Working Parents: Tamsin

Welcome to the first story in our Working Parents blog series. Tamsin co-runs Firespiral Slings, Morecambe Bay Slings CIC and Sling School, and The Honeycomb Loom. She has three children.

Hello, I am Tamsin. I have three children, aged 8, 6 and 4, four businesses and a husband who works from home on something completely different!

My businesses are all related (and are all part-owned by other people), with Firespiral Slings being my main and ‘full-time’ job. Next up areMorecambe Bay Slings CIC and Sling School (the sling library and training school which I am co-director of) and then there is The Honeycomb Loom (a joint project with Baie Slings where we manufacture and retail ‘cloth for carrying’).

My children are aged 8, 6 and 4. The two older children go to a local primary school. My youngest hasn’t started school yet – he is a summer born child with dwarfism and we made the decision to delay his start at school by a year, so he will go to school in September 2018 when hopefully he will be a little taller and much more emotionally mature.

Before children and after studying Architecture at university I had many different jobs. I decided that I didn’t want to be an architect, but I had no idea what I wanted to do so I flitted around from one thing to the next, not sure where life was taking me. When I became pregnant with Natasha I was working for a bank, I was on a path for management, working on projects and secondments well above my pay grade and was very much career-minded. Pregnancy changed my situation massively – I was pulled from the secondments and was not successful in a promotion that I had been told was going to be mine – the interview was to have been a formality. At the time it was a big disappointment, but I told myself that it was probably best for me not to be ‘pushing myself’ during my pregnancy, but now looking back it was obvious sexual discrimination.

Before I was pregnant I knew that I was going to breastfeed, co-sleep and sling my future baby (I had seen a tv program about it and it resonated strongly with me), and that’s what I did. I took an extended maternity leave with Natasha, returning to work when she was 15 months old and I was pregnant with my second child. Thomas was born just before Natasha was 2, and shortly after that a sling library opened in my local town and I had suddenly found my people! I fell down the woven wrap rabbit hole very quickly, and a conversation with one of my new-found friends turned into a business plan and Firespiral Slings was born!

I worked hard during my maternity leave, returning to work part-time when Thomas was 12 months old and continuing to work on Firespiral during evenings and days off ‘real work’. At this time my husband was working away in London for 3 nights each week, so working in the evenings was a way to stave off the loneliness. We didn’t know what Firespiral was to become at this point, it was something fun and something we were both passionate about. About 6 months after I returned to the bank after my maternity leave with Thomas I fell pregnant with Arthur, and he was born in the week that our first woven wraps were shipped out to customers.

I was on maternity leave again from the bank, but I had no maternity leave, as I had a blossoming business to tend to. My memories of the early days of Arthur’s life all involve him being attached to a boob and semi-balanced on my laptop whilst I worked. I had relocated to a new are in the weeks after he was born too, so had lost my support group. Life was a roller coaster at this point, three young children, a new area, my husband working away, and so very much work to do with a new business that was very successful from the off. I don’t think I stopped for breath.

At this time I discovered my new local sling library, and it was looking for someone to take over due to the owner going back to work after maternity leave. I did so with pleasure and am so pleased that I did, as it has provided me with some wonderful friends and the chance to step away from my computer for half a day each week to do something that without doubt fills my emotional cup. When my maternity leave with Arthur was coming to an end Firespiral was doing well enough for me to tell them that I wasn’t coming back. It was a decision that was both terrifying and exhilarating. What if I was making a mistake?

It has been nearly four years since I handed my notice in, and although it has been a tough four years, the work that I do now is so much more meaningful to me, and I have learnt so very much. I can’t imagine working for anyone else again. Working for someone else is easier in so many ways though, getting a lunch hour where you don’t have to load the washing machine but can sit and read a magazine sounds blissful. The call of my workroom and a long to-do list is there all the time, calling to me first thing on a Saturday morning, or on a Sunday afternoon when the children are watching a movie.

When I found my mental health was suffering I imposed some personal rules – no working from my phone in the evening when I have worked all day being the main one! Finding balance was hard at first, but I really think I have it now. In the last year before Arthur starts school I have put aside a few hours on a Friday for us to do something together each week, and I am so proud of myself for this. I find it too tempting to put him in front of the TV whilst I work. I then work and feel guilty that I am not giving him the attention he deserves, and at the same time, I am not fully focussing on my work. He is going to nursery for 3.5 days per week this year too – again something I felt guilty about initially, but now I know that it frees me to spend quality time with him on a Friday.

Working from home means that I am here every day when my two older children come home from school. I usually work after they come home too, but at least I am around. They tend to be more than happy to play together, or watch TV and play games on their Kindles. I take my eldest to piano lessons, and we cook a meal together. They often ask me why I have to work all the time, and I tell them that if I worked in a ‘proper’ job that they would be in after school care and I would be at work still…

I think the best thing about working like this is the flexibility. I can run a sling meet every week, and take my child swimming or to soft play with friends, and pick my other children up from school whilst fitting in my work around that. I think the worst thing about it is the overwhelming responsibility and commitment that owning a business forces upon you. It is so difficult to take time off mentally as well as physically. I often think of it like my fourth child, it needs as much care and attention as the real ones do, and I am so very proud of what it has become.

My advice for anyone looking to work in this way is to find something that you are passionate about doing, and that you can do well, as you need to be very committed to success to get a business off the ground. Make sure you have a support network, as often your network will give you your first sales and join local networking groups too for business support in your area.

For information and support on pregnancy and maternity discrimination, visit Pregnant Then Screwed.

View all posts in this series. Are you a working parent? We’d love to hear your story – please get in touch to talk.

Working Parents : a new blog series

Introducing our new blog series – Working Parents.

Recently, there has been a lot of coverage in the media about how difficult it is balancing a career and a family. Research suggests that women especially are held back in the workplace after having children.

We do not think this is acceptable.

More and more parents are building careers around their family lives, so they are not sacrificing advancement at work or time with their children. We believe it’s important to have the freedom to choose what is best for you and your family – whether it’s working in or outside the home, flexible work patterns, part-time, remote working, etc. Raising a family full-time is work in itself, but if parents choose to also work outside of the home, they are often not free to explore the type of working patterns that would best suit their families.

This series will showcase stories of parents who have eschewed the traditional 9-5 and made their jobs work for their families. We hope it will demonstrate how parents add value to the workplace after having children. Perhaps it will even inspire you to make your career work for you.

View all posts in this series. Are you a working parent? We’d love to hear your story – please get in touch to talk.

Working Parents

Tamsin

Ruthie

Lindsay

Chloe

Jenni

Eve

Lorette

The best sling

Lots of parents come to our groups with one question – what is the best sling for me? I have good news – I am finally going to answer your question and tell you what is the best sling for you! Not just you, but your partner, mum/dad, friend, and even your neighbour!

The best sling for you is…

the one that best meets your needs. It’s that simple!

Well, not quite, or there would be no need for sling and carrier libraries, resources and information, and sling educators. Working out which of the many options on the market will best suit your needs can be tricky, and there is a lot of information (often full of jargon) to navigate.

The ‘best sling’ is a unicorn…

it doesn’t exist.

There are so many options on the market, and there is a reason for this. Think about jeans, shoes, or even a baby item like prams. There is no one ‘best’ or gold standard – what suits an individual is very subjective. Slings and carriers are no different.

We are all individuals with differing desires and needs. Throw another small person into the mix and that’s a lot of desires and needs to consider! What is best for your friend/sister/dad/partner may not best meet your own needs, so beware of asking ‘what is the best sling’ of friends/family/Facebook groups (although you will get a lot of opinions in the latter).

Instead, think about what is important to you. To help guide this, here are some questions we ask parents at our groups:

What’s important to you?

Whether it’s for form or function, design or cost – everyone chooses products for different reasons. Make a list of your most important features or considerations to help narrow down the choice.

What’s your budget?

Slings and carriers vary hugely in cost. While it can be true that spending more equals better quality, there are lots of great options under £100. Setting a budget you’re comfortable with helps you know what to add to your shortlist.

What have you tried / seen / heard about?

Maybe you’ve found something you love, but feel like you should play the field a little more before you buy. Or you’ve heard a lot of buzz about a particular type or model of carrier. Telling us what you like and dislike so far helps us figure out what you’re looking for.

What will you use it for?

Long walks, quick school runs, or daytime naps. Some options suit particular purposes more than others. Deciding when and where you’ll use your chosen sling can help identify which choices may suit your lifestyle.

In conclusion…

We entirely understand that it might seem more helpful if we can just tell you what the best option is, especially when you’re figuring out everything else to do with parenting. However, it’s not possible for someone to do this for you any more than they could tell you which jeans or shoes to buy.

But don’t despair! Here are some things you can do to find your very own best sling.

  • Access quality information in a controlled way, for example speaking to a sling educator in person or online
  • Try out different options, for example at a sling library or via a postal hire 
  • Narrow down what you like and dislike, using the above questions

Good luck in your quest, and feel free to let us know how you get on!

Laura and her crying baby

Laura’s story: To the mum with the crying baby…

Ruby was a screamer. My midwife said as much when she was only a few minutes old. She screamed even more if anyone else held her (or looked at her!), so I got to the stage where I freaked out if anyone tried to take her off me as I knew she would cry. Unfortunately, she also cried in the arms of my husband. I basically just held her all the time, and I didn’t leave the house much either because she cried in the buggy, in the shops, on the bus. Anywhere public really. I couldn’t take the disapproving stares at the mother who couldn’t soothe her own baby!

She’s the reason I discovered slings – my poor arms couldn’t cope! She also
breastfed every hour around the clock until 4 months, and then every 2 hours until about 12 months. She never slept either. She took 20 minute cat naps, of which there were about 2 a day (which had to be in my arms) and then she woke all through the night. The epitome of sleep thief. She still doesn’t need much sleep, and she functions perfectly well on much less than the ‘experts’ recommend for a child of her age.

I had SO many suggestions from people who thought they could ‘fix’ her crying. I was breastfeeding her for too long (she was 3 months old at the time), I was ‘starving her’ and should have been giving her solids at 4 months (she was in the 98th centile!), I was holding her too much and making her needy, etc., etc., etc. It turns out that it was just her personality!

Laura and Ruby

Things started to change when I taught her baby sign language, and the crying decreased when she was able to communicate a little bit. Then when she started talking, it decreased even more. She was fully conversational by the time she was 18 months, shocking the nurses and health visitors who did her baby development checks, and she was much happier for it. She was generally just a ‘high needs’ baby. I don’t really like the term, as a lot of the behaviours are actually completely normal, but she definitely fit every bit of the criteria, and her personality is still the
same now! Some babies do cry a lot, and after having 3 children, plus 9 nieces and nephews, I have learned that it’s a variation of normal. Unfortunately, though, it’s a really tiring, sanity-stealing one.

My advice is to accept any help that you can (I didn’t for a really long time because of my own anxiety, and wanting to be the ‘perfect’ mum) and also accept that you are doing the very best that you can, but you can’t do it all. As long as you are sure that there’s nothing wrong medically, it could just be your child’s personality. And, I promise that it doesn’t last forever. Month by month, you’ll notice that they are happier for longer periods of time. You might still have a baby who cries a lot, but it does get better. And they don’t stay babies forever. I used to wish time away because I felt like it would never end, and all of a sudden, Ruby is nearly 7. Now we only face the occasional tantrum, usually over an outfit choice, or because she doesn’t want to go to bed – that issue is still with us!

Big hugs to you,

Laura

Vicky's newborn is sleeping, but she isn't!

Vicky’s Story: She Sleeps, But I Don’t!

Although Vicky’s newborn sleeps well, she is experiencing anxiety and worries over what is ‘normal’. Words and photo by Vicky Geary.

Vicky's newborn is sleeping, but she isn't!

I have an 8 week old baby who CURRENTLY* sleeps well at night and naps in the daytime *(I have done this parenting thing before and know better than to make statements about anything other than the present).

I have not done anything to make her do this, don’t ask me to write a book about it (!) she just arrived with an understanding of day and night and the ability to put away a serious amount of milk in the evening. I count myself very lucky that the newborn phase is, so far, not leaving me terribly sleep deprived.

I’m writing this because I found that the majority of new parents’ experiences differ very much from my current situation – the very normal experiences of babies who won’t sleep in the day unless in a sling/car/pram.

Help! Is my baby ‘normal’?

A lot of groups that I go to, courses I’ve been on etc both while pregnant and as a new mum reassure us that it is normal for babies to want to be close to their parents for security and to feed frequently due to their tiny tummies. Obviously this is correct and must be very reassuring to all the mummies surviving on little sleep. However, for me, this created anxiety (something I suffer with anyway) that my baby is somehow something other than ‘normal’ and instead of enjoying the much-hallowed hot cup of tea, I found myself fretting that my baby is sleeping too much/is possibly ill/won’t sleep tonight/isn’t forming an attachment to me because she’d rather be in her bed than on my chest.

The other, rather annoying, aspect of this anxiety is that it sometimes results in insomnia which means that although my baby sleeps well, I don’t always but find that I feel I don’t ‘deserve’ to moan about being tired when I’ve not been up trying millions of things to get my baby to sleep just staring at my ceiling wondering if she’s about to wake up.

Dealing with anxiety

This is something that affected me significantly with my first baby and I had some CBT which helped. Thankfully this time it’s not every night. While searching the internet for “is my baby sleeping too much” wisdom I didn’t find a huge amount other than “Lucky you! Enjoy it!” type replies and although they make a good point I couldn’t find anyone who shared or could validate the worries I had that my baby doesn’t love me or anyone who felt a horrible anxious sense of dread that the magical sleep must come to and end soon and baby would just stop sleeping as she’d crammed a year’s worth into two months.

I also felt that I couldn’t mention my anxieties at baby groups for fear of being pelted with biscuits by mums who were barely functioning due to lack of sleep. Fair enough. It was a bit of a lonely place to be though.

Feeling reassured

Since talking things through with health professionals and going on the great Fourth Trimester Course with Cheshire Parenting Collective I have learnt that the range of ‘normal’ is huge when it comes to baby sleep and as long as baby isn’t showing signs of illness it’s all good. Some babies in one review from the Infant Sleep Institute were sleeping for up to 20 hours in 24 and others as few as 8! All normal. So if you have a baby who just happens to like sleep, please do try to chill out and enjoy it. I shall endeavour to do the same. Until she starts teething…

If you are looking for information on normal sleep development, we like the Infant Sleep Information Source

Watch our BBC film

A BBC film crew recently visited our new social group, The Village. They interviewed some volunteers and parents, and produced a short film for the #mumtakeover event on November 28th.

 

I wish I’d known

Lots of the parents we support tell us “I wish I’d known it would be like this.” We have collected some of these comments into this blog post. What do you wish you’d known before having a baby? Email us on hello@cheshireparentingcic.org.uk

“That sleeping through does not mean 12 hour sleeps. And that as hard as the lack of sleep is, it does get better but it can feel like it’s taking a long time.”

Newborn baby yawning

“That they’ll all get there in their own time. Don’t overly worry about milestones, babies don’t always confirm to the tick box sheets!”

“How wrong I was about what kind of parent I was going to be … you don’t know what will work for you till your child arrives and you find out what particular brand of monster you have birthed!”

 

“That not finding a group of mummy friends is not the end of the world. Not to stress about baby napping, and that baby does sweet FA for first 6 months so groups like baby sensory are just pointless and therefore spend more time eating cake.”

“How to bed share safely and how to breastfeed lying down.”

“I wish someone had told me about hypnobirthing earlier! I only knew about it 2 weeks before labour but managed to get some practice in!”

Sleeping newborn baby

“That parenting books are mainly nonsense. Just like all other size humans, babies have their own unique personality, and there is absolutely no guarantee they will respond to the techniques described in books in the way the ‘experts’ suggest. I could have saved a lot of time and a lot of reading if I’d understood from day one that my son and I just needed to find our own path that was right for us, regardless of what everyone else had to say about feeding, weaning, sleep training, co- sleeping, and all the other big and little obstacles that cropped up.”

“That the term “sleeping like a baby” is a load of old tripe! Babies DO NOT sleep.”

“How to tell if a baby is feeding effectively and bits of infant body language. How to tell if a baby is distressed etc.”

“That sometimes you won’t be able to work out why they are crying (they’re clean, fed, winded, the right temperature, being cuddled / rocked etc)… & that being in that situation is quite normal & doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent!”

 

Can parents be entrepreneurs?

I never thought I would end up running a business. Aside from watching ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Dragon’s Den’, I have never been interested in the mechanics of business. In many ways, having my children led me down the path to running a social enterprise. I had a rocky start with my first baby five years ago and was lucky to access support from various groups and charities. I soon started volunteering in the community – breastfeeding support, NCT coffee meetups, and helping to set up baby carrier hire services and peer advice groups.

It was a gradual evolution from volunteering to incorporating a social enterprise. I wanted the support and services our groups offered to be more formal, sustainable, and transparent, and to access funding and help. I also wanted to be able to work flexibly around my three
children, and to help other parents do the same.

Setting up a social enterprise
My co-directors and I incorporated Cheshire Parenting Collective CIC in January 2017. Our aim is to provide emotional and practical support for parents, through friendly groups, baby carrier hire, reusable nappy kits, and signposting to local resources.

There are four women in our management team and we have nine children between us, between the ages of 0 and 5. Some are in school and childcare, but we usually have at least one child at our meetings! It can be challenging running a business with children present, but I remind myself that I started CPC to help parents and that has to begin with us. We have taken our children to meetings with funders, with other social entrepreneurs, and with our team members.

Taking your child to work
We have a very informal and flexible working culture and we are supported by volunteers, all of whom are parents of young children. At our groups, we meet our own children’s needs as well as those of our service users. We pitch in and help with each other’s children so
that we can all balance work and family.

When our service users see us meeting our children’s needs while running groups, it shows them that it’s OK to prioritise your children. When our business-world peers see us bringing our children to meetings, it shows that there are ways for mothers to work and raise
families at the same time – it just takes a little flexibility and understanding.

It is not always practical, safe, or fair to bring our children along while we work, so sometimes we make alternative arrangements – video calls, subbing in for each other, or enlisting the help of friends and family. It is often difficult to balance limited childcare with a busy workload, but as a management team we are supportive and understanding – and again, we know that our families come first.

Top tips
1. Bring entertainment! Toys, snacks, colouring – and the beloved Kindle Fires always go down well.
2. Have realistic expectations. You know how well your children are likely to cope in any given situation. It’s not fair to you, your children, or your colleagues to push your kids past their limits.
3. Be open. If someone requests a meeting, tell them that you plan to bring your children along and any arrangements you will need. You could also offer alternatives such as a video call.
4. Recruit help. See if a friend could come with you to help entertain your children to allow you to concentrate.

This article first appeared on the Equity Foundation website.

Kate’s Story

I came across Cheshire Parenting Collective whilst being on maternity leave (still only 5 months in!) and I was impressed by the great work the team does!

I came along to a library meet for help with my own sling when my son was a couple of weeks old. The volunteers showed me how to use it safely so I could keep my baby close.

Now I’d like to get involved with volunteering, to help other new mums as I’ve been helped. I know how important it is to feel supported, informed and empowered as a new mum and I want to pass on my positive experience.

Meet our new fundraising coordinator!

 

We are excited to announce that Lucy Green has joined our team as a voluntary fundraising coordinator. Lucy is a freelance Consultant and Coach and runs Brand New Mum, a business coaching service supporting new mums in search of alternatives to the inflexible 9-5.

We rely on grant funding to run many of our services, such as our free stretchy wrap hire scheme. Lucy joins us as a volunteer, and will support our fundraising activity; finding new opportunities for the organisation, and applying for grants.

Lucy lives in Manchester and is mum to Bea, aged nearly 2, with another on the way (due in January 2018). Whilst on maternity leave last year, Lucy made the decision to leave her job in charity fundraising to go freelance and at the same time re-launch her coaching practice, with the specific aim of supporting mums who are starting their own business ventures.

She now combines freelance fundraising with coaching start-ups and self-employed mothers. As so many parents do, she experienced a huge shift in her own perspective and priorities after having her first baby, and is now passionate about helping new mums navigate their path through work and motherhood.

Lucy brings a wealth of experience and knowledge of securing grant funding. With her support, our core team will have more time to focus on delivering peer support services that make a difference to local parents.