How To Succeed As A Working Mum
10 May 2023
To celebrate Mother’s Day, we ask six working mums about the secrets of their success… And when we say ‘success’, what we really mean is ‘survival’.
What does a successful working mum look like? A little like a unicorn… because she’s imaginary. What’s real is the actual hustle. Some days are amazing. Others? Maybe, not so much. The daily challenge of feeding, caring for and educating children is tough. Add in the stress of making enough money to sustain the family’s well-being and feeling fulfilled in your own career, and it becomes positively daunting. So, how in the world do others do it?
We asked six wonderful working mums for their insight, advice, tips and tricks on juggling work and motherhood. Not surprisingly, quite a few answers involve wine…
Joy Leaper, Co-Founder, Charlie Bucket & Co / Director, Chocolate Box Training
Ask Joy if she’s a Northern Beaches local and she’ll never give you a straight answer. She’ll tell you she’s from Melbourne, but she’s lived here longer and, truth be told, she’s got more skin in the game now too. It’s here, on the Northern Beaches, that Joy and her husband, Luke, have built their eclectic mix of businesses, which include health and fitness mecca Chocolate Box Training, creative content agency Charlie Bucket & Co, and allied health services Motus Health & Performance. At one stage they owned and ran a café too, all while having two kids. They sold the café, and kept the kids.
My career began… Before I even realised it. I grew up working in a family business – my sisters and I would tear rolls of facsimile paper into A4 sheets and then flatten them under stacks of yellow pages for my dad, we’d write the business newsletter with my mum, and I would help reconcile budgets with my uncle. Work and life have always been part of my personal mosaic.
I start each workday by… Reading the news and sipping a coffee.
I finish each workday with… Reading the news and sipping a wine.
At work, I couldn’t function without… Two screens. Some of our team at Charlie Bucket have three now and I’m tempted to go there too.
At home, I couldn’t function without… Wine. I feel like I’m answering that too frequently.
I juggle motherhood and work by… Drinking wine. Kidding. It’s by having an amazing support network. We don’t have any grandparents or direct family in Sydney, so we rely on friends to help with the kids, and often bring them into work. The kids will come into Chocolate Box Training and sit at reception, help fold towels and clean the gym. They LOVE it and I love seeing them as part of our work life too.
My top productivity tip is… Do it once. Do it properly. You’ll save so much more time in the end, when you aren’t having to do something over again because you failed to invest enough focus into it at the beginning.
My favourite parenting lesson is… Band-aids are magical. Literally anything can be fixed with a band-aid.
I manage my stress by… Getting sweaty. Exercise and sport are a big part of my life, but I need to have a goal, or I’ll procrastinate. I’m currently training for the Everest Base Camp Marathon. You trek up to Everest Base Camp, and then run a marathon down. I’ve never run a marathon before, but I’m banking on the fact that it’s downhill.
Motherhood has taught me… That some of the biggest moments in your life will be the smallest moments in time.
My favourite piece of life advice is… Don’t buy a dog and bark yourself.
My favourite place on the Northern beaches to relax and recharge… Curl Curl Headland – especially when it’s cold and windy.
I’ll celebrate Mother’s Day… halfway to Everest Base Camp. So I’ll either be loving some time away from the kids, or I’ll be a big blubbering mess, desperately missing their cuddles and chaos. Something tells me it’s going to be the latter.
Nat Thomas, Co-Founder, Banana Blossom
Natchanan Thomas, known as Nat, is a self-motivated and energetic entrepreneur, a values-based leader with a passion for life, family and great quality food. She is the co- founder and CEO of Banana Blossom Salads, founded with her husband Ben, and they are proud parents of two children Navrin and Shabar.
My career began… Very early on. I remember when I was five years old, I would help my grandma, Yai, cook at home – we’d make curries and I’d grate the coconut. She went on to become a Buddhist nun at our village temple because she wanted to cook for the monks who had nourished her soul for so many years. I would go to the temple and help her prepare their food. It made a huge impression on me, and that’s undoubtedly where my deep connection with food came from. I then met my husband, Ben, when he was working as a chef, and it was clear that food was our common language. We wanted to share our love of food with people, and that’s how Banana Blossom was born.
I start each workday by… Exercising at 5:30am, and then getting straight into an ice bath. It’s like an active meditation for me and I find it such a revitalising way to start the day – I’m addicted.
I finish each workday by… Heading to the kitchen to cook and then thinking about the next day. Although, the ‘workday’ never really ends when you own your own business, does it?!
At work, I couldn’t function without… Exercise and coffee. In all honesty, they both set me up for a great day at work.
At home, I couldn’t function without… My dog. He’s my constant companion and he’s always following me around like a little shadow.
I juggle motherhood and work by… Having a schedule. Motherhood is a juggle, but when you have a plan for your day and a schedule, you know what needs to be done. Although sometimes, of course, not all days go to plan.
My top productivity tip is… Stop multitasking – it’s a myth! Do one thing properly at a time. And if you are finding that you can’t focus on that task, take a break.
My favourite parenting lesson is… Being a parent is quite hard – but I’ve really tried to parent my children in a way that gives them freedom to learn and be the best version of themselves. In Thailand, you grow up feeling that you must do everything your parents want you to do. You really feel the weight of not wanting to disappoint them. I’ve tried to give my children freedom – not to tell them what do to all the time, but support their interests and help guide them to find what they love.
I manage my stress by… Meditating. I love to sit quietly and listen to meditations – I even do them in my ice baths. It gives me focus, calm and strength.
Motherhood has taught me… Selflessness.
My favourite piece of life advice is… I have three tenets I live by: Live in the present, not in the past, and enjoy today. Surround yourself with positive people. Be kind.
My favourite place on the Northern Beaches to relax and recharge… Fisherman’s Beach, near Long Reef Headland.
I’ll celebrate Mother’s Day… by making Ben cook! He cooks for me each Mother’s Day, so I really look forward to it. The perfect day of eating delicious food, made from the heart, surrounded by my beautiful family.
Kelly Lewis, Founder & Managing Director, Flying Ruby Events
Kelly is like a burst of sunshine, wrapped up in some entrepreneurial spirit, with just the right amount of daredevil thrown in for good measure. Northern Beaches born-and-bred, she’s been creating unforgettable events for clients for over a decade, and memorable moments with her husband Marcus since their daughter Macy was born eight years ago. Add chocolate Labrador Bear to the mix, and it’s a life filled with fun, adventure and lots of laughter.
My career began… As a pre-school teacher, actually. I travelled overseas for many years between jobs and started my career in the events industry 20 years ago. I started my company Flying Ruby Events in 2010.
I start each workday by… Waking up at 5.30am, heading straight to the coffee machine, and watching the sunrise at my kitchen window. I’ll also half-watch the news as I’m waiting for the caffeine to kick in. It’s my favourite part of the day – 30 minutes of ‘me time’. I’m then off to exercise or, depending on my day ahead, straight into school lunch prep and a walk with Bear.
I finish each workday with… A hot shower. It’s an after-work habit that’s my way of mentally washing away the work day, taking off my corporate hat and putting on my mum/wife hat again. I try hard to make that time after a shower all about the family… I’m still working on that strategy and it’s far from perfected.
At work, I couldn’t function without… My team at Flying Ruby Events. We work hard but certainly play hard too. Between producing events, I’m always making them do weird and wonderful team-building experiences like Black Hawk helicopter rides, or random things like the hunt for the perfect scallop on the Beaches. (Which, after extensive research, is at Basin Dining in Mona Vale, just FYI.)
At home, I couldn’t function without… Sunday Family Fun Day. It’s something we do every Sunday where we find a new activity to do as a family. It’s become my favourite day of the week. Just myself, Marcus, Macy, and whoever else we drag along for the fun – full of adventure and new experiences.
I juggle motherhood and work by… Putting everything in our Outlook calendar – that’s step one. Having a super supportive and hands-on husband is step two. (Note: he comes second as I need to do the Outlook calendar to keep us both on track 😊). Then comes the tribe – friends, school mum friends, work colleagues, parents. Surrounding myself with an incredibly supportive tribe is what helps me juggle everything.
My top productivity tip is… A list, of course; I’m an event manager. Give me a list or a spreadsheet and let me mark off each item once it’s done – I thrive on this stuff. The days I get through the list, I’m cartwheeling out of the office. This almost never happens.
My favourite parenting lesson is… Find the formula that works for you and embrace it. What works for others may not work for you, so don’t compare. Don’t strive for parenting perfection, kids are resilient, and they don’t worry about the small things you think they worry about. They need to know they are loved and supported, and the rest of the time they just want to play and have fun. Just about everything in our house is a game or a competition – it works for us.
I manage my stress by… Lunch/dinner with friends, massages, walking listening to podcasts, homewares shopping and weekends away.
Motherhood has taught me… And is still teaching me to slow down and be in the moment.
My favourite piece of life advice… Is a quote from author Marjory Stoneman Douglas: “Life should be lived so vividly and so intensely that thoughts of another life, or a longer life, are not necessary”.
My favourite place on the Northern Beaches to relax and recharge… Is anywhere there’s a headland and lots of water around me. I think very clearly when I’m surrounded by water (must’ve been a sailor in my past life). I love Long Reef Headland, Curl Curl/Freshwater Headland and Clontarf beach.
I’ll celebrate Mother’s Day… with my daughter’s soccer game, and then it’s a Sunday Family Fun Day, so who knows what adventures are on the cards!
Rebecca Carrasco, Executive Creative Director
Rebecca is a professional, creative problem solver, which over the past 20-plus years has led her to work as a Creative, Executive Creative Director, Creative Strategist, Board Director and Corporate Advisor across the advertising, marketing communications and tech industries. She’s also a mother of two beautiful, boisterous, young boys and has been in a relationship with her husband (a teacher) since they were 14.
My career began… Age four, when I was watching the TV show, Bewitched. I think it was meant to inspire young girls to grow into contented housewives, but I wanted Darrin Stephens’ job. I remember that thought quite clearly. So, once school was out of the way, I began studying Visual Communications at UTS. While at university, I was fortunate to be offered work as a Junior Creative at a good medical agency; and to receive an Australia Day Award that came with a National Council of Women scholarship. This paid for me to do the Australasian Writers & Art Directors (AWARD) School. I was then lucky enough to achieve the national first place at AWARD School (in idea generation), which led to a mainstream role working for my industry tutors, where I was able to secure a few professional accolades. At this point, I was offered a Junior Creative role at Colenso BBDO in Auckland, New Zealand, and that’s really where it all began.
I start each workday by… Having a quick date with a strong Earl Grey, a journal, a diary and a 0.4 felt-tip pen. I thought-dump into the journal, then, having acknowledged everything that’s fighting for attention in my brain, I’m able to pull out a cohesive, prioritised list for the day.
I finish each workday with… Marking what I did and didn’t get done, transferring unfinished jobs to the next day. Then the mad scramble of getting dinner ready before my sons eat their bodyweight in pantry raids.
At work, I couldn’t function without… A good quality ideas journal – unlined, on a decent weight stock (plus the 0.4 felt-tip pen) – Google, Word, Adobe, and blocking thinking time in my own calendar.
At home, I couldn’t function without… My husband. I have the utmost respect for those single parenting, but I’m extremely grateful to be able to share the load at home right down the middle.
I juggle motherhood and work by… trying lots of things to achieve balance. Coming from a deadline-driven industry, with long hours, where weekends can be a luxury – and having had my children when childbearing still meant potential redundancy – I approached a few agencies with the proposition of a part-time leadership role, something that wasn’t done at the time. I stepped away from an Executive Creative Director (ECD) role, back into a Creative Director role, in an attempt to reduce the workload to one that was manageable part-time. Eventually, I moved back into an ECD role, and a Network Creative Lead role, all part-time. And while I remain grateful for those opportunities, I never actually worked part-time. They simply weren’t part-time roles. So, there was always a level of compromise, either at work around my level of ambition, or at home in what I could be involved in. What this did grant me, however, was flexibility in how I worked, when flexibility wasn’t otherwise an option.
The other thing I tried, and do believe in, are unabashed career breaks. I took a year off before my eldest started school, and it was incredible for the family. I think women can feel, and be made to feel, like time-out is a step backward. I don’t think this is necessarily the case. If you’re established in your field, time-out can be a very restorative, empowering way of achieving balance, especially if your field is competitive and deadline-driven. If you’re in a role where you’re ‘on’ when you’re on, then making genuine ‘off’ time is important.
My top productivity tip is… There’s only one way through it, and that’s to do it. (Said often when homework is due!)
My favourite parenting lesson is… “The days are long, but the years are short.”
I manage my stress by… Taking a long walk. Or drinking a large wine.
Motherhood has taught me… Sometimes there just aren’t easy answers.
My favourite piece of life advice is… You’re only limited by what you accept. (Advice I gave myself, when I realised that other people’s opinions on what was and wasn’t possible for me, were just that – their opinions.)
My favourite place on the Northern Beaches to relax and recharge… A Long Reef Headland walk and a long lunch.
I’ll celebrate Mother’s Day… with breakfast at Burnt Orange.
Rhian Allen, Founder, Healthy Active Pet and The Healthy Mummy
You might have heard of Rhian Allen… She’s a bestselling author, blogger, presenter, keynote speaker, health advocate and business consultant. She’s also passionate about healthy living, fitness, healthy food and living a balanced life. Oh, and she launched The Healthy Mummy in 2010 (from her kitchen, with zero business experience, she might add), turning it into one of the most successful websites there is, before recently founding her new business, Healthy Active Pet. Rhian lives in Manly with her husband, her two boys and her four dogs.
My career began… After I finished university in 1999. I started work in London and my first proper job was working in radio at Classic FM in the sales division.
I start each workday by… Taking my dogs out for a quick walk and then I crack on with emails.
I finish each workday with… Checking the news on my phone, while lying tucked up in bed.
At work, I couldn’t function without… A daily to-do list. I always have so much on every day, so this keeps me on track and ensures I prioritise what needs to be done that day… And I LOVE ticking my tasks off!
At home, I couldn’t function without… Good and healthy food! Health is a big thing for me – both for humans and my pets (my new business is healthyactivepet.com) and I want to ensure that my family and I have healthy and nutrient-dense food as what we eat is so important for our health, energy and longevity.
I juggle motherhood and work by… Being very flexible. I’m always there for my kids, but I always have so much on. So, I get up early at 5am and get through an hour of emails and work before the rest of the house is up. Then it is about being organised and flexible (and working like a speed demon during the day before my kids get home from school). For 12 years this has served me well.
My top productivity tip is… Get up an hour early and use that time to do emails, get organised and get through any mundane tasks that need to be done. It is a game-changer for me, as then the rest of the day I can be busy on other areas of more creative work.
My favourite parenting lesson is… Be calm. Losing your temper never works – for you or your kids. Even if you are super-stressed, learning to be calm will make a huge difference to everyone around you.
I manage my stress by… Trying to be as organised as I can. When I feel out of control, my stress goes through the roof! I also find that being healthy, eating well and doing some kind of exercise daily really helps. And finally, I am a BIG believer in perspective. It is so easy to get caught up in the rat race and stress, but if you stop and take a step back, you can think about whether it’s worth it. Is it worth stressing yourself out, making you feel sick, and taking time away from what is important, which to me is my kids and family? The answer is always no; it is not worth it. Your kids and family are what is worth it.
Motherhood has taught me… That women are incredible. We do so much. We are so much. We carry so much on our shoulders and can really do anything we want to. I believe that everyone should learn to be as resilient as possible and without doubt, motherhood teaches you this from the get go!
My favourite piece of life advice is… Life is short and you have to do all you can to enjoy the now. There are so many stresses and it can be overwhelming but life is so short and your kids will grow up so fast. If you enjoy the now and do all you can to rework your life so it isn’t full of stress, it will be the best thing you can do.
My favourite place on the Northern Beaches to relax and recharge… I love Palm Beach. It is such a beautiful part of the world and feels a million miles from anywhere even though it isn’t!
I’ll celebrate Mother’s Day… With my favourite people in the world – my two kids, my hubby and my four fur babies.
Shelley O’Malley, Head of Operations & Events, Manly Sea Eagles
Beaches born, Shelley lived the life in Europe starting out as a secondary school teacher before moving across to her passion: searching for fresh powder in the winter seasons as a Tourism Sales and Marketing Manager in the ski industry. Now she’s a mother of nine-year-old old twins and has worked in a multitude of varied event roles across local government, not-for-profits and the commercial sector. She’s run the Manly Food and Wine and Jazz festivals, and worked for Sony Foundation as the National Event Manager where she bumped shoulders with A-listers to raise funds for youth cancer. She’s now come back full circle to the Beaches, managing Events and Operations for the Manly Sea Eagles. You’ll usually find Shelley with a headset on, running around either in the wings on stage or the on-the-field sideline.
My career began… When I moved overseas as a 22-year-old secondary school teacher and lived in London for five years. It instilled in me a love for travel, experiencing everything life has to offer. With that came attending the many marquee festivals and events across Europe. This ignited my passion for the event industry – I became intrigued and wanted to be more involved. When I returned home, I studied Event Management at NSW TAFE Brookvale and got my foot in the door with Manly Council (now Northern Beaches Council). I worked on all their major events including the Manly Food and Wine Festival, which was a buzz seeing 300,000+ people attend your event over a weekend.
I start each workday by… hitting snooze on the alarm a couple of times. I’m not a morning person, as much as I want to be. But once I’m up, it’s a strong skim cap and straight into the school prep routine. I often say that we’ve run a marathon before even entering the office at 9am!
I finish each workday with… A hot shower and (sometimes) a glass of wine.
At work, I couldn’t function without… Humour and a bit of banter – if you don’t laugh, you cry! In the events industry, you have to have a thick skin, endurance and flexibility. Your colleagues see you at your best and your worst, when you’re on your A-game and when you’re a dishevelled mess. So, unless you can have a laugh, you won’t make it through!
At home, I couldn’t function without… My hubby. He’s my grounding force, a great listener, resource of knowledge and dumping ground for emotional baggage.
I juggle motherhood and work… With my Outlook calendar. Honestly, it’s my lifeline; from cake stalls, mufti days and extra-curricular activities, to the multitude of work deadlines and meetings. Family is always first though. I remind myself often that someone could always replace me at work, but no one can replace me as a mother, so I make sure when I’m at work, I’m focused, and when I’m at home, it’s our personal time.
My top productivity tip is… To keep busy, work hard during the day, and don’t take work home with you; it’s the old cliché that you get more done when you’ve got loads on (to a point). Managing a team can be tough on your own workload, as they also need support. However, I tend to lock myself away for a few hours a week to trawl through emails uninterrupted, which helps me get on the front foot and better manage my own tasks.
My favourite parenting lesson is… Communication is key. Making sure they know they never have to go through this life unheard. No matter how small or big the conversation, they know they are being listened to. Although they have young growing minds, they seem to have better clarity on life than me some days!
I manage my stress by… Going to the gym or catching up with friends. I always believe in work-life balance.
Motherhood has taught me… Patience and perspective.
My favourite piece of life advice is… Trust your instinct. If it doesn’t feel right, then it’s probably not, but if it does, then put your all into it.
My favourite place on the Northern Beaches to relax and recharge… Well, it was Freshwater Beach where I lived for years, but now it’s equivalent to the M1 at peak hour. So, I tend to head more north to the quieter places like Long Reef beach. There’s something about just staring out into the ocean for clarity!
I’ll celebrate Mother’s Day… By working a 12-hour day! So hopefully I can squeeze in a morning breakfast date with the family beforehand!