Mum's the word: we talk to Sussex business owners about working motherhood

It's a word that polarises opinion, but last year 'mumpreneur' gained official recognition when it entered the Collins Dictionary. Jenny Mark-Bell spoke to three Sussex women who combine running a business with motherhood.

Elizabeth Moody-Stuart launched her business, Officecreche, in September, and her son was born on 2 October. “I couldn’t decide which to put off,” she said. “I was 38, I wanted another child and at the same time I had this great business idea which I wanted to do before someone else did.”

It was Elizabeth’s own situation that gave her the idea for the business. She is a freelance writer and facilitator and when her first child was about six months old and still breast-feeding, Elizabeth had to travel to Newcastle on business. “I was expressing milk and having to ask people to freeze it.”

That was unsustainable, and Elizabeth wanted to find a way to work closer to home with people in a similar situation. Officecreche provides a solution for the parent who works flexibly; it’s a co-working space that allows the parent time to work whilst their child plays in the same building. Clients include writers, IT consultants, graphic designers and entrepreneurs.

I asked Elizabeth if she was happy to identify herself as a mumpreneur. “Anything that gets people talking is positive, I think. I don’t have a problem with the word itself, because it gets coverage. In a way it’s a bit reductive, but then how many meanings can you pack into one word? I am a mother, a business owner and a creative, but I don’t feel I have to be everything all at the same time.”

Frankie Gray is mum to two boys (aged 5 and 2) and founder of nanny agency Harmony at Home, which has 20 offices across the UK and one in Jordan. Frankie is based at the Ardingly office, where she also has a new children’s boutique. “We want to help parents enjoy their children and to enjoy their choices – so if they choose to return to work we make it possible for them to feel empowered about it. I think it’s important that you have personal experience of the service you’re selling. I’ve had quite a few nannies from my own books.”

As well as being a mother and business owner herself, Frankie’s diverse range of clients includes doctors, solicitors and mothers starting up businesses from home. “We’ve seen a big growth recently in people working from home. That’s definitely a trend, and another is that of the virtual office, where people use the services of someone like Regus so they can dip in and out when they need to, as opposed to having a bricks and mortar office.”

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Frankie’s happy to identify as a mumpreneur. “The word reflects the person and what they have achieved – they have that entrepreneurial spirit but they are also a mum. I think that’s great.”

Helen Pattinson, who co-founded the chocolate company Montezuma’s with her husband Simon, has three girls aged nine, four and two. Helen said that although the term is new, the concept is very old. “Cottage industry goes back decades, but it’s now spoken about much more, and in a more positive way.

“I don’t think it’s a negative thing, being a mum and a working person. I hate the word juggling, but effectively that’s what mums do. You get used to thinking about lots of things at once. The weird thing is that those things can range from the incredibly mundane, so your kid might be going on a school trip the next day and you’ve got to get a packed lunch for them, to whether your bank manager is going to raise your overdraft to a �200,000 limit. That makes women quite adept at adapting to different situations.”

The fellowship of the mumpreneur movement appeals to Helen particularly. Although she doesn’t network as such, she likes to discuss business with other women – and a female-based movement is well-equipped to facilitate that. “When men get together there’s still quite a lot of bravado and ego in the room, and if there are women present they tend to keep quiet. If men are not there, women are just as good at talking about business.”

Although it is true that parents and business owners alike need to multi-task as a matter of course, it is no longer exclusively the preserve of women, said Helen.

“My husband Simon juggles just as much as I do and he doesn’t get any credit for it, because it’s kind of expected that new man goes out to work, but also spends time thinking about the packed lunches and the school clubs. There’s no dadpreneur label.”

But Elizabeth Moody-Stuart believes the concept is inextricably linked with femininity.

“It’s true that we don’t hear so much about dadpreneurs, but there is something about pregnancy itself that stimulates creativity. When you are pregnant you go through a lot of changes and you are incapacitated to some extent. Your body feels totally alien, and you have a lot of unspent energy, which means you come up with some good ideas.

“It’s almost as if you lose some of your senses, while others are empowered. Then when the baby is born you spend so much time awake that it’s great to have something apart from the baby to think about.”