Career flexibility: Juggling parenthood with business ambition

Caroline Crabbe, general manager at Jo Jingles, discusses how to balance the responsibilities of work and raising a family.  

 Career flexibility: Juggling parenthood with business ambition

Caroline Crabbe, general manager at Jo Jingles, discusses how to balance the responsibilities of work and raising a family.  

Many parents face the tough juggling act of raising a family combined with holding down a nine to five job. In the wake of the changes to shared parental leave, women who have taken maternity leave and men who’ve taken time off to care for their child also face the dilemma of whether to return to work after the arrival of a new baby and indeed the decision on whether to continue to pursue a demanding career alongside bringing up young children. 

For some parents it’s merely logistics and for others it’s yet another life-changing decision that will have a dramatic impact on family life both financially and emotionally. Add to that a whole host of other worries, eg bills to pay, feelings of guilt towards a partner who is perhaps working full time and the additional money pressures of surviving on one salary, and your mind and blood pressure are racing before you’ve even started re-evaluating your career plans.

The juggling game

Some people are lucky enough to work for an employer who has prepared adequately in terms of the impact parental leave will have on their business and is prepared to give them the space and flexibility they need upon returning to the workplace. For others, it’s not that straightforward.  Perhaps you work in a stressful or high-pressured environment? Maybe your job is dangerous or involves a lot of international travel taking you away from your young family? Whatever the reason, some parents can find the prospect of juggling a career and raising children a huge burden fraught with anxiety. 

As a working mother of two myself, I’ve been there and I know how stressful this time can be but I also believe that everyone should be entitled to pursue rewarding and fulfilling career paths regardless of whether they have children or not. I also believe that they shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting a career, times are changing, more and more people are seeking flexible working conditions and employers are responding as a result. Of course there are many different ways to obtain greater flexibility at work, but it’s finding the right option for you.

Finding balance

For many of us, it’s about finding the right balance between work and spending time with your family. If you have worries that your current role simply won’t give you that balance, then trust your instincts because you are probably right. For some it simply means accepting that fact and making plans to accommodate it. Or you begin making empowering changes in your life which allow you to create your own work-life balance.

Meeting with your employer to discuss flexible hours, a reduced part-time role or a change in role entirely is a possibility, and you are perfectly within your rights to ask the question. You need to know where you stand and you need the facts now. Once you have this information you’ll have a clearer picture of how this might (or might not) work for you. It’s important at this stage to remember you are not alone; there are many other families out there in exactly the same boat as you and I’m a firm believer in ‘where there is a will there is most definitely, a way’.

Life-changing times

Some people find speaking to their employer about flexible working very awkward or difficult and for good reason. It’s no secret that some employers will not be receptive to the idea of granting more flexibility, or they may agree grudgingly which can cause problems later down the line if they change their mind and it begins to affect your working environment, your career opportunities and how you are treated by your peers day to day.

Becoming a parent for the first time is a big enough life-changer and the thought of making any further big changes can fill you with dread but sometimes this can be exactly the right time to make a change. Bringing a new baby into your world really makes you re-evaluate your life and makes you appreciate what is most important to you – and you might find it makes you feel a little braver and more confident to ask for what you want and to take control of your work and life balance.  If you decide not to return to your previous role but are still passionate about a career, there are so many other options to consider, some that you might not even have thought about.

Evaluating your options

You could look for a completely new role with more flexible hours (perhaps part time) or something with the option of working from home. If it’s not a financial issue, you might consider voluntary work at your local charity shop or helping with community support? You might decide to return to college to re-train in something you’ve always dreamed of doing? Many colleges offer evening classes and some even have a crèche too. It’s never too late to try something new.

Taking the plunge and setting up your own business is always a possibility. But for many the prospect of setting up on your own is daunting and risky financially. This is why many parents consider franchising as a viable option. It is often seen as less risky to buy into an established brand which already has a reputation and it’s not always as expensive as you might think. But always treat such investigations with care: check out the BFA (British Franchise Association), the national franchise body which works towards best practice franchising – it you refer to the members list here you can rest assured that you are dealing with a vetted and genuine business which has adhered to strict criteria.

Setting up on your own – with less risk

Setting up a new business whether on your own, with a friend or via a franchise, is a big decision.  You might choose this route to gain a more flexible and beneficial work-life balance in the long term, but remember, setting up a franchise business takes time, passion and a lot of self-discipline. You have to invest blood, sweat and tears into getting it off the ground and that might mean less ‘free time’ to begin with but later down the line the benefits and change in lifestyle can be dramatic (for the better). Starting a business half-heartedly is not advisable. Give yourself a reality-check. Is it the right time for you?

Buying a reputable franchise business is certainly something that parents may consider when market conditions are unpredictable. 2015 is set to see more families entering into franchise ownership options, where the risk of business failure and financial loss can be greatly reduced, providing you have a strong managed support network and the comfort of an established brand to fall back on. 

There are currently 39,000 franchised units in the UK and despite a very difficult recession in recent years Franchising has continued to grow and all franchise businesses combined generated £13.7 billion turnover in 2013, just under 1 per cent of GDP. Franchising is a proven business success story and certainly one to add to the flexible working mix.

Caroline Crabbe is general manager at Jo Jingles, which provides music and movement classes for babies aged three months to children aged five years. 

Further reading on work-life balance

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