Don’t befriend me. I’m not good at the whole friendship thing.

There’s friends and then there’s ‘Facebook Friends’, i.e. people you once knew but will never see again, yet you remain interested in gawping at the wedding dress they have chosen , their Great Aunty’s third cousin’s ex husband’s holiday photos, or their weekly mirror selfie demonstrating how their weight loss journey is going, or what their third boyfriend in six weeks looks like, or how perfect their brand new high gloss white kitchen looks (they’ve got no children, obvs). They are the friends that never forget your birthday, but they only ever speak to you (aka type) on your birthday. They don’t speak to you on any other of the 364 days of the year, but you get a happy birthday from them at the very least.

I have a group of amazing friends. One bestest best friend, a couple of really squeally good friends and a number of friends that I’ve met in various circles that I see every so often. I know that I could call on them at any given time and they would be there for me, without question. They bring so much to my life and by God have I needed them in recent years. Since having Little Miss though and going back to work from maternity leave, I feel like I don’t really deserve the title of ‘friend’ in return. I am fast fading in to the Facebook realm of no return. I am going to be one of them. I am going to end up a Facebook friend. A Facebook friend to someone I genuinely love and care for. They’ll have a neb at my photos every so often and nothing going on in my life will be of any interest to them. Nor will they need me. Because they’ll have real life friends for that.

Is it because I’m a horrible person? I don’t think so. Is it because I don’t want to be their friend? Hell no, I love the very bones of each of them. Is it because I don’t care? Absolutely not. In fact, I think about them more so now than ever before. So why? Why am I paling into insignificance in the friendship stakes? Because I’m just not good at it anymore.

My best friend lives on the other side of the world and, frankly, it’s a good job she does, otherwise she’d have binned me off by now too. I can manage the occasional phone call, the weekly text messages and emails and Facebook exchanges; that’s all good. But when it comes to doing friendy things, like actual things with my friends, hanging out with them, coffee dates, long drawn out telephone calls where we put the world to rights, cocktails and drunken chat, delivering McDonalds the morning after the night before and devouring it in our jim jams because we have both never been so hungover in our lives before – all of this I once did. Now not so. It’s getting less and less (and I’ve definitely not drank enough to have the mother of all hangovers since circa 2003 so that last one definitely hasn’t happened this century) and every time I say ‘no’ to an invitation I can feel myself slipping further and further away from my friends.

It’s not even that I don’t want to go. Show me a frazzled mamma who doesn’t want to meet their friends (for either caffeine or alcohol, one wakes me up, one sends me to sleep so at this point in my life I favour caffeine over the good stuff. Falling asleep on my friends wouldn’t do me any further favours in this situation after all…) and have idle chit chat, refreshingly adult conversation and find common ground as we compete as to how sleep deprived we are and how bad our baby brain has become. If I could, I would accept every single invitation I received and I’d rock up those coffee mornings, cocktail nights and soft play nightmares with bells on. I’d be there every single time. But it’s just not that easy.

The reality is that I am a mama to an 18 month old baby and a 15 year old boy. They need me in equal measures right now. My boy has his GCSEs round the corner and suffers from social anxiety so we spend a lot of time working with him, supporting him and ensuring he is equipped to go to school and fulfil his potential. Then there’s my Little Miss, she is currently getting sick a lot; almost on a twice monthly basis right now. Even when she’s well, she’s not always a great sleeper, and with her going to nursery Monday to Friday, I really value the time I have with her after nursery and on weekends. Our time as a family on weekends, bank holidays and so on is so precious. More precious than anything I’ve ever known or seen. After years and years of building our businesses and working seven days a week, we know how lucky we are to have our weekends as a family. Because we know what it is like not to have that quality family time, it’s not something I ever want to happily give up.  Then there’s the working full time thing. I manage our family business, which doesn’t allow me or my husband the privilege of knocking off at 5pm. It’s not that easy to promise lunch dates or ‘after work coffee meets’ because every day is so unpredictable and at the end of the day, our only income is from this business. My husband and I have no choice but to give it every single thing we’ve got in order to take care of our family.

Even when that is all taken care of, I just don’t even have the energy most days. Once I’ve got the kids sorted and to bed, I’m literally lucky if I can muster enough energy to carry my sleepy (and rather big) ass to bed. The thought of getting dolled up to then go out and hold down an adult conversation without falling asleep mid sentence and drooling over a Mojito, is enough to make me cry. I know I’d feel much better for going out but that doesn’t change the fact that I am completely exhausted.

I have friends who don’t work or work part time. They meet through the week, soft play one week, baby sensory class the next, swimming the week after. They think because I own my own business that I should be able to make it to these play dates. I tried it once. I thought I’d actually take a lunch hour for once and meet my friend for a coffee at a coffee shop nearby my office. It ended with me being away from my desk for an entire half day because once we got chatting, we lost track of time and before we knew it hours had passed by. We hadn’t seen each other in months and months (obviously) so naturally we had a lot to catch up on. I ended up coming back to work to find 108 unread emails, five squillion phone calls to return and a mound of paperwork that would give Mount Everest a run for its money.

Maybe I’m getting boring. Or Old. Or both. Yeah, definitely both. On a Saturday night I look forward to getting in my jim jams (supposing I actually made it out of them that day…) at like 5pm, getting the kids sorted, lighting a few scented candles, ordering a take away and watching something on the TV that doesn’t require a brain cell, wrapped in a duvet on the sofa. My days of standing in the taxi queue half drunk (actually, disclaimer: I was never ‘half’ drunk, I was definitely ‘full’ drunk, whatever full drunk actually means…) wearing next to nothing in the bitter cold, dipping chips in to the smelliest garlic sauce on the planet, are definitely numbered. Maybe even over for good. These days I prefer the simpler things in life. There is nothing more important in my life than my family. Doing simple things with the people I love the most means the world.

I feel like I say ‘no’ a lot when invited out by friends. There was a time when I said yes to everything but never actually made it out due to poorly babies, a work deadline I had to meet, lack of babysitter, feeling ill and exhausted myself – the list is endless. I felt like I was letting them down every single time. I worried I upset them. I would feel crap about it for days after. But, let me tell you, there’s only one thing worse than having to say ‘no’ to a friend when they invite you out and that’s not to be invited out at all. I’ve been there with friends that I have now lost contact with. The term ‘party animals’ doesn’t really do them justice; ‘Party Beasts’ suits them better. They went at it hardcore every single weekend. A couple of drinks and a meal with them only ever ended one way: passed out on the (very sticky) floor of some dated nightclub at 3am. I like a drink as much as the next mama but pulling chewed chewing gum and washing spilled beer out of my hair the following morning is not the way I like to start my weekend. I did think that our friendship was deeper than me just being another person to add to their night out headcount but obviously not because after saying no a couple of times, the invitations stopped and now I’m a Facebook friend to them and vice versa. But even though the way they spent their Friday and Saturday nights wasn’t my idea of fun, it still hurt when they stopped inviting me. I felt like they’d given up on me. I’d now become ‘the one that never says yes’, ‘the one that never goes out’, ‘the boring one we don’t waste our time on anymore’. You know what social media is like, there is no hiding the nights out that I was missing. The pre-drink selfies, the dance floor selfies, the eyes rolling into the back of your head drunk selfies and the like. I’m sitting at home in my jim jams watching the photos update over the course of the evening and the most exciting thing to happen to me all night is that I missed my mouth and spilt strawberry yoghurt all over my PJ top. It’s not like I even wanted to be there! Why does this upset me! I am a crazy lady! I go from ‘not caring’ to feeling totally left out and isolated in three point five seconds. My feelings about it all were completely nonsensical but I was feeling them regardless so they were real to me.

With that life lesson under my belt I don’t want to lose my support network because I’m no longer present in their lives. I need to find a way of making it work. My friends, particularly my close friends, love me unconditionally as I do them. They are there. Always. So I need to work it out. I feel like the worst friend on earth. I feel like I’m never there (or ‘available’) when they need me, I’m never able to make plans when they are free and I rarely say ‘yes’ to invitations anymore and busy or not, exhausted or not, they do deserve better than that because they are good people and beautiful friends of mine. They deserve better.

They say life is all about balance, don’t they? I’m not sure who ‘they’ are, but if ‘they’ are able to advise me of how to keep all the plates spinning and keep up my friendship duties, I would be oh so grateful to them. After all, we all need friends. It doesn’t matter how solid our family network may be, you will always need a friend at some point in your life and that works both ways. Life is short; we are here but for a while. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as a ‘Facebook friend’ to people I love and adore. Besides, my craic on Facebook is piss poor so I’d probably be demoted from even being that.

The Truth About Being a ‘Mum Boss’.

In the last couple of years there has been a bit of a ‘New Business Revolution’ in the UK– more and more people are turning to self employment and starting up their own business. Not that I’m a ‘numbers guy’ but there were over 660,000 new companies established last year in the UK alone and those numbers are set to increase this year too so there is no sign of this revolution slowing down.

I totally get why that may be the case. I think people are in search of a better work-life balance maybe, or maybe they are in search of financial freedom, or a better sense of fulfillment from their career – or maybe there are other reasons. For me, I went in to business because I was running out of other options. I had got ill and was having to take days and long periods of time off sick repeatedly from my teaching job and it got to a point where I felt it was unfair for the students I was teaching to have such a lack of consistency from their English Teacher and I felt I was becoming a bit of a burden to the school I worked at, despite them being very supportive. My husband was a Police Officer at the time and due to my condition leaving me with mobility challenges, he also had to leave his work in order to support me at home. It was frustrating. Both of us had careers that we loved, doing work every day that we were passionate about but due to something outside of our control, we had to make the difficult decision to leave and embark on a whole new adventure.

We established a business that we could run together, one that would allow me to take guilt-free time off if I didn’t feel well enough to work and one that would generate enough income to keep the roof over our heads.

Once we started our first business, I got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Running a business excited me. I expected it to be less stressful than teaching but that wasn’t necessarily the case. It was just as stressful but it was a different kind of stress. Three businesses later and there is still always something to stress about! We were suddenly in business without knowing an awful lot about business. All three of our businesses have been a huge learning curve – one that is never ending! Being in business and being your own boss brings with it a lot of positives – or privileges I like to call them, but it’s not all short hours and big bucks; it isn’t easy by any means.

Over the last couple of years I’ve seen the rise of terms such as ‘Girl Boss’ ‘Mum Boss’ and ‘Mumpreneur’. If there is one thing I am passionate about it is seeing women win in business. For so many years business was men dominated – across most sectors and industries and even today, there remains sectors and industries that are completely and utterly male dominated. I have come across businessmen who I have been dealing with who will ask who my manager is, or ask if they can speak to the ‘real decision maker’, or will ask for my husband despite me insisting that I am one of the company directors. So, I love that there seems to be more and more women starting up in business. Women have just as much to offer as men do and I love that the world is getting to see what businesswomen can achieve.

But I do have an issue with this ‘Be a Girl Boss’ culture or image. I have an issue with it in the sense that it glamorises the power and control that comes with being a ‘boss’. It suggests that any woman can don a formal suit (usually accessorised with big shoulder pads), pick up a laptop and be their own boss. Being your own boss isn’t and should never be portrayed as ’trendy’ but I feel like that is exactly what it’s becoming. Being your own boss brings many benefits, but it’s not all plain sailing. Deciding to become a ‘girl boss’ is not like opting to wear something different. It’s not a decision to be made lightly and it certainly doesn’t promise success or satisfaction.

I keep getting sponsored Facebook posts all the time showing an image of a family, they are usually extremely attractive looking, usually sitting on a remote beach with golden sands and crystal waters, claiming that they only have to work 4 hours a week and their business has allowed them to travel the world with their children and live a millionaire’s lifestyle. Now, I’m not saying that’s not true. But the fact that those posts usually conclude with a ‘Join my membership club and I will show you the secret to building your own successful empire’ or a ‘Don’t you want to work less and spend more time with your children? You can be just like us! Just buy this business starter kit for £99999999999 and you too can be doing what we are in just 2 hours!’ I’m exaggerating, but these guys know how to sell a lifestyle. I even find myself looking at their photo and feeling frustrated, maybe even disappointed, scratching my head whilst questioning ‘where the hell am I going wrong?!”

The truth is I don’t buy the above. I don’t believe people ‘get lucky’ in business. I believe that success in business comes as a result of an extremely strong work ethic, steely determination and a bit of passion thrown in for good measure. I think people may get lucky with opportunities that may come their way in business but I certainly don’t buy that success can be achieved working 4 hours a week or whilst topping up your tan and sipping cocktails on a beach in Thailand. Our journey as ‘entrepreneurs’ has seen us ride a full-on rollercoaster. The highs have included being nominated as female entrepreneur of the year within our region, being nominated for a Mumpreneur award, having our business visited by politicians and council officers and receiving lovely reviews and testimonials. But, just like any rollercoaster, when you hit those highs, the lows feel even lower. Low points included hitting financial difficulty due to increases in bills and expenses and decreases in trade, having a competitor attempt to sabotage our business via a string of fake negative reviews on the likes of Facebook and Tripadvisor, staff members stealing money from the business, having the money to only pay the staff but not ourselves and the general day to day challenges of running a business. See, not a single mention of a cocktail or a beach in Thailand!

One thing for sure though is that being in business has given me a new lease of life. It excites me. It gets the blood pumping and the heart pounding. Is it easy? Hell, no. But when was anything good achieved with ease? Is it less work? Nope. In fact, if anything, we have to work even harder than any job we’ve ever had before. We spent four years working 7 days a week to get us to this point. That is not something I am proud of; I feel like we missed out on 4 years of our son’s life. Now he’s 15 and becoming more and more independent, those 4 years prey on my mind. The time I should have spent with him and the memories we could have made during those 4 years haunt me. They really, really do. Was it worth it? Financially, no. It was 4 years of seven days a week, 7am-7pm work, then working on our laptops once we got home until the early hours, and for, frankly, very little return. We didn’t even get much sleep at night because the worries of whether we would make enough money that month and the doubts and concerns would creep in to our minds and keep us awake. Although we didn’t get much of a financial return from all those years of work, it was part of our journey. They were years that led us to this point with our current business and who knows where that journey will take us in the future. Things are going well but if there is one thing being in business has taught me it’s that you never know what is coming next. You can try and prepare, you can try and plan, you can even try to make arrangements for what you think is coming next, but you just never know. That’s what makes it so exciting. You can be commiserating over lost sales or a deal that hasn’t gone through on one day and literally dancing on the ceiling celebrating the biggest win of your career the next.

We’ve moved towards a business that predominantly operates between Monday and Friday which has given us our weekends back. Those weekends are like gold dust; they are pure nectar. I will never ever take for granted quality family time. Having time off work to spend with the kids is a privilege to me. And having the opportunity to zone out (of sorts) for a couple of days every week and focus on the people we love the most is good for our souls. I am happiest when I have spent some solid quality time with my kiddiwinkles and that time serves as a valuable reminder as to why I’m doing what I do. I go back to the office on a Monday morning with a renewed sense of motivation and that drives me forward. I want my business to be a legacy for my children. I want them to grow up with a strong work ethic. I want them to understand that success isn’t handed to you in life; that they have to work for it. I would love for them to share the same passion as I do for enterprise and business but it is equally Ok if they don’t. Maybe it won’t be their thing. Whatever ‘their thing’ is, I hope that they will learn from us that hard work is how you get to where you want to go in life.

My intention for this post was not to be a Debbie Downer about going in to business. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I would actively encourage any woman who was considering establishing their own business but it is one of those things that needs to be realistic. It’s not realistic to think that you can work 4 hours a week and live like a millionaire. If you are thinking about starting out in business, you could be about to embark on the most exciting adventure. Just don’t be fooled by any of these ‘Get rich quick’ schemes or ‘get rich quick’ books, audiobooks, conferences, courses, webinars or whatever else they want to sell you on those beachy themed posts. There is no question that us women have the talent required to achieve something big and it would be fantastic to see more of us out there giving these businessmen a run for their money!

I think I’m finding myself again

I’m sure many of you will understand me when I say I think I’ve lost myself for a little while. I’ve never been one to think or feel that in becoming a mum I lost myself, because I definitely don’t feel like that is the reason for it. I’ve been a mum for fifteen years so although we have a baby (more a toddler these days but I’m not ready to part with the term ‘baby’ just yet..) being a mum isn’t new to me. After ten years of trying to conceive our little lady, becoming a mum again was something I had dreamed about over and over and over again. My arms yearned to hold a baby; my heart yearned to be a mum again. When Little Miss came along she completed our family and with her she’s brought such joy. Both of them have.

 

So why do I feel like I’ve lost myself? I suppose I hadn’t really realised I had, to be honest. As a working mum, I throw myself in to the same routine every day, getting ourselves up and ready, getting the Big Lad off to school, getting the Little Miss off to nursery, getting to work, dealing with whatever work throws at me, then home with the kids and the bedtime routine ensues. By the time they have both settled down I am fighting with all my might to keep my eyes open.

 

As much as I love work and as much as I am passionate about my business and excited by where we are taking the business, I got myself in a rut, doing the same routine day after day with no time reserved on any day for doing anything specifically for ‘me’.

 

Last year I went through a period of going swimming a few times a week, only for half an hour each time, but it offered me some time just to focus on nothing other than myself. I was feeling much better on a physical level and it did me good to get out and do something outside of our usual routine. Then the winter came and I got lazy. I opted to curl up on the sofa in my pyjamas rather than head out for a swim. And now I’m out of habit of doing it and there just never seems any time for it anyway.

 

It wasn’t until my Mum and I went to a Psychic event and one of the Psychics picked up immediately on the fact that I had been feeling down and not feeling myself that I even recognized that I hadn’t been myself. It was like, in one statement from the Psychic, I suddenly realised that I had been feeling pretty low and not myself. I guess as mums we push our own emotions to the side and we rarely have the time or inclination to process them and really consider why we feel what we feel.

 

The revelation made me really thoughtful. I realised that I had stopped doing even the smallest of things that used to bring me pleasure as an individual. Not as a mum, not as a wife, not as a business owner – but as me. I realised that I hadn’t read a book in a very very long time. As an ex English Teacher, I’ve read hundreds of books and thoroughly enjoyed many of them. So why had I stopped reading? Maybe because I didn’t have time. Maybe because I didn’t make time for it.

 

The one thing that really lights fire in my belly is writing. I have always written creatively and nothing gives me greater satisfaction. Yes, I’ve written the occasional blog post but I haven’t explored the daily ideas I think about for future pieces of writing and I can’t understand why; there has been nothing stopping me doing a bit of writing after the kids go to bed each night. The only person stopping myself from doing it is me. I can’t even begin to understand why I would stop doing something that gives me such satisfaction and enjoyment.

 

Over the course of the last couple of weeks I have really made an effort to pursue time on a daily basis dedicated to what I want to do, dedicated to what will bring me enjoyment for me. I have started writing creatively again and it genuinely excites me. I have bought some new books and have started reading again. I might only manage ten minutes of reading a night before my eyes decide to close themselves out of sheer tiredness but that doesn’t matter – at least I am going to bed each night knowing that I have had some time out of that daily routine all about everybody else, to focus on me and what makes me happy.

 

As a woman I think we naturally tend to put others before ourselves. We’ll happily do whatever it takes to make our children happy, make our husband happy, or our parents, sister; the postman or the candlestick maker; we are generally far more comfortable devoting time to making others happy rather than spending time on ourselves.

 

I have had a realisation that in order for me to the best Mum I can be, I need that time for me. Having that time for me means that on an emotional level I am so much more happier and we shouldn’t underestimate the impact this has on our parenting.

 

Being a mum, or taking on any other roles, doesn’t mean we have to lose ourselves. I hadn’t even realised that I had got lost in the routine and monotony of the every day. I’m sure it won’t be the last time it happens. I think even just by acknowledging the fact that as people, as human beings, we deserve time for our interests, our ambitions, our hobbies, our enjoyment; is a huge step in the right direction.

 

I know how full on it can be as a Mum. I’ve done the nights where Little Miss has resisted sleep until the small hours and then you’ve got to get yourself straight to bed so that you’re able to be even the slightest big functional in the morning. I’m not daft enough to believe that there will always be time to focus on ourselves every day but we should definitely take ownership of that time where it is possible. Grab the five minutes here, the ten minutes there and spend it wisely. Spend it on something that ignites your soul. Something that excites you. Something just for you. Because, ultimately, we deserve it. It’s working for me. I’m so much better for it too.