Friday, 25 July 2014

CAREERS WEEK: Getting to grips with childcare!

For working families in the UK, childcare is probably the biggest headache. Choosing the right setting for your child/children, how to make it work with drop offs and pick ups, full-time or part-time, making the sums add up. Women often seem to feel that it all falls on their shoulders; making the decisions, working out whether their salary will cover the childcare costs for 1, 2 or 3 kids. In this rather epic review, I take childcare by the horns; examining the UK childcare situation now and the changes that are coming up.

Childcare: a joint responsibility

Of course, the key thing to remember here is that childcare, whether providing it, organising it or paying for it, is not the sole responsibility of the mother. If the kids have two parents, then two people are responsible for their care and wellbeing. Dads need to take parental leave or annual leave when needed, meet potential carers, participate in dropping off and picking up, and factor their salary into the equation. Fiona Millar makes this key point in The Secret World of the Working Mother (2009):

Mother's wage - childcare costs = not much/nothing
Mother's wage + father's wage (they are his kids too right?) - childcare costs = some

Taking the view that it's not worth going back to work because "it doesn't pay" is fine if, actually, you don't really want to go back to work. But don't sacrifice a job you love because you are holding up your salary against the entire childcare bill, instead of half of it. And there are other reasons you might want to continue working aside from household finances - to maintain your skill-set, to stay connected, to maintain your independence, because you need something else to think about than weaning or potty training 24/7. Of course, if both salaries really don't cover childcare, lots of dads are now choosing to take a career break to care for the kids.

By checking your rights and the legislation regulating childcare providers, you may be able to find a solution that works emotionally, practically and financially for you and your partner and, of course, that is in the best interests of your kids.

What's happening with maternity leave, paternity leave and parental leave?

Policy changes mean that you and your partner can decide whether to go the traditional route with maternity and paternity leave or consider sharing leave. You may also wish to take unpaid leave later on.
  • Mums can take a minimum of 2 weeks and a maximum of 52 weeks Maternity Leave, if you have worked for their employer for a minimum of 1 year. Your level of pay will depend on how long you have worked there, how much you earn and your contract.
  • Dads can take 1-2 weeks Paternity Leave within the first 2 months after the child's birth date, then if their partner returns to work early, may be eligible for up to 26 weeks Additional Paternity Leave. 
  • Currently parents can also access Parental Leave. Each parent can take up to 18 weeks unpaid leave from work to care for their children at any time up to the child's 5th birthday for a maximum of 4 weeks per year. Although this is unpaid, it could be really useful to help during a nursery/school holiday or to settle a child into a new school. 
  • From 2015, mums will still take 2 weeks leave minimum but parents will be able to share the remaining 50 weeks as Flexible Parental Leave. This is closer to Norwegian policy; see this guest post to find out more about how sharing leave feels in practice.     
And don't forget, when your leave comes to an end, whether it's after 2 weeks or a year, it is emotional leaving your baby for the first time to go to work. My daughter started at a childminder at 7 months so I could start a nursing job. For the first couple of weeks, I felt heart-broken and bereft. We both got used to it and she loved her childminder for a wonderful 18 months but it was definitely hard to adjust. Cut yourself some slack, it will get easier.

The world of work is changing

When you do go back to work, you might not be tied to the humdrum 9-5 Monday-Friday. All UK employees now have the right to request "flexible working"; a right parents of children under 17 have had for some time. Sadly, as we all know, asking doesn't mean getting. You could ask to compress your hours (5 days into 4 days for example) or to start earlier and finish earlier. You will need to have strong negotiation skills (ask your boss after lunch, apparently they will feel more relaxed and are more likely to say yes!) or be prepared to walk away from a job with less than sympathetic employers. Women Like Us offers careers advice specifically for women with children.

More part-time roles and opportunities for home-working are helping parents who want to spend more time with their kids, be it taking them to a parent and toddler morning once a week or being there to collect them at the school gates. Working a 4 day week may well be better for your health and quality of life and have minimal impacts on your finances if you take into account rail fares, tax, car insurance and child benefit (Lisa Bachelor, Guardian). Childcare settings are willing to take children on a part time basis, though their fees might not always reflect exactly how long your child is there.

Research by The Family & Childcare Trust shows that the 24/7 culture means more parents are working "atypical hours" outside the usual 8am-6pm provided by registered childcare providers*. 16% of parents work shifts; 10% work over 40 hours a week and 40% of parents work hours which vary week to week, making organising childcare very difficult. Parents with long commutes need early drop offs and late pick ups. Shift workers may need overnight care. Some parents may be able to "tag team" or hire a babysitter, nanny or au pair to drop off or pick up.  But many families end up relying on informal childcare - grandparents, older siblings, friends - who may not be able to provide the commitment needed for the parents to maintain their job. 

I was only able to work long shifts (days, nights and weekends) as a nurse because my partner's job was 9-5 - he took a hands-on role with childcare and did drop offs and pick ups from our childminder. My parents could step in if needed. Now my partner works long hours and my parents live two hours away, hospital shifts just aren't feasible for us anymore, especially if I can't get shifts on fixed days. 

As a society, we lose skilled employees from the workforce both because employers may expect an unreasonable level of flexibility from workers with families (such as long hours or hours that change week to week) and because councils don't yet provide high quality, flexible childcare to meet demand.  Hopefully more childcare providers will start to offer flexible hours, but until then it's always worth asking! Our childminder didn't mind taking our daughter half an hour early and keeping her half an hour late as it was only 2 days a week.

Looking at childcare options

In the UK, we have a very mixed childcare scene with huge variety in provision, costs and quality. Registered childcare includes childminders, nurseries, pre-schools and creches (over 2 hours/day). These settings are inspected by Ofsted and regulated in terms of child:staff ratios, health & safety, indoor and outdoor space, activities and care. Non-registered childcare may be friends, nannies or babysitters.

As a family we have used a childminder, a mother's help, a nursery and a playschool. Clearly, different settings will suit different children depending on their age and personality and will work for different families depending on whether you're looking for full-time, part-time or term-time childcare and what you need it for. If you are working, you might want siblings at the same setting for convenience.  If you're on leave you might just need some stimulation for your older child, either elsewhere or at your own home, so you and the baby can catch up on some shut-eye on the sofa!

Key things to consider:
  • Child:staff ratios: There should be AT LEAST 1 staff member: 3 babies under 2 years old, and 1 staff member: 4 toddlers aged 2 years old. Staff ratios for children aged three and over vary - check OFSTED. 
  • Get a feel for the people and the place: Do the staff seem welcoming and kind? Is there plenty of outdoor space and equipment? Are you able to meet everyone who works there or lives there in the case of a childminder?  Do the children there seem happy and cared for? Or are there kids plonked in front of the telly, babies left in high chairs? Staff more interested in paperwork than children? Glaring health and safety issues!?
  • Think about bonding. Young children need to see familiar faces who will respond to their needs so they feel secure and happy. This is simpler with a childminder or nanny but nurseries and preschools with several members of staff should allocate a keyworker to your child whose job it is to really get to know him or her so they can help them enjoy activities but also reassure them when they are upset or hurt. See Sue Gerhardt's Why Love Matters (2004) for more on bonding and child development.
  • Read Ofsted reports and get references from other parents but also trust your instincts. I took my daughter out of an "outstanding" day nursery because I wasn't convinced they were providing the level of quality care day to day that they advertised. I was really stressed about it at the time but, with hindsight, it wasn't the right setting for her.
  • Listen to your child. It will take a while to settle in, but you're hoping for a baby to hold out their arms for their childminder or for a toddler to excitedly run in to playgroup without a backward glance, even though it may put your nose out of joint! If your child really finds it hard to settle in, you need to think about whether they need more time or whether actually the setting isn't right for them. If they are saying "don't want it, don't want it" all the way there for weeks on end, it could be worth investigating further.
For more information, see the Family & Childcare Trust fact sheet Visiting Childcare Settings.

Childcare costs

Childcare is really, really expensive. No news there then. Many of us are relying on grandparents to help out; it was reported this month that nearly 2 million grandparents are giving up work or cutting their hours to care for their grandchildren (James Meikle, Guardian). It's important to be fair to grandparents - some are desperate to look after their grandchildren but others may find it too much. After all, even well and able parents find a whole day with their kids knackering!

Good news is that all 3 and 4 year olds are currently entitled to 15 hours/week free childcare for 38 weeks a year. 20% of 2 year olds are also eligible, depending on family income, and this will double to 40% in September 2014 (GOV UK). There are also lots of ways to get financial help with paying for childcare. We used childcare vouchers from both our employers to pay our childminder (remember both parents are responsible for childcare costs so both parents are eligible for help). Of course, actually accessing financial help tends to be really confusing. With this in mind, I recommend you take a look at the Family & Childcare Trust fact sheet Childcare Costs for detailed information.

And really think about your options. Yes full-time day nurseries are really expensive. But if you've got a spare room, an au pair might be cheaper. Or think about a nanny share with another family. These options definitely involve compromises but could give you the flexibility you need at a price you can afford. 

What about holidays?

In pre-school settings, dealing with holidays can be a bit easier. Many nurseries are open all year round, but bear in mind preschools are usually term-time only and childminders and nannies are entitled to annual leave too! School holidays, of course, are the real nightmare for working parents. Now, I'm a bit old-school, I feel really nostalgic about the wonderful long holidays we used to enjoy as kids - it felt like a taste of real freedom, a proper break to rest and re-charge. But then, my parents were teachers so it was simple.

For a lot of families, it's a real worry. Trying to find back-to-back summer camps to put the kids into. Or each parent using up their annual leave to cover half the summer holiday, putting pay to any proper family holiday together. According to the Holiday Childcare Survey 2014, 25% of parents had been forced to cut their hours, 17% said they had taken days off sick and 12% of parents had given up a job. The average cost of holiday childcare in Britain is £114.50 per week and only 27% of English local authorities had enough holiday childcare for working parents.  

Those are grim stats. In this situation, informal arrangements sharing childcare with friends or relatives might help a bit but needs a lot of organising and goodwill. According to the Department of Education quoted in The Independent last week, "We have introduced tax free childcare for almost two million families so working parents with children under 12 can save up to £2,000 per child per year from 2015" - so better hope you're eligible for tax breaks in 2015 then!

Accessing a community of families in the same boat

Being a working parent, even with great childcare, is tough. When you're moving between the world of work and the world of parenthood, you can end up feeling isolated from both. Can't make after-work drinks on Friday night, got to get home to the kids. Can't make your child's sports day, you've got a meeting. Especially if you are working full-time, you might feel that it's hard to meet other parents and that your child misses out on the toddler groups that only seem to run on weekday mornings or the after school ballet classes and swimming lessons.

If this is you, it really helps to find families in the same situation. Good childminders and nurseries can help link you in to a community of families just by introducing you at pick up time or running events in the evenings. If you can find the energy between doing last week's laundry and cooking next week's dinners, organise stuff on the weekends with other families - group picnics, swimming trips, movie outings. All the better if there is fun for the grown ups too! That is what happy childhood memories are made of.

The future

The Family and Childcare Trust are very clear that the government needs to put in place a national strategy for childcare so that families across the country can access affordable, flexible, quality childcare, rather than having to use multiple childcare providers to cover their working hours. How this should be achieved is still up for debate. I don't necessarily agree with all their recommendations:
  •  More early years provision in schools, with care from age 2 years. While this does make a lot of practical sense, my concern is whether a school setting is the right place for toddlers; young children still in need of cuddles, naps and nappy changes. What a baby needs is obviously very different from what a confident preschooler needs.
  • Graduate-led early years provision. You can learn about child development and education but I have met so many wonderful people working in early years settings who have endless patience, kindness, experience and, above all, devotion to the needs of young children, that I could not bear to see these qualities overlooked in favour of academic qualifications.
Basically, we need more government subsidy to raise wages for childcare workers, valuing the hugely important work they do and keeping the best people in the profession, while bringing costs down for parents. But the government's childcare reforms still seem very piecemeal. Their attempt to relax child:staff ratios failed when Nick Clegg broke ranks in response to widespread condemnation from parents, childcare providers and childcare experts (Independent)!

So for the time being, it's probably best to really think through what is important for your family in terms of work/life balance and childcare. Whatever you choose, it just has to work for now. Things change, priorities change. If everyone is coping ok, great. If a member of the family, young or old, is exhausted, miserable or struggling, think again. There are a myriad of options out there, so go with your instinct. In my experience, if you know the kids are having a good time, it makes life a damn sight easier for you. Good luck!

*Research published by the Family & Childcare Trust, Open all hours: flexible childcare in the 24/7 era by Rosanna Singler (2011)

Thursday, 24 July 2014

CAREERS WEEK GUEST POST: Want to climb the career ladder? What's stopping you?

Liz Rouse OBE

Elizabeth Rouse FRSA OBE has a professional background in strategic leadership and management in higher education and the art & design sector. She is now Professor Emerita of the University of the Arts London where she was Deputy Rector and Pro Vice Chancellor until her retirement in  2012. In this role she was responsible for research, academic development, quality and standards and the student experience and has led national projects promoting widening participation and graduate employability in the arts. Elizabeth received an OBE for Services to Higher Education earlier this year.  

When working as a senior woman executive in a large university, Elizabeth was often asked to mentor or give talks to women in the organisation who wanted to progress their careers and to share her experience about becoming a successful manager and bringing up her two daughters. Here, Elizabeth gives us some tips about moving into management.  

Where next?  Been doing the same old job or wanting to get back into work? Thinking about stepping on to the management ladder?   

For most of us, the way to progress within an organisation and indeed earn a bigger salary is to take on management responsibilities. If the case studies of "superwomen" profiled in the press are correct, some women can't wait to be managers - to be in charge. Not only do they run highly successful businesses or rise to the top of their profession, they also seem to have wonderful partners and children, and great childcare! But when faced with an opportunity to go into management or take the next step up the ladder, many of us are more ambivalent. Perhaps we are not so eager to take on extra responsibilities, worrying how this will affect our families and how we will manage childcare. Anyway we don't necessarily see ourselves as "managers", part of the hierarchy. Would we have to change, can we be true to ourselves and our values?     

Why are women so diffident about applying for management roles and asking for the pay and conditions they want?

Women tend to be much more cautious about applying for management posts than men, we can lack confidence and hang back waiting to be asked rather than putting ourselves forward.  Men are more ambitious in their applications and seem to worry less about whether they have the right skills and experience. But this means lots of very competent and experienced women are not fulfilling their potential, and there are fewer role models of what it means to be an "ordinary woman" manager.  Writing in The Guardian Women in Leadership Newsletter (July14) Demetra Katsifli says Employers are likely to offer lower salaries to people who display a lack of confidence, appear overly eager for the job or fail to negotiate their employment terms. Women seem to be grateful to be offered the job. If you are offered a job, negotiate the terms and conditions.

Although we may lack confidence, women can get frustrated by the management we experience, or the poor managers we see in our organisation.  This may be your experience.  You can't help but feel you could do it better yourself!  There a number of ways to "try out" management - get a secondment, stand in for someone going on maternity leave, or work on a special project.  These are great ways of building your confidence, showing what you can do and getting noticed.  Although in the current climate of job cuts, you may just have management forced upon you whether you like it or not - just told that if you want to continue in your job you have to take on extra responsibilities. 

Whatever your reasons, if an opportunity comes along are you ready? Do you have the right skills? Will it mean more time at work? 

Surely most mothers have management skills - multi-tasking, time management, communicating with difficult people (like a recalcitrant 3 year old!)  But when taking on a management job, you do have to prepare for changes -  you do need different skills and you need to spend your time differently.   

A lot of people worry about management jobs involving more time at work and more pressure but, the thing to remember is, management is primarily about getting things done through others, not doing more of the work yourself. This means that you may have to use different skills to the ones that made you good at your original job and you will have to use your time at work differently. You will need to spend time clearly allocating tasks to others, defining and assigning work, and coaching and mentoring staff so they get better at their jobs. One of the commonest mistakes new managers make is to try doing it all themselves. Also when things go wrong, they take over the work themselves. If you do this you will be overstretched and your team will not learn how to do things differently.  So being a good manager is valuing the time and effort you put into supporting other people to do their jobs, as well as getting on with your own specific tasks at work. Not doing more work yourself.

Management is also about negotiation - getting resources for your team to do their work, building networks with colleagues and, of course, managing your boss!  So one of the first things is to make sure you negotiate your terms and conditions. If you need to work flexibly or restrict hours due to family demands show how this will work for the organisation. As Demetra Katsfli suggests, dont be too grateful - be clear about what conditions you need to do the job well. 

Ready to take the next step and apply for a management post?

Build your confidence by reminding yourself of what you are good at, the positive feedback you have received, the things you have achieved and how you have learned from your mistakes.  Be aware of the gaps in your skills and experience, and the areas where you need to improve.  If you do have gaps, show how you have already learned from observing other managers (good and bad!) or how you plan to fill them by getting a mentor, doing some management development or specific training. Last of all remember that managers are not born; management is something you can learn to do. So go for it!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

CAREERS WEEK GUEST POST: Same World... different planet... What do you want now?

Kerry Hales, life coach

Kerry Hales is a ‘Professional Certified Coach’ with the International Coaching Academy. Previously a successful senior NHS Manager, Kerry has now been coaching for over ten years and specialises in empowering women to succeed. She is a mother of two young boisterous boys and lives by the sea with her partner, Labrador and ginger Tom. Life is very simple, yet very full. 

Motherhood is a strange, yet wonderful place and the extra earth shattering news is that now your values have changed too.  You don’t want the same ‘anything’ that you did before – how could you?  So who are you now, and what do you really want?  Here are five exercises on ‘Finding what you want’:   

1. Create a space where you can think.

How can you make life easier on yourself?  Setting up your life to make things as easy as possible is all about making time for you.  Be ruthless about the time you need to spend on yourself, be it at a job, studying or preparing a business plan – you are going to need time and you are going to have to put yourself first.  Here’s the test question:  Are you running your life around your children or are you showing them how to live a life they love? 

2. What is your ‘Back Story’?

Before children, who were you?  This exercise is to look at what you did before you had children and what you loved about it. Write it down.  Yep, I mean it.  Get a coffee or some kind of drink that soothes you (create a space for you) and sit and work through all that you have done – from school onwards.  What we are really looking for here is what you enjoyed.  Be as specific as you can, if it was projects, what was it about them – the time frame, accountability, the detail, the use of computers, the importance of communicating with other people?  Break it down as far as you can.  Everything is valuable in getting to know you better. 

Once you have a list you will notice certain recurring themes, some of which may come as a surprise. What we are looking for are real answers to who you are, not who you think you are or what you think you want.  Getting a clearer idea of what you want, comes from understanding what you have already done.  The trends are there and you will bring with you a feast of talent from your past.  So we always start there.  Who is this character and what can we trust her to do?

3. If you start by chasing others’ ideas of success you will never achieve it.

What you want from life is up to you.  It is your choice, your decision and you who lives it.  Make sure when you are figuring out what you want, it is ‘yours’.  Check in with yourself and see...  are your ideas of success based on someone else’s?  Your parents, siblings, BFF’s?  They will all have an impact on your ideas, as you spend so much time with them.  But this is all about you and what you want.  If your idea is to start a business, and your friends are all employed, the conversation will be towards what their ‘advice’ is.  So when you are asking for ‘advice’ (what they would do in your shoes) make sure you take notice.  It is theirs, not yours.  What do you want?  What feels right to you? 

4. But what if I really don’t know what I want to do?

Once you have had your children, one of the most frustrating things is trying to find what you want to do next, for you.  It feels like there is no time to waste.  Relax!  Life isn’t like that.  You are going to make mistakes.  Think of it like an aeroplane on its route – it’s rarely 100% on course – it’s an ongoing process of course correcting.  Try something out and check to see if it’s working for you and the family and if not – see how you can change it. The rule here is:  Is this working for ‘me’?  If not, how can ‘I’ change it? 

5.  What if I really, really don’t know what I want?

It is sometimes easier to list what we don’t want. So start there.  Make a comprehensive list about what you do not want.  We can very easily become focused on what we do not want and ‘bingo’ we get it.  So, for this I suggest you take advantage of your focus and get it down on paper, add a column next to each point and turn what was a negative into a positive – if I don’t want this, then what I really want it this.  What you end up is with a list of what you do want.  Voila!
We are also going to acknowledge and love our pessimistic side (yes we all have one).  If you do not do this it will rear its ugly head and stop any kind of creativity you had.  For this exercise we need two pieces of paper (or just turn it over!); one for your ‘creative’ side and the other for the ‘pessimistic’ one.  Both are very valuable in their own right and by the end of this exercise you will learn to love them equally... well nearly!
Q:  If I got paid to have fun – what would I be doing?
Q:  What if ‘money/time/skills/my age/’didn’t matter – what would I do?

Put the answer that comes on the right side of paper. When you have finished you will have ideas on one side and considerations on the other – all of which are invaluable, as you will need to answer both, but this will get ideas flowing.  

So there you have it – five top tips on getting what you want.  If you can think it, you can do it.  If you have written anything down... You can do it. You can! You really can, all you need is a plan and a bunch of determination and you can create anything!

If you would like to find out more about Kerry Hales' life coaching, go to

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

CAREERS WEEK GUEST POST: On why motherhood and entrepreneurship can be the perfect fit

Emily Guille-Marrett offers advice to pregnant mothers on giving their child the best start for reading

Emily Guille-Marrett  is a mother of two young boys and founder of new company Here she talks about how having a baby changed her life and gave her the flexibility, creative space and confidence to set up her own business. 

From strategy meeting to motherhood

“I have to go to the hospital for an urgent check up. I hope to be back for the strategy meeting at midday, otherwise I will be induced. I’ll ring and let you know.”

These were the last words I recall saying to my publishing director before going on maternity leave with my first baby.  I had pre-eclampsia in the late stages of pregnancy and my baby had stopped growing. My blood pressure was high and, for both our sakes, it was time to give nature a helping hand and welcome my son into the world a little early. No-one could have prepared me for this life-changing experience and its impact on my career and family.

A new life and new opportunities

Fast-forward a few weeks and I had resigned from my job, sold our family home and planned to relocate from Oxford to Whitstable on the Kent coast. All my work colleagues, family and friends were shocked. I was the last person on earth they (and I) thought wouldn’t be returning to work after having a baby. An ambitious publisher, fiercely loyal and satisfied in my job, I had found myself in an impossible situation. Unlike many mothers and fathers who manage the balance between work and home life brilliantly, I knew I would find it difficult to set boundaries between working for someone else and the demands of motherhood. Having been separated from our underweight baby at birth because he’d been in special care meant that my husband and I were unwilling to compromise on the natural-parenting style we’d unexpectedly fallen into, which wasn’t reasonably compatible with the expectations of contemporary office life.

I had spent my career inspired by incredible women in publishing such as Dame Marjorie Scardino at Pearson, Kate Harris at Oxford University Press and most recently Kate Wilson at Nosy Crow. They had taught me the importance of embracing change, accepting and learning from failure and above all being brave and resilient. It was time to apply this knowledge and find the inner strength to set up my own company and work for myself.

The story behind Reading Fairy

Having been a publisher of books and software to help children learn to read, I found that friends wanted advice and practical tips to support their child’s reading at home. What started off as a light-hearted chat with friends over coffee turned into a passion for wanting to pass on my expertise to help parents and carers give their child a head start for learning to read. I presented my ideas for Reading Fairy to entrepreneur Doug Richard’s School for Creative Start Ups and was awarded a place with funding from Kent County Council. Bookings for classes, parties and bespoke events are now available in Kent and London. 

Babies and Business – The Highs and Lows

1.     Finances

It took a while to adjust to having only one regular income. We took some of the pressure off by selling our home and relocating to Whitstable on the Kent coast. There’s no doubt that we have had to make material sacrifices in the short term. But the value of what I’m doing, as a mother, partner, provider and reading expert, far out-ways the immediate financial loss.

When I think of the loss of salary and perks of being a publisher, it can feel quite overwhelming. No regular income. No company car. No pension. No private healthcare. No maternity leave with baby number 2. No childcare support. The list goes on. But when I read in Forbes that Manhattan Nannies can earn up to $200k a year, my friends and I in a similar position to me joked that this was the amount we were saving our family on childcare. Suddenly, it didn’t feel quite so painful!

Whatever happens, don’t let motherhood stand in your way of seeking financial and business advice. Being on maternity leave is a great time to both bond with your baby and seek new opportunities. The great thing about setting up your own business whilst parenting in the way you want is that you can create your own boundaries. I have fed my newborn baby in meetings about business funding and pitched for investment with my baby in a sling. I can’t quite believe I did that now, but it certainly helped me get to where I am now.

2.     Childcare

I couldn’t have got to where I am now without the support of my husband and the grandparents in assisting with childcare. My parents-in-law generously help us with childcare on a regular basis – and my boys love being with them. My parents in Jersey were called upon to drop everything and assist with childcare during the Reading Fairy launch at Selfridges. Quite what people do without that kind of support I don’t know!  

My husband and I never feel we’ve quite got the home/work balance right between us. Setting up a business whilst raising small children is not for the faint hearted. Sleep deprivation, ambition, sacrifice, passion (and housework!) all converge to create fireworks every now and then. But we know where we are, where we want to get to and we’re proud to say we’re following our dreams – as individuals, together and as a family. All family set ups are different, and I know many successful single mothers who, with a strong network of family, friends and the right childcare support, are hugely successful in balancing work and family life.

3.      Motherhood and Sisterhood

I think it’s sad that for over a year I was deemed unemployed by society both as a stay at home mother and person setting up a business. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. And I’ve not been entitled to any childcare support as for some time I was deemed self-employed. There are many women in this situation. 

Whatever your parenting style or work/life situation, it’s important to surround yourself with supportive friends. In the early days of motherhood, I knew which of my friends were feeding their babies on demand through the night so I could support them to get sleep and vice versa. I would arrange playdates with friends who were setting up businesses and had young children. We would go to one another’s houses, talk through ideas and childcare swap. Sometimes a large cup of tea and a big hug was all we needed. Many neighbours call on us when their child is ill or needs to be collected from nursery or school – and they’re there for us too. I have a fantastic social media network of supporters and advisers – for motherhood and business. This has and continues to be invaluable. 

Get out there and meet people

The most important thing I recommend anyone embarking on motherhood or setting up a business is to get out there and meet people. Share your knowledge and others will share theirs. Network and you’ll find support. Communicate and you’ll find opportunities. If you get out there and start believing in yourself then you’ll build your confidence.

What I have found incredible is how many other mothers felt similarly to me. Many had re-located, were in the process of setting up a businesses or working freelance. All are talented and continue to experiment with ways to balance work and motherhood – for some that’s about staying at home. Whatever you do, it must make you happy, fulfilled, content and valued.  

Here are just a handful of inspiring businesses set up by talented mothers I know to inspire you. 

My Top Tips for starting a business

·         Be an expert
·         Embrace social media
·         Know the value of what you do
·         Skills swap. Share expertise.
·         Don’t be afraid of failure and learn from it
·         Trust your instincts
·         Stand focused
·         Network and connect people
·         Know when to say No!
·         Understand your customers
·         Do something creative every day
·         Believe in yourself and stay positive

Much of this can be applied to motherhood too! Good luck.

You can follow Emily on twitter @EastKentMum @ReadingFairyLtd and if you would like to find out more about Reading Fairy, go to and facebook/ReadingFairy.