x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Working mums are an age-old business

There is something cheesy about the cutesy description "mumpreneur". But the reality is very satisfying - and age old.

I've found a new label to add to how I describe myself: mumpreneur. Part of a growing business lexicon addressing the ways women choose to engage in the marketplace, it's a novel way to describe the age-old trend of women who have children and then find employment that works in tandem with their new family responsibilities.

Today, a mumpreneur is more specifically a woman who has given up her corporate career to have children, and while on maternity leave or after giving up her job to stay at home, she starts her own business.

It's a rather cheesy descriptor that plays on the cutesy aspect of mummyhood, rather than on the serious business of employment and economic activity. So while I applaud the recognition of the trend, does our nomenclature really have to make women's employment into something fluffy and not like real work at all?

It makes us working mothers less threatening to "real work", and firmly stamps the "mum" part of our activities as our primary definer. "Mumpreneur" reinforces the notion that "work" is only for men, and "family" is for women, and that the two do not overlap.

The mumpreneur phenomenon is hardly surprising. Corporate structures are proving too slow for women to rise up and succeed, and they do not offer women the flexibility they want in the way they manage work and family. In practical terms in many countries there is a lack of quality affordable childcare. In terms of social acceptance it means women don't have to deal with the judgemental attitudes that are applied along with the label "career woman". Who talks pejoratively about a "career man"?

It is increasingly popular to be a work from home mum as I am. For me it is the best (and in some ways worst) of all possible worlds. I enjoy my work, and the finances are certainly helpful. I get to spend time with baby, especially while she is so little. And it means that when she is older and goes to school I will have kept my hand in the labour market. My time is utterly optimised. I wish I had known how to be this efficient before motherhood.

While being a working from home mum is enjoyable, it's demanding too. Suitable jobs and understanding employers are rare. It's challenging working from early morning until last thing at night between the mental demands of work, the physical and emotional resources required for childcare and the strain of normal domesticity.

But there is something about this type of work - whether it is a business that is entrepreneurial, or simply the style of work - that is necessary for modern women, as well as extremely fulfilling. The flexibility of arranging work and family as best suits both is a gift. It is unbelievably satisfying to be able to use so many of your own skills, and to successfully achieve your own personal, employment and family goals. I love being able to write a presentation in the morning, do a radio interview at lunchtime, and then spend the afternoon reading alphabet books and running around the garden with my toddler, teaching her the names of flowers, or how to water plants.

I celebrate the recognition of this path that women are forging for themselves, it's fantastic that they are throwing out convention and shaping their lives as they wish. But I don't think it's as new as the novel name suggests. Many of the grandmothers I know had their own businesses when they were mums. I'm just glad we've found their wisdom in our own era.

 

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk