Helen Bryce, entrepreneurial founder of Guilty Mother’s Club and mum-of-two, believes flexible working and shared childcare responsibilities are the key to a happier, more equal society. That’s why she works, while her husband is a stay-at-home dad…
Helen Bryce, 36, lives in Manchester with her husband and their children: Mabel, six, Wilf, five and Hettie, three. She runs Guilty Mothers Club, offering online workshops, courses and a membership programme for working mums who want combine a family and a career on their own terms.
What’s your home like?
Fairly minimal, clean, light and tidy is what I want to say. Noisy and an ever-losing battle against plastic crap is probably the real answer.
What time are you up in the morning?
In the last six months our eldest (who is six) has finally started getting up closer to 6.30 than 5.30. It feels like heaven.
What wakes you up?
One of the kids (we have three), or the alarm for me or my husband to get up and go running.
How do you feel?
Normally ok, I am an early riser, always have been.
What do you do first thing?
After cuddles with the kids in bed I usually exercise. This is a recent thing since my husband has been on his career break (he is currently taking a year off to be at home with our children). Prior to that he was never here in the mornings so it was a hectic and sometimes stressful affair with food, clothes, leaving the house etc. It still feels like an absolute treat to have him around.
In three words, describe mornings in your home?
Hungry, energetic, happy.
What’s for breakfast?
Normally porridge with fruit and maple syrup or pancakes at the weekend. I have this pep-me-up ginger tea from Helmsley and Helmsley every morning without fail – it is incredible, wakes you up and feels good at the same time.
How might the rest of your day pan out?
My husband now does the school run and I work from home in our loft so I head up there after lots of goodbye cuddles. I am quite good at structuring my day and very focused with my time (my bullet journal and Trello are my all time favourites for this). I never look at social media or open my laptop until I am completely sure what my goals are for the day, otherwise I am too easily distracted.
Since I’ve stopped trying to ‘achieve’ balance (I don’t think it’s possible, it’s constantly moving), I’ve actually stopped worrying about it.
On a normal day I work about seven hours, breaking up my time into chunks or I am far less productive. On breaks I do some stretches, collect mugs of tea from downstairs or do odd jobs around the house. I used to hate doing this because when my husband worked full time with a long commute, I had to do house stuff, school drops etc and then try to squeeze about eight hours work in, too.
I know this is a really common scenario and it did work for us for a good few years but it isn’t easy. We decided to make a change in part because my business was growing and I couldn’t find the time to allocate to it and also because my husband felt he was completely missing out on family life while they were little.
We had said for ages that we’d love to change something but just couldn’t afford it (he was the main breadwinner by quite a long way) then one day sat down and actually questioned this properly. He’s been off for four months so far and our lives have changed dramatically as a result. We are far less comfortable financially and have to budget carefully every month. Our holiday this year was camping in a friend’s parents garden.
What’s your workspace like?
A desk in our semi-converted loft. It’s not light enough for my liking and often surrounded by crap that needs to be put away ‘somewhere’ so sometimes I go and work in my sister’s workshop in her garden, for a change.
Tell us about your business, Guilty Mothers Club…
I launched Guilty Mothers Club nearly two years ago after deciding that there should be more support for mothers around returning to work and combining work with family life. I’ve always been a huge feminist and had found my own return to work a difficult process.
I worked in leadership development and couldn’t understand how employers weren’t seeing that all these talented women were basically walking out or feeling totally uninspired when they weren’t supported (or worse: discriminated against) after becoming a parent.
I genuinely believe that if more women are able to navigate this transition, if we can start to question the way we work and how we set up our lives (flexible working, shared childcare responsibilities) then we’ll have more women in senior positions, starting businesses, more women feeling fulfilled and happy – the world will just be an all round better place.
Yep, I’m a huge dreamer. My tiny part in this is the programme I run called Game Changers – bringing women together who want to make a change. I also run an online course called ‘Organise My Entire Life’ because time seems to be such a common issue for parents. It is work I am so passionate about.
What’s the greatest challenge when running your own business?
Switching off. I try to meditate at the end of the day but honestly it doesn’t always happen. I have to constantly battle my phone addiction. Also, it can be quite lonely working for yourself when you’ve come from working in a team in a big office. There isn’t always someone to high five or pick you up after something goes wrong. Finally, it’s just bloody hard work, the hardest job I’ve ever done.
It’s important to say yes to stuff that scares me – to feel the fear and do it anyway
What makes it all worthwhile?
Feedback from women who have done workshops or come to events. The autonomy and flexibility I have, I never miss out on sports days or special occasions like I used to. I’m at home loads and I get to choose what I do with my business. I like that.
Are there aspects of the production that you delegate to others?
I have awful attention to detail so my husband often gets anything that requires this. I also pay a friend who helps me with marketing occasionally. At home we used to have a cleaner but this all had to stop with recent austerity measures!
Are you a happy lone worker, or do you enjoy the buzz of a shared workspace?
I actually like working on my own when deep in thinking designing a workshop or writing a blog post. I like total quiet. However at least a few times a week I need conversation and shared inspiration.
What’s the secret to career success?
Wow, hard question. Constantly learning and seeing setbacks purely as ways to get better. Also, for me it’s important to say yes to stuff that scares me – to feel the fear and do it anyway. The thing or conversation I am avoiding or putting off will nearly always be the thing that will make the biggest difference.
Is the juggle real for you… do you find it difficult balancing motherhood/relationship/me-time/time for friends/career?
Yes undoubtedly, I think everyone does. But since I’ve stopped trying to ‘achieve’ balance (I don’t think it’s possible, it’s constantly moving), I’ve actually stopped worrying about it. Some days and weeks are harder, others are easier, go with the flow and adjust your priorities accordingly.
Describe an ideal weekend?
One with very little to do. Long breakfast, the papers, lots of family play (no jobs list), hanging out with extended family or friends perhaps and maybe a walk. Oh and food, always food.
If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
Probably somewhere in the UK on holiday near the seaside, in a massive comfy bed with tons of covers and good coffee, looking out over fields with the sun coming up for a gorgeous day.