The Struggle of the Juggle: How We Make It Work

Anna’s Story

Life works in chapters for my husband and me. I had a long chapter in London where I was really focused on my career. But everything changed when I had our two children, Beau and Grace.

I realised that I would spend my whole life running if we stayed in London. I didn’t want that for myself or my family. We made the decision to come back to New Zealand.

Part-Time Problems

I slowly went back to part-time work, but finding a fulfilling role was difficult. Part-time roles seem to be for more administrative functions and I wanted to do more.

After a while I found a new role and went back to work full-time. Whilst the work was challenging, there were too many other parts of our life that had to compromise.

The Struggle of the Juggle

We needed an au pair. I was spending less and less time with the kids. I was working across time zones, so there were often early morning and late-night conference calls. And I wasn’t really being professionally or personally fulfilled by this job.

I’ve been quite vocal since returning to NZ about my dissatisfaction with the work environment available to mums wanting to return to work. There is a constant feeling of guilt that you’re not being enough for anyone. Companies are missing a trick; mums are masters of multi-tasking and efficient working.

Everything came to a head when I had a #metoo situation at work. It completely rocked me and shattered my confidence.

Jumping in Head First

Then, in August 2017, a friend talked about needing to improve his building company’s technology. He had no idea where to start. I stepped in and supported him to improve the company’s efficiency using technology. Once we had implemented a new system, he suggested that I should do this for other people. And I thought, ‘Yeah, you’re right, I really could do this for others’. That’s how FREE UP started.

I started off slowly with FREE UP by only working on it for one day per week in late 2017. But in 2018 I decided to jump in head first, focusing completely on improving tech for building companies. Everyone was probably relieved that I had stopped moaning about other companies!

Incredibly Supportive Family

My family, especially my husband Will, has been incredibly supportive of me. He doesn’t worry that we’re making less money than before. He sees me coming home after working with a building company with a smile on my face and he knows that this is the right move for me – ‘the money will follow because you’re really good at what you do’.

Will has always worked as a freelancer, so he understands my drive to set up FREE UP and do my own thing. He saw how unhappy I was trying to juggle wanting to do great work and wanting to be a great mum and wife. He has always encouraged me to set up my own business, so he’s been really supportive.

We have also set out a plan to ‘unhook’ ourselves from Auckland CBD so we can pick up our businesses and move out of the city if we want to. We’re now putting this plan into action.

How We Make It Work

We have to have a weekly plan of who’s doing what, otherwise we’re not as productive as we could be. For example, on Mondays I’m responsible for getting the kids ready for school. Will can do whatever he wants – work early in the morning, go out for a walk with the dog or stay in bed. Then on Tuesday, Will’s on duty.

We find that this is the best way to ensure we’re dividing and conquering the duties. As long as we’re both clear on who does what and when, then we don’t have many issues.

We also have a shared diary so we know all of the meetings, appointments and commitments we have professionally and personally.

Work and Kids at Home

One disadvantage is that the kids don’t understand that mum and dad work at home and that we need to concentrate when we’re in the office. It’s hard to teach them that they can’t come wandering in, especially when we’re on the phone or having a conference call with a customer. But this is a small price to pay and we try to schedule client calls when they’re at school.

The Right Decision

Now that we don’t have an au pair, we’ve decided to go out for lunch together every couple of weeks to spend time together as a couple – away from the home office and the kids. It saves us having to pay a babysitter and we get to reflect and plan over a glass of wine. Whilst we’re not making as much money as we used to and sometimes it’s hard working at home, our new work arrangements are better for our mental health and family life.