This is not the post where I give you the golden sparkling key to how to achieve work/life balance. I think that concept of trying to be balanced is flawed to begin with. In case you haven’t read my previous thoughts on that, the gist is: you can’t be all of the things all of the time so stop trying to be. Achieving balance isn’t that hard but maintaining it certainly is, so just accept now that sometimes you’ll suck at being a business owner and sometimes you’ll rock at it. Same is true for motherhood or being a good partner, wife, or friend.
In today’s post, I want to give you some home truths about what it’s like being a mother in business, and how I dealt with those challenges. To recap, I started my little side cake venture when my kids (triplets) were 2 years old and I grew and grew and grew it all through their childhoods, finally selling the business when the kids turned 13. It’s safe to say they learned to fall asleep to the sound of my needs-to-be-serviced Kitchen Aid mixer, would hug me close then tell me I smelled kinda gross but kinda like icing, and their tiny hands learned to stack cupcakes on a stand faster than I ever could. It’s also safe to say I missed a bunch of their Saturday sports games and events, I fell asleep in movies I watched with them, I picked them up from daycare in clothes covered in chocolate, and most of the time I felt like I was failing them. Nope, no Mother of the Year award for me!
Ahhh, motherhood. I wanted specifically to talk about this today because it’s something I have personal experience with and I know that cake making tends to appeal to mothers. Many of us started in this industry because in a moment of Betty Crocker induced madness we decided to make our kids’ first birthday cake. Once we cleaned up the kitchen (twice), cursed at those stupid Ziploc bags which supposedly are “easy to use” as piping bags and swore we would never, EVER do this again…we did it again and found ourselves in business. A bit like childbirth, we magically forgot the pain and suffering we endured long enough to do it again.
So here’s the truth about how I handled being a Mom and owning a small business:
- I screwed stuff up a whole hell of a lot. I missed important kids’ events, got shitty at clients because they talked too long and kept me from coming home on time, I slept through movies and meals, I disappointed my kids, I disappointed my clients, I half-assed my kids own birthday cakes because I was too tired and frankly really damn sick of cake. How I dealt with all of that: One day I realised that I didn’t have to get it all right, all of the time. I learned to forgive myself for my mistakes, learn from them and move on. I also realised that my survival rate of my mistakes thus far (and my children’s survival rate) was 100%.
- I never felt like I gave either my kids or my business enough attention. So I was running around always late for something, or never quite finishing something, or feeling like I was only listening to the kids with half an ear. How I dealt with all of that: I learned how to use time blocking to become more efficient and I learned how to prioritise with a very stern and realistic eye. If it was the kind of thing that never seemed to get off my To Do list, here’s what I’d think: If I’ve managed to go months and months without doing that thing (and it’s not like taxes or something legally important) it’s a good sign it wasn’t all that vital to begin with. That thing can get the hell off my To Do list. Done. Gone. BYE.
- Worrying about money would almost paralyze me. I constantly wished I was making more money. I hated telling my kids I could not afford things. I hated not being able to afford cake stuff I wanted. I started to feel resentful every time I made a cake that I undercharged for. It made me feel crappy to realise that if it weren’t for my husband’s salary, we would not be surviving. I got sick of other people asking how “my little business” was and if I enjoyed “making a bit on the side.” How I dealt with all of that: First, I got clear about why I was in business and then priced my products accordingly. Second, I recognised that while you’re growing a business, it’s perfectly normal to be relying on one salary for a while. It may not feel nice but it’s necessary in order to eat. That’s the nature of families, we all pitch in to make it work. Third, I did the Lucky Bitch Money Bootcamp, which helped my emotions around this enormously. Fourth, I really, really came to terms with the idea that maybe my business was not meant to be forever, so for right now, it was okay to throw everything at it to make it work.
- Feeling like I’ll never be able to truly give my business a real shot. Because I’ve got kids – I can’t go for it in the way I want to. Sometimes I resented the attention my kids needed and wanted because my business just fired me up, made my heart sing and made me feel really good. It was my thing and I was really good at it and I wanted to really go hard at it. Sometimes I felt like they held me back from achieving all I wanted to achieve because they demanded my focus be on them. Judge me if you must, but to pretend otherwise would be lying – sometimes I preferred being at work to being at home and then felt guilty as hell about that. How I dealt with all of that: This one is so hard, but basically I gave myself a stern talking to and said, “Listen Michelle – cake and business will wait and you will succeed at this to WHATEVER timeline because, well, you’re tenacious like that. The kids childhoods will NOT wait and there is no other time for that.” Not going to lie, I had to give myself this talk more than once. It inspired me to really invest my time and money wisely though, so that I maximised the returns as much as I could.
- I never had enough family time, because as a cake maker, I work on the weekends: Not only do you miss sporting events and activities, but you get kinda resentful that you never get to sleep in on weekends, that you have to plan social events around deliveries, and that you never go out because you’re just too freaking exhausted to contemplate putting a bra on. How I dealt with all of that: Eventually I got to the place where I was able to put rules around my weekends. Pick ups were only on Saturday mornings between 9-12:30. I raised my delivery prices to discourage people asking for deliveries. I did not deliver on Sundays unless it was for a wedding. I made deliveries family outings – we’d stop for lunch on the way or a park on the way back. I found ways to make it work but ultimately weekend work is one of the things that’s very hard to get out of doing entirely.
Truth is, motherhood in and of itself is one hell of a hard job, and when you add a business into the mix it gets ever more complex. I remember taking orders on the phone while pacing at the bottom of my garden while the kids yelled for me inside the house. I took orders in the bathrooms of play centres, in parking lots, at Target, in the intermission of my kids’ dance recitals. My kids touched cakes they shouldn’t have so I had to start again and I’d get angry at them. I never wanted to come across as unprofessional or be a crappy Mom so I remember doing a whole lot of crazy stuff just to survive both them and the business. If you were to ask my kids then (and today) what they thought about my being in business and a Mom at the same time, I’m pretty sure they would tell you that they are super proud of me. They didn’t always LIKE it, but they learned to adapt and thrive. They also had a Mom they were incredibly supportive of, who they know always did her best, even when she felt that her best fell short. Isn’t that what all of us want to be, role models to our kids? I’d rather my kids saw the real, not-quite-perfect me than the me who is aiming for a level of perfection she’ll never reach and which makes no difference to ANYONE’S happiness.
I recently saw this saying which really resonated with me and I’ve modified it for the purpose of this article.
The bad news is, nothing lasts forever (like your kids’s childhood.)
The good news is, nothing lasts forever (like the need to take orders in bathrooms.)
You’ve got this, Mama. You really do.