As women, it’s only too easy to use our children as an excuse. Because the facts are, once you have children in your life, they are (while naturally being a joy) a distraction, a responsibility, and a drain on our reserves. There is always something else you need or want to do for them, or somewhere else they need or want you to be. Which is great, but doesn’t sit easily alongside building a business.
Take my day today for instance. I am genuinely tired, due to a certain person needing Calpol in the night and another certain person getting up at 6am. I then had to go to a ‘homework coffee morning’ at school, which took a large chunk out of my morning. So really, my children (a six-year-old son and daughter who is nearly two) could have provided a genuinely great excuse for getting very little done at all.
But if you’re a woman with children, who runs her own business (or a man if you’re a hands on dad) there’s not a lot you can do about having to juggle in reality. There’s no magic pill, no panacea. It’s a fact of life. The only way to deal with it is to reframe it, so here’s some common ‘Mum beliefs’ that might hold you back, and how to reposition them in your mind.
1. My children might suffer
Hands up if you have honestly never ever looked at your mum and thought, ‘It's YOUR fault that X happened to me’ or ‘It's because of YOU that I haven’t Y.’
And do you remember how, as a teenager, nothing your mum ever did was right? If she spoke, what she said was wrong, if she worked, you wanted her at home, if she was at home, you just wished she wasn’t hanging around the whole bloody time. So the school of thought that I subscribe to is that at some point, no matter what you do, your children will blame you for it. That is a fact of life.
But against this backdrop, just as you most likely ‘got over’ the things you blamed your mum for and at some point realised she was just trying to do her best, your children will in turn ‘get over’ their gripes with you.
Perhaps most importantly, experts say that happy mums make for happy children. So it follows that if you have a burning ambition to do something, to create something, to be someone, but you don’t go for it because you’re worried that your children might suffer, then you won’t be happy. And that is ultimately what will cause them pain.
2. No one takes me seriously now I’m a mum
I’m at a parenthood stage now where the ‘me’ before parenthood seems like a different person to the ‘me’ now. I can’t remember how I used to spend my time when I didn’t have the constant demand of two little ones.
So the idea of putting yourself out there with a new business, a new product or a service at the same time as coming to terms with what can feel like a new identity is nerve racking. Add in the worry of what to do if you have to cancel a meeting because your child is sick and how unprofessional you’ll look when you open up your handbag in front of clients and a dummy falls out (happens to me all the time) and it’s easy to understand why many people give up before they even start.
But this is more about your beliefs, than about anyone else’s. Because the circle of life dictates that once you get past a certain age, most people will be parents. So think of it this way. There’s actually nothing new or that interesting about the fact you’re a mum. And in fact, being a fellow parent, even in business, can be a great platform to bond on, or open up conversation about.
Obviously if you’re at a professional meeting, keep things brief, and don’t witter on about your children for long, or show them the entire collection of dummies in your handbag. But everyone likes to see a ‘human’ side to people they meet professionally and so there’s no need to pretend you haven’t got children. Even the most tyrannical of bosses or clients can be won over if you encourage them to share a story or two about their own offspring.
3. My kids have fried my brain
A couple of years ago, a study found that baby brain is actually real – and apparently an evolutionary development aimed at forcing mums to focus on the needs to their baby.
But that said, other research says we only ever use 10% of our brains’ capacity. Even taking an enormous baby brain into consideration, that would mean you still actually have more, not less, brain power at your disposal. So use it.
4. I’m too tired
We all know the indescribable unwavering type of tiredness that comes with being a parent and, tediously, doesn’t seem to ease with sleep. It’s caused by relentless broken nights and early mornings, plus the endless juggling of the minutiae of small people’s lives (must remember to take school book back tomorrow, must synch Leapfrog Learn to Read pen with laptop, must remember handwriting practise, football club, birthday parties, etc).
But equally, people without kids are tired too. Tiredness has become a bit of a national spot, a competition of who is a ‘bit more tired’ than whom.
Of course, tiredness can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as depression, diabetes, or cancer, so inexplicable exhaustion should always be checked by a doctor. But if you’re just tired, like me, because of kids waking up in the night then ditch it as an excuse. Change your diet, do a bit more exercise if you want. Otherwise, accept that parents, particularly those with small children, do feel tired.
After all, imagine how you’ll feel on your deathbed when you witter, ‘I could have done more with my business and my ideas, but I was too tired.’ In the shadow of eternal sleep, that might seem not such a stumbling block after all.
Natasha Courtenay-Smith is a London-based business coach who specialises in helping entrepreneurs exit their businesses. The former MT 35 Under 35er founded press agency Talk to the Press, which she sold earlier this year. Tweet her at @Tash_Courtenay.