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A mother's story: How I started my brewery business while battling mum guilt

A mother's story: How I started my brewery business while battling mum guilt

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Guilt is universal amongst all us mums. Guilt that we aren’t feeding them food that’s nutritious enough. Guilt that they aren’t getting enough stimulating play. Guilt about too much screen time. But when I had my daughter Esme at the same time as running my brand new start up, I experienced a rare breed of ‘Mum Guilt’ that is gnawing and all-consuming. The guilt stemmed from me feeling utterly horrible for leaving my precious young daughter to go to work and somehow feeling that I was falling short and neglecting her. I felt vividly at the time that I was not ‘present’ enough, which wasn’t helped by well-meaning friends and family members reminding me that I was missing out on the ‘best years of her life’. I couldn’t help but compare myself to all of the stay-at-home mums who were blending their own home-made baby food and sticking to a rich and varied programme of baby classes, and feel like I was ultimately failing her.


My battle with Mum Guilt started back in 2015, the year that we launched our brewery business. My business partner (and then life partner) and I had the idea, drew up the business plan and took on our very first premises – only to find out on the very day that we signed the lease that I was pregnant with our first child. I remember friends and family all assuming that we would mothball the business or close it down altogether, finding it seemingly impossible to believe that a woman could have a new business and a new baby all at the same time. But as is my nature, I was utterly determined that I would have both and that nothing was going to stop me, so launching the business resumed and my journey of starting up a business coincided with my journey of a first pregnancy. Whilst I battled morning sickness, exhaustion and all of the other quirks of pregnancy, I didn’t appreciate the solace from the toxicity of Mum Guilt as she was my first baby and I had no idea what was about to come.


And then she was born in October and everything changed. The aches and pains of pregnancy were replaced by this horrific guilty, which started immediately when she was a month old and I had to go back to work. I was one of the lucky ones as Esme was cared for by my Mum, so I was safe in the knowledge that she was with someone who loved her as much as I did, but nevertheless it was tough. Fast forward four years and the guilt has far from gone away, but I manage it far better and it no longer has the grip over me that it used to. Getting to this point has been a long road and has meant reminding myself regularly of these truths, which I want to share here:


You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.


The reality is that everybody feels guilty regardless of their decision. If you decide to work, you’ll feel guilty for being away from your child so much and for not being one of those perfect mums we see in the glossy magazines. But if you take the plunge to be a stay-at-home mum, you’ll worry that you’re being perceived as lazy and that you’re letting your dreams slip away and that you’ll become so out of touch with your industry that you’ll find it hard to get back on the career ladder. In other words, as mums, we really can’t win. So you may as well live with your decision to be a working mum safe in the knowledge that if you were at home all the time, you’d just find something else to feel bad about.


Even the celebs go through it.


Celebrities ranging from Serena Williams and Pink to Jessica Alba and Kate Winslet have all been brave enough to speak openly about their experiences with this gut-wrenching guilt. We imagine celebrities to have all of the support that wealth can buy, an entire posse of assistants and nannies and security staff, and wonder how they can possibly understand what it’s like to be apart from their children. But whatever your status or financial situation, if you’ve got to work, you’ve got to work and the juggle is real. There’s comfort in knowing that you’re not alone – that we are all just trying to make an honest living whilst being the best parent that we can at the same time.


You’re building for their future


We all know that money doesn’t make you a better parent and that there are plenty of men and women out there who struggle to make ends meet, but still shower their kids with love. Nonetheless, I have felt satisfyingly proud when I’ve been able to take her to Disney World and buy her the Christmas presents she wanted and spoil her with the odd day out. I’m providing for the person who I love most in the world and there is honestly no feeling more satisfying. My ultimate motivator is that I’m building a legacy for her - a family business that will be established and thriving by the time that she grows up. When I picture this, I think of two outcomes, which are both equally wonderful. Either that she will join the family business and become a part of the fabric with pride, or that it will provide a springboard for her to pave her own way in life and lead the life she chooses. 


You’re an excellent role model


It is possible to turn those feelings of Mum Guilt into a positive by reminding yourself that everything you do, you are doing it for your little ones to see and know anything is possible. My daughter Esme is already proud of the brewery and what her mummy has achieved - she recognises our logo and can even pick out our beers on the supermarket shelves! And I’m proud that she can see what it looks like to have a Boss mum. She has an example in someone she loves and trusts of what it means to follow your passion, to work really hard towards your goals and to achieve success and prosperity. I’m her living role model that you can have it all - you can be a mum and still work and follow your dreams.


You’re nurturing a more rounded child


There are an abundance of studies that demonstrate the benefits of sending a child to day care. Researchers at Oxford University discovered that nursery boosted their social skills, enhanced their speech and movement, helped with the transition to school and generally promoted their development. In contrast, the study found that staying at home can conversely lead to poorer development in all of these areas. So instead of dwelling on the time apart, if you do use day care to give you the flexibility to work, remind yourselves of all the positives of this decision. There are many benefits to a young child of a sociable, stimulating environment enriched by various activities – telling stories, singing songs, role play and arts and crafts.   You may even be doing them a disservice if you were to keep them at home all day with you and deprive them of this experience.


Happy Mum = Better Parent


I’m not afraid to admit that I was never cut out to be one of those stay-at-home mum types. In fact, I feel frustrated at the mere thought of a life centred on daytime TV, coffee mornings, mum lunches, and play groups. I totally respect the fact that that’s what some women choose and kudos to them for filling their diary with baby classes and mum meet-ups, but that’s just not me and I am ok with that. I thrive on work place challenges and the fast-paced world of business and know that if I didn’t nourish these desires of mine, I would feel starved. Business is my hobby and allowing myself the space and time to invest in this part of myself away from my little one means I am without a doubt a better mum when I am with her. Do you want to be the kind of mum who feels under-challenged, bored and miserable, or the one who has bags of energy and vigour when they are around their child as every part of them is being fulfilled? I know which I would rather be. 


Above all, remember that Mum Guilt will always be with you, but it doesn’t have to rule you or make your decisions for you. Don’t fight it, but embrace it – acknowledge that it’s there and that it’s universal. Flip it on its head and use it to motivate you to build the career you’ve always wanted, all the while reminding yourself that you’re nurturing a well-rounded, happy child who will one day undoubtedly be inspired by your example.


  • Sarah John is co-founder of Boss Brewing and mum to Esme, four.


It’s About Time is an initiative developed by NatWest Cymru in conjunction with Darwin Gray Solicitors, the University of South Wales (USW), and the Federation of Small Businesses. Research carried out by USW showed that women in business mentioned ‘time’ as a major factor in their lives – whether literally never having enough of it, or finding the right time to launch a business and the right time to grow a business.


The It’s About Time series of blogs and articles are designed to inspire, inform and educate through the stories of women (and men) who are finding their own routes to professional and personal success. It is put together by Gemma Collins, NatWest Cymru’s business growth enabler for Cardiff.


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