The hardest years.
If you’ve read my book or followed my blog, you’ll know that I describe my first year of being a working parent as one of the hardest. When my first two sons, Dylan and Noah, were small, I did everything myself. Having always been a hard worker and a perfectionist, I desperately tried to continue to do everything to the same high standards I had done before I’d had kids. But with twice the physical and emotional workload, I struggled. My life was more exhaustion and stress than joy and wonders.
Even though the experience was crushing me, at a deep cultural level, I felt that this was the only way. That this was the price you pay for wanting kids and a successful career. Somewhere deep in my subconscious I believed that having it all and suffering went hand in hand. This belief was perpetuated by the media and culture surrounding successful career women who are mothers. There was always a ‘but’ in the story. And I bought into that narrative.
When we moved to Milan in 2007, however, everything changed. I witnessed a different approach to parenting, and to self-care, that after many conversations and frequent observations, sparked a new way of thinking. It was an epiphany. Asking for help and being ‘mindfully’ selfish was the key to making this crazy parenting/work thing possible. Not only would it ensure my survival, it would mean I got to show up as the real me every day, and produce the results that the real me was capable of achieving.
So I made a start. I invested in hiring a cleaner, and, after spending time getting to know and trust her, began leaving her with my babies when I needed to run errands, go out for a meeting or grab a lunch with my girlfriends or Paul. It was life-changing. Since then I’ve never looked back. These days, with a squad of 4 boys and my business to run, I have built a solid ‘Team Caroline’ to help me keep those plates spinning. Investing in their support enables me to show up to family and work as the best version of myself, not the exhausted remains of what I used to be.
This week’s blog, then, is all about creating your own, personal support team; the team that will help you in different areas of life and enable you to be your authentic self in your career and family life. The idea of building a support team takes the core balance tool of ‘asking for help’ and applies it in a powerful, systematic way (See my blog on this here). So, If you’re thinking of starting or expanding your family soon and feel you need to up your game, or you’re looking to take your career to the next level and are worried about the knock-on effects of stress and workload, then you’re in the right place. Take a deep breath, put yourself centre stage, and start building ‘Team You’.
‘Team You’ – what you might need.
These are some suggestions of people you could bring on side to support your life.
A personal trainer
The benefits are flexibility, accountability and a tailor-made workout so you are fit, healthy and have the stamina to cope with the daily demands of having it all. Prices ranges from £30 an hour outside London to £60 an hour in the capital. Not cheap, but there are ways to reduce the cost and still get the same benefit (see below).
A virtual assistant
Assistants aren’t just for high flying execs. The availability and affordability of virtual assistants means that you can have access to them too. They can do all those things on your to do list that you can’t get done, or those items that stop you from concentrating on the important things in your life like spending time with the family and focusing on your career or business. An assistant can do pretty much anything you want them to, from buying birthday presents, sorting your emails, researching and booking holidays, to arranging for the plumber to come round and fix the boiler. Prices range from about £20 an hour outside London to £45 inside, or you can save money by looking further afield – a virtual assistant can be anywhere. So long as you use a reputable agency and build up trust over time, there’s no reason why a virtual assistant in Asia or Australia couldn’t bring you the same benefits.
Childcare is hugely time consuming and sometimes getting the right assistance can help take the strain. Depending whether you need full-time cover or a few hours off a day, you have several options. All 3 and 4 year olds in England are entitled to 570 hours of free early education or childcare a year, but for children under that age, these are your choices (Costs from www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk)
Au Pair – usually a foreign student who won’t be qualified in childcare but will be able to help with domestic and childcare chores in return for room, board and pocket money. The prices range from £70-£85 a week outside London to £100-£150 within London
Registered Childminder – For up to 50 hours a week, the average price outside London is £217.30 and inside London, £284.21. A childminder may have other charges while looking after your child.
Day Nursery – For 50 hours a week the average price is £232.84 a week outside London and £305.92 inside London.
Daily Nanny – For 50 hours a week, the average price is £512 a week plus tax and national insurance and £612 inside London.
Live-in Nanny – £433 outside London plus tax, national insurance, room and board. £434-£718 per week inside London.
Babysitter – for ad-hoc childcare services, a babysitter is a more informal option. Prices range from £6- £12 an hour.
Hairdresser and beautician
Your go to salon(s) which you visit regularly once a month or so to keep your hands, feet, face and hair in order to help you show up looking and feeling your best and showcasing your personal brand. Prices vary.
If you have goals you want to achieve but life is getting in your way, a coach can be a great asset. A good coach will help you clarify your goals, hold you accountable, challenge you and support you, keeping you on track even during the tough times. Prices vary, according to the experience and specialism of your coach. You might be able to get a coach for as little as £50/hour, while specialist experienced coaches will fetch upwards of £300-500/hr.
A cleaner or housekeeper
Even if you love cleaning (apparently, there are some people who do!), it makes sense to pay someone else to do a chore that’s incredibly time-consuming and which is not your specialist area. An experienced cleaner who has been given clear instructions will do a more thorough job in half the time. Play to your strengths, don’t spend time cleaning when you could be focusing on your business. Get in a professional and free up your time for what you’re good at. Keeping your house in order will help you stay clear-minded and in control. Prices for cleaning services range from £10-£20 an hour.
Find someone in your chosen field who has been where you’re heading, who has trodden the path before you and can give you concrete advice on how to move forward. The insight you receive can be invaluable.
A best friend (or friends)
The one(s) you call when it feels like everything is going wrong, or who you celebrate with when something incredible happens, and for everything in between. They know you and love you, warts and all. You always come away from time spent with or talking to them feeling rejuvenated, more positive and with higher self-esteem. The cost for that? Priceless!
The thing all these potential ‘Team You’ members have in common is the dedicated purpose of helping you succeed. They are most effective when you schedule their time in advance, ideally mapped out for the whole year (this is how I work with my coaching clients) – you can always make adjustments nearer the time if necessary. Of course, you may not need, or want all of these services for ‘Team You’, but it gives you an idea of the sort of jobs you can outsource, the help you can get and how you can potentially free up your time – and your mind.
Getting past your objections.
Perhaps you have reservations about the concept of ‘Team You’. Perhaps it sounds too grand an ambition, something you think you probably don’t deserve or wouldn’t dream of spending your hard earned money on? If so, question where your limiting beliefs originate from and challenge them. Remember, a happy, sane you is in a better position to look after everything and everyone than one who is overburdened and overstressed. (Have a look at my blog on the benefits of ‘selfish’ parenting here). And let’s not forget that when you have this many people on your side, your performance both at work and home will improve dramatically.
Another major factor obviously is the cost. Good help doesn’t come cheap, and as you can see from the prices above, some service costs can seem prohibitively expensive. Well here are my suggestions:
- Buddy up.
Think about sharing your trainer/PA, nanny, childminder, coach or any of these service providers with a friend to halve the cost.
- Be selective.
You could pick just one of these services and that alone would have a massive impact on your lifestyle. Start by asking yourself what is your most common cause of stress, and choose the team member who will most readily ease that stress for you. For example, If your stress comes from missing appointments and having a never-ending to do list, you might benefit from your first team member being an assistant.
- Go virtual.
Obviously this won’t work for child care, cleaning or grooming, but for everything else you can guarantee there’s an online version or app where you can follow a programme that acts as your virtual trainer/assistant or mentor etc.
All in all, there’s no doubt that there’s a cost involved in building ‘Team You’. But think of it as a long-term investment. Don’t focus on what you’d be giving up in terms of money or luxuries. Focus on what you’d be getting; sanity, freedom from overwhelm, time, energy and the confidence to show up being your very best self. When it comes to work-life balance, it really can make all the difference.
Do you have anyone in ‘Team You’ yet? Now you’ve read this blog, what are you going to do? What action could you take today to start building your Team? Write to me and share your story.
Caroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org