The Freelance Mum: Phoebe Attfield, founder of Motherhen Agency

Phoebe Attfield planned to take her baby daughter along with her when working as a nanny for another family, but they made it clear this wouldn’t work. So she quit, and set up her own childcare recruitment agency, Motherhen…

Phoebe Attfield, 26, recently moved to Sheffield from London. She lives with her husband, Taio, and their two-year-old daughter Thea. She works is founder of childcare recruitment business Motherhen Agency.

I decided to go freelance when … my previous bosses forced me to quit, after having my daughter. She was four months old and I was due to go back to work. I worked as a nanny and had been with this family for the last three years. They had three children, two when I started, and I really felt like part of the family. I worked very long hours, daily, up until I was 37 weeks pregnant.

The plan was always to take my daughter to work with me because the boys were going to be at school and the parents had never suggested that this wasn’t an option. But the week I was meant to start work they told me Thea couldn’t come with me. There is no way I could leaver her with someone else while I went to take care of someone else’s children, it made no sense to me.

So I set up my own childcare agency. I’d had the idea for Motherhen Agency years earlier, but this was the push I needed. It took me a few months to get my head around the idea but by the time my daughter was seven months old, I was running Motherhen.

This style of working suits me because … I can work from anywhere. We love to travel and do so whenever we can. Being up north now, we do escape back to London as much as possible and 99% of my work is done from a laptop or a phone so as long as I have the internet I am set. And, of course, I get to spend every moment of every day with my daughter, which is all I want.

The greatest challenge I face as a freelancing mother is … the mum guilt. I feel so guilty that my daughter sees me on my phone or laptop so much during busy times but I also feel guilty when I’m not working and meant to be spending quality time with her. I’m now trying to ‘schedule’ more time pockets to take Thea to classes, play dates etc. so when I do have to work, I know we’ve had moments/will have them later.

In three words, being a freelance mum is … lonely, empowering, flexible.

If I could change anything about my work/life balance it would be … to put some ‘work hours’ in to place and I would put less pressure on myself. I get very invested in all my clients’ needs and sometimes I have to take a step back and think: this is not worth the stress, anxiety or time away from Thea. (Strange that you can feel so far away but be in the same house 24 hours a day!). But in reality, there are not enough hours in the day for those ‘work hours’ and my business works because I care about my clients and my nannies.

As a freelance mum, I work … whenever I can. We don’t have childcare so I try to squeeze as much as I can into nap-time and I often send emails before 8am. I take phone-calls after bed-time too. I try not to work between dinner time and bed-time.

I do my freelance work from … well, there’s an office in our home, but I hardly ever work from there. I often sit on the floor with my laptop on my bed, or stand next to the coffee machine. When I’m in a busy period I work from the loo, from trains, from the children’s library and from the sandpit at the local park. We recently went on our honeymoon so working from a balcony in Bali has to be one of the nicest places I’ve worked from so far.

What I miss about my previous job is … the interaction, face-to-face interaction with adults daily… and the salary.

My freelance life would be a whole lot better if … I could see in to the future and know when the busy periods would be and when the quiet times would be.

On the whole, being a freelance mum is … exactly what me and my daughter need for this phase of our lives.