We love supporting other like-minded women, so we could not resist the opportunity to connect with Two Girls and a Laptop. Helen and Jacqui met as colleagues at a large telco and have started a kick-ass business, suffer from mama guilt, love dippy eggs and believe in ‘Working to live not living to work.’
Tell us about your career journey
H: My background is in sales and marketing. I moved away from the corporate world after 20 or so years to focus on having a family. After my son Ethan turned one I felt a desire for something more. Motherhood is the most amazing experience but I was craving some stimulation and something that I could put my mark on. And I’ve always wanted to work for myself.
J: After working at Optus for 11 years I was totally burnt out. I was respected, in a senior position and making good money, but I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. So I took a year and backpacked through Central and South America then I moved to Europe and worked for some great companies, but after the birth of my first daughter we moved home. I started working with Helen on the side in June 2017, and we then took the plunge and started Two Girls and a Laptop.
Running households and a new business is full on—how does it work?
J: We are very time poor so we have a plan and we do our best to stick with it. We reserve our together time for actions that need to be collaborated on and we try not to waste time together doing tasks that can be done apart. We love a list.
H: We talk about the chaos that is life these days—juggling work/family/lack of sleep, the inability to exercise and basically just getting time to ourselves. But when we were planning our business, we set a mandate that we would make sure it would provide us with the flexibility we crave and to manage the ‘chaos’ on our terms. How do we do that? Things like managing our workload to our time available—we are currently only blogging fortnightly and scheduling daily activity to our social pipes. All these things could be done more frequently, but we wouldn’t do them well and the overwhelming feeling of not completing them would eventually cause us to burnout and start to resent it all.
How do you manage the juggle?
J: We just don’t have time to dick around. We utilise nap times, the 30 minutes we sometimes get before the kids wake up and if we’re not too exhausted, time in between the kids’ bed time and ours. I’m an avid podcast lover and research while doing the housework, and we both make personal calls while the kids are strapped in the car!
H: I won’t lie. Running a start-up business is lots of work. You are normally running on a tight budget (if any) and time (see below!) There will be many nights where you operate on 3 hours sleep. Running your own business is 24/7. You could be in bed early but your mind is ticking over with ideas. However, working for yourself means you can control your day. Flexibility is probably the best thing that a mum can have.
Do you suffer from mama guilt?
J: Yes, all the time. My kids are in daycare two days a week, so if we have to get something done when we have the kids we use the TV/iPad from time to time. We are all trying to make a conscious effort to minimise the amount of time the kids spend with screens (who isn’t?) and we are also trying to minimise the time we ourselves spend on screens in front of the kids (and our partners.) We consciously try to be kind to ourselves and not beat ourselves up too much. Ahem—as I’m writing this my one-year-old is sitting on top of the table trying to help mummy type!
H: Who doesn’t? I know before I re-entered the workforce, I would have guilt over silly things, like, has Ethan had enough tummy time, has he been outside enough? Now, I feel guilty when he tells me to put my phone down. For me, the weekends are disconnect time. Oh, and it’s very common that we have ‘dippy eggs’ for dinner on the days I’m working, something I feel guilty about—but only for a little while. Who doesn’t love a ‘dippy egg’?
What do you most love about being a working mum?
J: The flexibility, being able to use my brain and feel stimulated, being able to contribute financially (well, that’s the plan) and have a sense of my old self again. When I fell pregnant everyone talked about becoming a mother but there was not a lot said of the old me (who I quite liked actually) and that she would be gone … forever. It feels great to be using my creativity with Helen, one of my best friends. And we can’t get over how supportive the ‘women in business’ movement is in Australia. It has a real ‘community over competition’ vibe and we are loving it.
H: Somebody once said to me, “I’m a better mum when I’m happy” and I couldn’t agree more. Having this interest and something for me makes me happier, and I’m enjoying that as a working mum I’m a role model to my son. It sets such a good example for kids to know from an early age that both Mummy and Daddy have important careers and contribute to the household in different ways.
Our top three tips for managing your career through parental leave are:
- If you had to resign completely from work, keep a hand in if you can and keep your brain stimulated.
- If you are dead set and certain you want to come back to work full-time after maternity leave, we implore you to consider that maybe you won’t be. Have the discussion and plant the seed with your work around part-time/job share opportunities just in case you change your mind.
- You were one person when you left your job to have your first baby and a very different person coming back to work — please be kind to yourself.
What has being a working mum taught you?
J: I used to waste so much time having coffees and meetings for the sake of having meetings. Corporate life moved so slowly, it took ages to get initiatives off the ground —now we just do it! I’ve always been a good multi-tasker, now I’m extraordinaire!
H: So much! But mostly, not to sweat the small stuff. I used to be a little ‘particular’ about things and I also worried far too much about what people thought of me. Now, I try to concentrate on running my own race. Pre-children, I placed a lot of emphasis on my ‘success’ and how that related to my career. Since, becoming a mother, I guess I’ve found that it doesn’t necessarily correlate. What’s the phrase? ‘Work to live’ not ‘live to work’!
How do you start the day?
J: If I’m in bed alone (my partner works away a lot) I check my phone which I know is bad and not a very mindful way to start the day … but in my defence, I am part of a daily gratitude group and I usually think about the thing I am most grateful for and share it with the group. If both kids are asleep, I sneak downstairs to get some work done or if they’re awake it’s morning cuddles in bed for 20 minutes or so before we start the breakfast routine.
H: Always with a cup of tea! Normally with ‘PJ Mask’ and ‘Go Jetters’ on in the background, while I’m getting breakfast ready, and while checking emails and our socials from the night before. If I had a wish from a genie in a bottle it would be to be able to exercise more in the morning.
What are your top three family dinners?
- Pasta (of course!)—Bolognese or pesto with lots of hidden vegies.
- Schnitzels—who doesn’t love crumbed bread?
- Pizza—a Friday night staple, always with a bit of zucchini grated under the sauce, because, we’re always hiding vegies!
- And did we mention ‘Dippy Eggs’?
Favourite time of the day is …
J: Sunset on a day where I’m not solo parenting where I can sit on the back deck and have a wine for 5 minutes, uninterrupted. This is rare, but it’s my favourite.
H: I love sunrise—always with a cup of tea!
Instagram sites that inspire you…
J: I like Jenna Kutcher at the moment, she keeps is real.
H: This could go on for a while, but I’m in love with: @pannalemoniada, @kajastef (see Scandi Addiction below); for a bit of a giggle @celestebarber and @emrusciano and locally, I’m loving @steviesayssocial for her honesty and strong ‘brand voice’.
I’m happiest when …
J: I’m with friends and family in a warm sunny location.
H: I’m on holidays and offline, with family and friends and also when I have a bit of solo time.
I’m addicted to …
J: My one daily coffee. I don’t get to watch much TV these days but I love Outlander, Poldark, Game of Thrones and any period drama. I listen to audiobooks in the car.
H: Anything Scandi, interiors styling, my coffee and, if we’re going there with Netflix, I’m currently bingeing on ‘Vikings’—I’m seriously in lady love with Lagartha, and as much as I don’t want to be, social media. But, hey, it goes with the territory.
Favourite wardrobe staple for work …
J: Jeans and a t-shirt in winter, and shorts and a tank top in summer.
H: Jeans and a top knot!
Favourite wardrobe staple for weekend …
J: Jeans and a t-shirt in winter, and shorts and a tank top in summer.
H: I’m a bit mad for maxi dresses and maxi skirts.
Heels or flats?
J: Flats, all the way.
H: Heels, for the slimming effects.