Meet Helen – she’s a Mum of three (7, 5 and 3) and currently pregnant with baby number four. She is the incredible lady behind Guilty Mothers Club – an online development hub and membership community for mums. Helen runs workshops online on things like how to make a career change to find work you love around a family (Game Changers), get organised (a personal favourite) and return to work after maternity leave. Her background is in HR (training and development) and Guilty Mothers Club was born after she wanted to make a change to her work / life set up (having had a long commute, long hours in a job she didn’t enjoy, as well as facing maternity discrimination) but not having any idea where to start and feeling like she was going through it on her own. She knew the community of other women experiencing similar stuff was out there but it needed bringing together so we could really support each other. I’ve known Helen for about nine years now and can fully vouch for her incredible content, brilliant outlook on life and general tenacity – she’s one of those people you’d call an all round good-egg who firmly stands up for what she believes in.
Helen likes to write, do Yoga and she’s a lover of reading. In her own words she’s ‘a crap baker but really like eating cake so I do this a lot with the kids and am actually just a big fan of eating generally. Food is a pretty big part of our lives!’
If you want to experience first hand the brilliant community and offerings of the Guilty Mothers Club you’ve got a few options. You can visit the Facebook group to chat about all things working motherhood, catch her on Instagram or head to her fab website.
What impact has being a working parent had on you?
Oh a huge impact. When I first returned to work it was partly driven by finances (though we probably could have just about scraped by) but also partly because I really wanted and needed something for myself. I imagine everyone feels this to some degree at some point, for me it came through work, for others I know it’s from hobbies or community work or volunteering etc. I genuinely know that working has made me a better parent because I feel more fulfilled all round. They will have benefitted from seeing that and having a happy mum around who hopefully is also showing that it is o.k to have your own needs met.
I’ve always been ambitious and had wanted to work for myself for a long time. Autonomy and feeling like I am making a difference are really important to me and I finally feel like I get all of that and more with the work I do.
That’s not to say that it has and is always this positive though. We all know the juggle is flaming real and the guilt has a habit of cropping up regularly. This has lessened over the last couple of years as my husband has taken time off to look after our brood and now works flexibly too but it’s still there. I still struggle to keep boundaries sometimes and switch off from work because I’m an all or nothing girl. There are so many challenges for working mums, which I’m sure we all know so I won’t spell out, but we haven’t escaped these.
I’ve often questioned whether some of our decisions have been the right ones but ultimately they were always made with the best intentions and with our family in mind, which I think is probably the best you can do.
Did you always know what you wanted life after having children to look like?
Ha, no, not at all. I always knew I still wanted to work and this would probably be part time and I definitely wanted to create an equal work / home situation with my husband. But it took us much longer and with far more ups and downs along the way than I realised to get here.
I knew we wanted three children ideally (err, or four) but obviously you can never take for granted that this will happen, we’ve been so so lucky. We thought we wanted to live in the countryside so we moved there but I became really unhappy and lonely being so cut off and away from our family so we ended up moving.
What’s the best thing that parenting has taught you?
I literally can’t think of just one. I often joke about it being really hard and try to be honest about the fact that there are days that I wonder WTF is going on here, what have we done, how am I actually having a ten minute conversation about whose porridge bowl contains more blueberries.
But becoming a parent has taught me so so much. I’ve learnt more by watching them grow up about how to play, be brave, be creative, be kind, actually just approach life than any book I’ve ever read. They’ve taught me so much about myself as a person, who I want to be, who I don’t want to be. They’ve taught me to be present and live in the moment, which is probably one of the most valuable things ever.
What happens when work and home collide? How do you cope?
Urgh, yep I know this. Like the summer holidays where it often felt like I was doing rubbish quality work (because I work from home and couldn’t concentrate), trying to be around as much as possible (which I thought I was) but then could overhear my eldest saying, “all Mummy ever does is work”. Arghhh.
In terms of coping I probably don’t do anything out of the ordinary. I mediate regularly and have done for about 4 years now. It’s really important for my mental health and helping me to step back. We try to be honest, with the older ones anyway, about the fact that yes we do work but this is essential to live. We talk about this quite a bit actually and not in a defensive way when things are tough but generally being open about money and what we can afford and why. It helps I think to explain the decisions we are making. And one thing I am really good at actually is not checking my phone or being distracted by work on home days. I don’t have work email on my phone on purpose (I know this isn’t possible for everyone) and won’t check social media more than once a day. Starting home days first thing with some mindfulness can help with this, it gets me off on the right track.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still those times when there is a deadline and I have no choice but to resort to the TV babysitter and a running buffet to get work finished, which can feel exceptionally frustrating and stressful. I’m grateful that these do tend to be in the minority.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself when you began juggling kids and working?
Spend more time understanding what YOU need to be at your best and prioritising time for this. It took me a long time to realise that exercise and meditation and hobbies weren’t nice to haves but actually really important and deserving of more focus. I look back and realise that I was craving an outlet for creativity and finding myself again but just became so obsessed with work and doing a good job and doing every activity possible with Mabel on my home days with her (to appease my guilt) and basically proving that I could do it all, that I started to lose touch with why it all mattered in the first place. If that makes sense.
This comes up a lot with Game Changers, it can feel like such a battle, a constant moving feat trying to manage the juggle and be and do everything. When you slow down and reflect it becomes much easier to get clarity and often the pieces start to fall into place and small changes can make the biggest difference.