Missed our Working Mums Club Facebook chat with freelance beauty writer Sali Hughes? Don’t worry, you can read all of the expert advice she shared here
Twice a month at Mother&Baby we bring you the Working Mums Club Facebook chat – a chance to get brilliant advice and tips for those who are either at work or are just about to go back. This week, freelance beauty writer and author Sali Hughes was on standby to answer questions about working from home, going freelance and beauty tips for busy mums.
Sali is an award winning writer, broadcaster, author, Guardian columnist and founder of salihughesbeauty.com. She contributes regularly to Grazia, Red, The Observer, Glamour, BBC Radio 4, Radio 2 and 5Live, as well as frequent appearances on ITV's This Morning and Daybreak. She has two sons, Marvin, eight, and Arthur, six.
If you missed the chat, here’s what happened…
Q: Is being a freelancer as a mum the best of both worlds, in your experience, or do you sometimes wish you could compartmentalise the two?
A: Well, freelancers get no sick pay or paid holidays, so if I don't work, I don't get paid. However, if my children are ill, or have a concert at school, I can always commit to them without having to ask a boss or HR. I am also around a lot when they get home from school. I feel really lucky about that. I would find it hard to be staff these days – it's been too long. For me it is the best of all worlds but it is not without its challenges and I completely accept that it's not a choice most people even have.
"It is the best of all worlds but it is not without its challenges"
Q: I'd like to know if there's a particular part of the day you devote to your kids to stop work always dominating. It can be hard to work out what to prioritise. Should I always be there for bedtime? Or try to pick up my kids from nursery?
A: Yes, I always try to be around for dinner and stories. I like to know what the boys are eating and I enjoy supper times. Also, my children have always, always had bedtime stories and it's a tradition I want to maintain. Sometime work commitments mean I'm not around for dinner and stories, of course. But it's always what I strive for.
Q: When everything seems to be going on at once – as it so often does – what do you let slide? Or are you generally so organised that this doesn't happen? And if you are, tips please, because I'm so not.
A: I let so much slide. If it is really late and we're only just arriving home, then I might skip boys' bath time. Though they are now older and can pop themselves in the shower to save time. I will also leave any cleaning until the next day. I figure some things HAVE to happen – school, homework, work to pay bills, eating, stories. Those are the non-negotiables. Anything else can wait. I never, ever achieve everything I want to in a day. I'm not that kind of person. *shrugs*
"I never, ever achieve everything I want to in a day"
Q: I'd like to write a mum blog but I’m worried I won't have enough to write about. How do you find inspiration?
A: When I have to fill my own site and column I find the best instinct you'll get about a story being of interest is whether your girlfriends would talk about it over lunch. If I'm talking about an issue with my friends – whether silly or serious – then I generally assume most women of my generation are at least thinking it. This now applies beyond my immediate friendship group because of my forum. I eavesdrop on threads there and it shows me which issues are important to people. I'd advise anyone wanting to write to read as much as possible. Join a forum because it will show you lots of different viewpoints and give you a great chance to practice articulating your own in writing.
Finally, if you are starting a mum blog, or any blog really, decide what makes yours different. It's not enough to 'be a mum' – it's your unique take on it that will make your blog readable. When I started the my beauty site I knew exactly what I wanted it to be because I couldn't find it anywhere else. This should be your thought process. Be unique.
"It's not enough to 'be a mum' – it's your unique take on it that will make your blog readable"
Q: I'd like to know what has surprised you the most about being a mother to your two boys?
A: I am surprised by how well they've turned out. Genuinely. Obviously I love them deeply but I also really like them. They're funny, polite, kind and interesting. I honestly never expected this to happen because I always thought I was being so thoroughly useless at the whole parenting thing. I was amazed that we all seemed to turn out okay. Just being 'good enough' is really hard and if you get there, you are winning.
Q: I am due to return to work in three months and really don’t want to. Can I ask how you have managed your own business as this is what I would love to do but my daughter is with me 24/7.
A: Well, firstly, my children are not babies. They are six and eight, which makes a huge difference. They are good at playing independently and enjoy visiting friends . And crucially, they are at school. Everything is much easier when your children are older, so I totally sympathise about the 24/7 thing – I've been there. I could not have entertained having a business when mine were tiny though, God knows, other women do it brilliantly.
"Just being 'good enough' is really hard and if you get there, you are winning"
I was lucky enough to be able to return to work after my babies at a reasonable pace, gradually increasing my hours incrementally. I realise most people's jobs aren't like that.
The most important things are to work with a business partner you trust and who understands how tricky the juggling act is. And try to choose a business you actually love – there's no point doing something just for the money because you won't turn a profit straight away and you'll just resent being away from the baby.
"There's no point doing something just for the money because you won't turn a profit straight away and you'll just resent being away from the baby"
Q: How do you achieve work/life balance and do you work from home with your kids there. If so, how do you manage it?
A: Well, I often feel as though I don't. This is the curse of being a modern mum – you constantly feel as though you should be doing everything better. I often feel as though I'm neglecting work and my kids alternately. It's a nightmare. But in general, I'd say a routine is important. I try to go to London no more than twice a week. I block together all meetings in those two days so I'm not to-ing and fro-ing and missing my children. I will generally turn down anything else if asked.
I also find the school day very useful, in that it's the ultimate deadline. If I haven't written enough by 3:30pm, I am basically screwed because my children will need homework help, dinner and so on, and will be too noisy anyway. Also, I have childcare four days a week. I say this because I am so sick of women pretending in interviews that they don't have help, as though it's some huge sin or failing. All that does is perpetuate the myth that it's possible for a good woman to do everything herself all the time and keep everyone happy. It's not. I could not live without childcare and people need to stop acting like it's a dirty word.
Q: I am going to have a 2-3 night work trip in May and I'm dreading leaving my daughters, who are two and five years old. Do you have any advice for work trips?
A: I think mine were roughly this age when I first did this. Firstly, do not feel guilty. I guarantee you will be far more upset than they are. My children don't seem to care when I have to go away! They just look forward to a little present on my return – even if it's tiny. They just love the ritual of receiving a gift from somewhere unfamiliar.
The most important things are:
a) Explaining a couple of days before that you are going away and why. Have a chat about it – be open but don't turn it into a big deal.
b) Getting Skype or FaceTime. I always FaceTime my children when I'm away. They love it and it's lovely to see their faces and chat about what they've been doing.
c) Not openly fretting about them. My children know that I'm not remotely worried about them when I'm away because they are with someone who loves them and that going away is a very normal part of life. There is nothing to fear – I always come back.
d) From your perspective, it's important to try to enjoy the trip and the time for yourself. Enjoy a nice long hotel bath, order a cocktail, read a book, get an early night.
"Explain a couple of days before that you are going away and why"
Q: I am constantly running around with my kids and very often look tired in the mornings. Can you advise on any products I could put on at night to help me look brighter in the mornings.
A: Yes – Origins Vitazing. It is my favourite school run product ever because it's simply a moisturiser. Smooth it on after washing and it gives you a lovely healthy glow, lots of moisture and sun protection, all in one. It's a million times better than any BB cream. I also love Dior's new Glow Maximiser. It's a primer that adds loads of light to your face, and suits all skins. Love it.
Q: Are there many products out there that you could use yourself and also for your kids or do you think it's best to keep things like that separate?
A: I used mainly Burts Bees, Kiehl's Baby and Simple when my children were tiny. My youngest, like me, has icthyosis (a dry, scaly skin condition) and so needs a very rich emollient after every bath. Things like baby lotion were no good. As they've got older, they mainly use Tantrum from Waitrose or Daniel Galvin Hair Juice. We still love Simple, but they very often use my Palmolive or Dove shower cream too. We never really used the same products when they were tiny because I like high tech skincare with active ingredients and that's obviously not good for small children – nor is it necessary. I also think, as a woman that it's nice after having a baby to have something that is still just for you.
Q: Now that your kids are older and you hopefully get some me time, what are your favourite me time beauty products?
A: Posh bath stuff. I'm not really into masks and er, 'pampering' products *shudder*. But I do love a bath. My rule is shower = cheap, bath = expensive. So if I have a soak I go to town with a bath milk from Elemis, herbal bath gel from Clarins or the gorgeous honey baths from Laura Mercier. I figure it's only once a week or so, so I might as well go for it.