The highs and lows of being a self-employed mum

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This blog is Day 11 of my 30 days of motherhood blogging challenge. Every day, for 30 days, I’m sharing diary-style snippets of my life as a working mum to one cheeky toddler. Consider this part creative experiment, part self-therapy. Feel free to play along at home! You can read days one to ten here.

Today is a public holiday in New Zealand (ANZAC Day) and unfortunately, I worked. I did take some time this morning to snuggle up with Zoey on the couch and watch the Dawn Parade, but then Tom took her out and about so I could knuckle down and concentrate on some important deadlines.

Am I running my business or is my business running me? It’s a fine line, and I’m working on putting better boundaries in place. I clearly haven’t nailed the business/baby blend (does anyone, ever?) and I know I need to make a few changes. I’d like to be able to not work public holidays, evenings or weekends, but I haven’t quite found the magic formula yet.

I’m not telling you this because I want to glorify ‘the hustle’ (I’ve got some serious objections to that term!) or because I want a medal for working on a public holiday (I know I’m not the only one – my inbox is surprisingly busy).

I guess I’m just trying to tell it like it is – this challenge is about writing a diary-style reflection of each day, and today I worked despite wanting to spend time with my family because I have deadlines to meet.

I’m going to come right out and say it: running a business is hard. Motherhood is hard. Combining the two? I’ll let you fill in the blanks.

That’s not to say that hard means bad or not worthwhile or that things can’t be hard and wonderful at the same time. Business is hard – but it can also be insanely rewarding and a lot of fun. Motherhood is hard, but it’s also uplifting and soul-giving and squishy cuddles and I LUB yous.

Lately, I’ve noticed a resistance to the word ‘hard’ because of its negative connotations. Many people I highly respect suggest that when we say ‘business is hard’ or ‘motherhood is hard’, that’s just a story we’re telling ourselves – and one we need to rewrite. We need to repeat the affirmations ‘business is ease’ or ‘motherhood is joy’ to snap us out of a negative mindset and into alignment.

I’m ALL for that reframe when it serves you (and it often serves me), but I also subscribe to the belief that doing hard things is really worthwhile. I don’t want to remove the word hard from my vocabulary because I’m not striving for an easy, breezy life. I want a life that’s rewarding and meaningful and overflowing with learning, and I understand that will come with some challenges.

So, why am I sharing this? I’m not completely sure – when I opened this document and started to write, these were the words that came pouring onto the page. I guess I’m still coming to terms with how hard (and yet also easy) being a self-employed mum is, and I’m trying to figure out how to process my paradoxical feelings on the subject.

A large part of me feels guilty for complaining that it’s hard, because in many ways I’m living the dream. I’ve created a career with ultimate flexibility, where I’m fully in charge of how much work I take on and who I work for – where I’m my own boss. I didn’t have to tell anyone I was going on maternity leave, I didn’t have to negotiate flexi-time upon returning to the workforce, I haven’t had to apologise to my boss because I need to pick up Zoey from daycare. In many ways, self-employment is the ultimate option for mums.

And yet. It can also be excruciatingly lonely and isolating – even for an introvert like myself. It’s difficult to put boundaries in place between work and home life, because when you’re self-employed there’s always more you could be doing to push your business forward. It requires an extraordinary amount of discipline, motivation, energy, self-awareness and self-forgiveness. The buck starts and stops with you.

I’ve been self-employed for 3.5 years (Made of Words turns four in September), so I’m not new to the challenges of this career choice. There’s a reason why not everyone chooses this path and why so many businesses fail within the first year. As much as it’s awesome to have complete autonomy over my schedule, it’s also awesome to be paid for sick days and public holidays and have water-cooler chat with colleagues.

Before Zoey, I was able to ride the self-employed rollercoaster with a lot more ease, because all my time was my own – I could work evenings and weekends whenever I needed to and take more time out to socialise when the loneliness started to take its toll.

Since becoming a mum, I’ve had to make tweaks to how I do business, and that process is constantly evolving. Not only have I virtually halved the number of hours I’m available to work, I’ve also added the expense of childcare – I’ll let you do the math on that one! I know this is a struggle that so many working mothers are familiar with and we start to ask ourselves: can I actually afford to work? Are the numbers adding up in my family’s favour?

Often we’re working out of necessity, to put that little bit extra on the table in a society where the cost of living is insanely high. We’re also working for ourselves, for our sense of self. Everyone’s situation is so different. There’s no right or wrong way. It’s complex and highly personal.

I, for one, am definitely still figuring it out, trying to make sense of what I believe and what I want, all while navigating the emotional challenges of being pretty new to this motherhood gig.

As much as I want to tell you that it’s easy, I think I’m going to stick with the word hard for now. But I want to make it clear that I don’t think hard is bad – people love running marathons and don’t call it easy! Hard can be really, really good and worthwhile.

And of course, I’ll let you know if I discover any magic formulas!

Jess x