by Christina Wedgwood – Director, Intelligent Ink
Founding, owning and running a business is all-consuming; there’s no doubt about that. For all the challenging years that it takes to get it off the ground (and probably forever more) it is front and centre in your mind and consumes a great deal of your time and energy. It’s your first baby, so to speak.
So what happens then when you get to the point of having an actual baby? How do you gear up to take on that new challenge, and adapt to having a family, all while keeping your business intact?
An actual baby
These are exactly the thoughts I found myself grappling with in late 2015 when – having decided that a family was too important to my husband and me to keep being put off – we became pregnant with our first child.
The decision to have a baby wasn’t made lightly. There were the financial aspects to consider, the reality of how our life would change to wrap our heads around (we’re still working on this part, to be honest!), and the very real deliberation of whether we wanted to be responsible for another human being. For me too, I wanted to ensure that the legacy I had spent almost five years building not only survived this transition, but thrived through it also. I wanted a child to add to our life, not become it – and I knew that our business was still an important part of what makes that up.
So gearing up to turn our lives upside down… what were the questions? Firstly, there were the practical considerations; did the team have the right spread of talent to fill any gaps that I would be leaving in my absence? Did I have someone who could step up to lead, inspire and motivate these other great young women when I wasn’t there to do so? Luckily the answers for this were relatively easy… I had spent the prior year or two getting us closer to that scenario (like I say, this whole baby thing wasn’t something that we approached lightly). We’d assembled a great team and we had someone groomed and ready to take charge – she’d even had a trial run on our first extended holiday!
The questions that were more complicated however were the so-called ‘softer’ ones; how would I cope with the seismic shift of going from business owner and career woman, to mother? Not only do those two roles have such a different pace, so much of my identity is tied to what I do each day, which was going to change drastically.
And then of course there are the worries about whether I would lose my edge, how much the industry would move on while I wasn’t watching (especially when ours is going through such rapid transformations currently), and how I would feel about going back to work when this new little person had arrived and rocked our world so dramatically.
After an initial period of crazy-making sleepless nights, I knew it was time to get some advice and guidance. In my case, I was able to enlist this from within my own networks however, for some, this may require finding a way to reach out to other people.
For me, what was important was to talk to people who had ‘been there, done that’ – other young, female business owners who had started a family since they had been in business and could share the challenges and learnings from their journeys. Through friends, business connections and my extended family, I knew a couple of these but, realising that not a lot of people within my own network fit that criteria, I also sought the advice of businesswomen I admired for other reasons. Although these women may not have owned the businesses they worked in, they were juggling high-powered careers and their family in a way that saw them achieving success in both arenas.
I was struck by how forthcoming they all were, how humbled they were to be asked, and how readily they gave advice. This experience has reminded me of the importance of building and maintaining friendships and networks; I approached all of these women with a request that was somewhat left-of-field, and yet they were all very happy to help. I cannot stress this enough; keep in touch, make an effort and show people they’re important – you never know what you might be able to learn from them.
I began by contacting each and asking to meet for coffee. Never before has the phrase “Can I pick your brain a little?” been so useful… After an hour or so with each, a conversation and a latte or two, I had pearls of wisdom that no parenting, business development or self-help book could teach me.
The advice they gave me – and some of the realisations I have come to myself so far – overlapped, and made a big difference to how I felt in the lead up to my due date.
Four key insights
- Shift your expectations and ideas around what you can achieve in a day
One of the biggest causes of emotional whiplash that I predicted was going from a high-pressure environment where I’m able to cross lots off the list to days when the best I manage to do may be to take a shower. For ‘Type A’ personalities, which business owners so often are, we derive some measure of self-esteem from what we are able to ‘achieve’ in a day. If you can, use a few weeks of your maternity leave before baby arrives trying out a newer, slower pace with less expectations so that you’re not thrown from one world straight into the other and left wondering what on earth has happened! This was my plan anyway, and had been suggested as a tactic to remove further risk factors for post-natal depression, so watch this space.
- Trust yourself and be gentle… you’ll figure it out!
As above, the chances are that you’ve come from a place where the pressure is virtually always on and the stakes are high. This is the environment you’re used to working within and usually the person imposing the highest expectations is you. However, it’s important to try to be gentle with yourself as you figure out this next stage and how to move through the world with your new, and inherently more complicated identity. If you can amalgamate all the advice you receive (and you’ll receive a lot of it – much of which is unsolicited) in a clear-headed way, what is obvious is that there is no “right” way to parent and that it’s all about finding what works for you and your family. So, give yourself a break and accept that you may have to feel your way a bit. This may not be your usual modus operandi, but if you’re like me, it can be your mantra… As well as cultivating a connected and loving family, the thing I most want to learn on this journey is to be more gentle with myself too.
- Surround yourself with supportive people
I don’t just mean people who can provide childcare here either (although those are useful too!) Make sure you’ve got people around you who will allow you to talk things through in a level way and will help you to redesign how your life is to look going forward, in an open-minded way and without the weight of their expectations. This may involve some practical problem-solving and the ability to think creatively and outside-of-the-box, which brings us to our last piece of advice…
- Harness the skills you’ve cultivated in business to help in your new life stage too
Don’t discount or overlook the fact that so many of the skills that you have learnt and developed in business can help you as you adjust to family life. While you possibly want to avoid a fully scoped project plan for raising your child (or at least leave some room for flexibility and feelings in there!) other attributes like good time management, considered decision making, and even things like the ability to negotiate well, can all help you in your new life at home and as you possibly navigate your way back into the workforce. As a businesswoman you are, no doubt, exceptionally skilled at juggling multiple balls, prioritising conflicting demands and making decisions around where to allocate resource and focus, so remember – and make use of – all of that.
Christina has since had a beautiful baby boy named Levi, and has been putting the lessons she’s learnt into practice. She’s taken some time out and has swapped her desk for the changing table, and Intelligent Ink continues to thrive, as does Levi.
Have you had children while running your own business? What helped you adjust to your role as a mother?Please share your tips and advice in the comments section below.
Christina Wedgwood is the founder and director of Intelligent Ink, a communications agency specialising in PR, copywriting and content marketing. She’s passionate about helping small to medium enterprises and not-for-profit organisations tell their untold stories and get in front of the right people, and employs a team of talented young women to help her do this. To find out more, visit http://intelligentink.co.nz/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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