Bump & Baby Clubbers, Lucy and Claire, formed The Juggling Act in 2018, along with their business partner, Chris. It is a consulting agency that works with organisations to better support their employees who are parents. The Juggling Act also provides coaching for parents, helping them to build the career they truly want amidst the busyness of raising a family. Claire (pictured right) takes us through her journey so far…
How did the idea for the Juggling Act come about?
I had already started my own coaching and culture business, Pale Blue Coaching in 2015 and when my husband and I did Bump & Baby Club in 2017 we were so thrilled with the wonderful people we met there. I was on a WhatsApp group with the women from my group and about 5 months after our little ones were born the conversations began to change drastically: from sleep tips and feeding chat to what we were going to do about going back to work!
Many of my fellow B&BC parents shared the same conundrums. Did they want to work flexibly or go back full time? Could they transition slowly? Would they be discriminated against or be pushed out for being parents, perhaps not able to offer the same unilateral focus to their work as they had previously? And what about the exhaustion, the logistics and the guilt? I realised quickly that I wanted to use my coaching and organisational culture background to support parents in their journey back to work and to support the organisations they worked for to be better places to work for parents. What better way to start than with my own fellow Bump & Baby Club friends?
Did your Bump and Baby Club friends help shape the idea and, if so, in what ways?
There are two parts to this for me. Firstly, there is Lucy Fry, my business partner, who told me about Bump & Baby Club in the first place (she and her wife Bella were on the programme several cohorts before us). Lucy’s background is in health, fitness and wellbeing and she is also a non-biological mum. I knew she would bring a different and crucial perspective to this work, especially with her focus on wellbeing and mental health. So, Lucy has been a big part of shaping the business with me.
The second part is that the first Juggling Act coaching programme we ran was with friends from my own Bump & Baby Club cohort – we held it in my kitchen in Balham. They have played a big part in shaping our work through their participation and feedback; their observations have been invaluable. They continue to help us think through changes to the programme and the consultancy.
What are the main challenges facing working parents who have very young babies?
A lot of it surrounds managing time and the need for boundaries to protect precious (and vastly reduced) time and energy (both physical and emotional). The number one thing we hear – and certainly experience ourselves – is feelings of guilt: about leaving the baby, about working too much, about not working enough. There’s guilt about enjoying work and guilt about not enjoying it and wanting to cuddle up with our little bundles instead. And of course, there is the endless context-switching (this is my biggest personal challenge): from sometimes unbelievably joyful, sometimes mind-numbing parenting to running meetings, writing papers, making presentations. Moving between breastfeeding and sleep training to facilitating all day leadership workshops was some of the most extreme context switching I have ever done. And all this amidst a cloud of fatigue! The tiredness, so much tiredness. We also see many cases of women juggling everything at home and pursuing a career with not enough support from their partner and others.
What are your top tips for them?
Our number one tip for those parents returning to work after extended leave is to make time to think it through before going back. We do this with clients through our structured coaching sessions, but you do not need a professional coach to do this. The reality is that between being exhausted and pulled in a million different directions, parents rarely take the time for themselves to think through what they want out of their return. Many parents who have taken extended leave feel (or perceive of) a pressure to be ‘grateful’ that they still have a job at all – and that they just need to take what they can get. That’s actually not the best thing for the person or their employer. Have a sit down in the park, or somewhere quiet, and think through your goals for your return at different junctures. How do you want it to be in the first week? Month? 3 months? 6 months? Year? What about 5 years? Take the time to dream a little. The first week might just be getting your child sorted with nursery and sitting in on a few meetings. But in a year, you may even be looking at promotion or a different role, and in 5 years you may have plotted a new vision entirely – knowing what you want is a great start. Even 30 mins doing this would put you ahead of the vast majority of returners.
How have you managed to juggle everything? Has there been anything particularly surprising or difficult?
It has changed with every new phase of our kids’ lives and Lucy and I have frequently discussed the fact that the challenges were very different for us in the beginning as Lucy is a non-bio Mum and her wife was breastfeeding. As our kids grow up the challenges are more similar, and we manage the juggle mainly through our incredible partners. My husband took 6 weeks off on full pay when our son was first born. He now works from home a few days a week (this means he does laundry over lunch, pays bills, does life admin etc.) He gets our son up and fed most mornings leaving me to respond to emails and get my head straight into work first thing before he gets on the tube. I know Lucy and her wife are incredible at ‘sharing the load,’ which makes life better for the whole family.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
In our April programme we were running an exercise and one of the attendees was presenting a challenge. Part way through she said, “Wow, I have learned more about this issue and what to do about it in the last 10 minutes than I have in the last 3 years”. That’s what I adore about it, those moments where Lucy, Chris and I have created an environment and practical work that enables people to do their best thinking and create their own breakthroughs. People often think they want advice – my experience is that they rarely do, if you support people to find their own way through, that is worth its weight in gold. And it fills me with huge joy and satisfaction!
Be sure to check out the Juggling Act website and follow Claire and Lucy’s journey over on Instagram.
(There are still some spaces for the next Juggling Act programme, which will take place in November)