Andrea Mara

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Office Mum stories – Clare Holman

“I think it’s a good example to set to your kids that mums work too, so on balance I’m pretty guilt-free, but nothing is ever quite perfect especially when you hear the words ‘Mama, STOP LOOKING AT YOUR LAPTOP AND PLAY WITH ME’!”

This week’s interview is with Clare Holman – the Dublin mum of three runs Chilly Moo with her business partner Joanna – the two women have been friends since they were six months old! Clare talks here about the ups and downs of operating a business from home while looking after three young children.

Thank you Clare for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?

ClareHolman (2)I have three children – nine, seven and five. Joanna my business partner also has three who are six, four, and one, so we are pretty busy!

And now could you tell me a little about your business – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?

Three years ago we launched Chilly Moo, which is a frozen yogurt sweetened just with fruit juice concentrate. It is a great healthy alternative to ice cream, which tends to be high in fat and sugar. Chilly Moo is also gluten free and low in fat, despite being made with full fat milk and yogurt, and is perfect for kids!

What kind of hours do you work?

We work five mornings a week and often at weekends which is an occupational hazard when you have your own business. However, we always make the most of our afternoons when the playdates and swimming lessons and gymnastics happen, and then we kick off work again in the evening when the kids go to bed.

And do you do this from home?

Yes, our offices are at home which works fine as we are often out at meetings anyway.

Do you ever have to travel for work?

We do occasionally but not regularly. When the business grows it’s something that will happen more often.

So what kind of childcare do you use?

We use a combination of school, crèche, and grannies, then childminders, au pairs, and camps in the summer. Organising childcare is a job in itself!

I guess your children are in school – has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?

Yes, mine are, and it’s definitely easier with that routine. They understand that I work in the mornings and evenings but they get pretty cross when they catch me at my laptop in the afternoon – especially the youngest!

On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?

The most difficult thing is when something unexpected crops up and you have to take an important call while standing in the middle of a playground!

Do you think that working for yourself makes it easier or more difficult to balance work and home? I imagine there’s more flexibility but that it’s also difficult to switch off!

Definitely! On good days we feel we have it sorted: we can be with our kids and not miss out on them growing up but on bad days it can be mayhem and suddenly an office job seems very attractive! It is difficult to relax on your time off say, a holiday as you are always wondering what’s going on back home!

And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?

The great thing about being in a partnership with another mum is that we really understand the importance of attending kids’ sports days and school plays, so if for example I have a meeting but then something like a school play comes up, Joanna will go to the meeting instead and vice versa.

I think it’s a good example to set to your kids that mums work too, so on balance I’m pretty guilt-free, but nothing is ever quite perfect especially when you hear the words ‘Mama, STOP LOOKING AT YOUR LAPTOP AND PLAY WITH ME’!

Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a mother to have a fulfilling career while being there for her children?

I think it really depends on the person; the ages of their kids and of course their own financial situation. I think the important thing is to try to not feel guilty about whatever decision you make and that in the hours you are not working you try to really engage with your children as that’s what they’ll remember. Of course that can be easier said than done!

If you could do any job, what would it be?

To be honest, on a good day, I really love what I do. Working with a great friend and having a growing business is pretty fulfilling, so I feel lucky. 

Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women, or is it a perception based on the fact that mothers often look for flexibility or part-time hours, which in turn limits their opportunities?

I think a lot of it is to do with the latter as it is generally mums who job share and come back from maternity leave looking for more workable solutions to their working life and while many companies are understanding, that isn’t always the case. 

Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?

  1. Try not to feel guilty and remember that you are setting a good example to your kids
  2. When you’re there, try to spend some time playing with them rather than getting stuck straight into cleaning, cooking the dinner or whatever.
  3. Remember that the grass isn’t always greener and at various times the working mum will envy the stay at home mum and vice versa!

Thank you Clare for sharing your story – I think this is the first time the series has featured a business run by two women, and the way you describe it sounds very appealing! I love the idea that you and Joanna can move meetings over and back between you depending on who needs to look after children. I imagine it’s much easier to chat to another mum about what’s needed than negotiating with a boss in a large organisation.

And I think you hit the nail on the head about the work home balance – on a good day, it’s the best job in the world, but when things don’t go to plan, there’s not a lot of fallback. I imagine taking business calls in the playground brings plenty of stress! But from everything you say, it sounds like you’re doing something you love, and absolutely loving it. I hope Chilly Moo continue to go from strength to strength.






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