk about poo, Cbeebies and the latest soft play area, live in jeans and joggies

WORKING MUM:

Good – Having something for you can raise your self-esteem, by having time away from your little ones you may have more energy, patience and quality time when you are with them, makes you put make up on and do your hair, you can go to the toilet in peace and on your own!

Bad – May miss special/key events and first moments, bad habits can be learned at nursery/childcare, your child may have increased separation anxiety, nursery/childcare may teach different values/lessons to your preference, missing out in general as they grow up so quickly, tiring.

Ugly – You may have to learn how to walk in heels again (depending on your job) you have to work extra hard to keep all the plates spinning.

I’m sure you can think of many more to add (and I hope you will in the comments below).  One thing that really struck me is, whichever category we fall in, there is one accessory we all seem to wear as mum’s – altogether now – GUILT!!!!

Let’s give ourselves a break ladies and do what we feel is best for our family.

As we’ve often said on More than a Mum, we firmly believe it’s possible to be a great mum AND a fulfilled woman.

L