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“But what did you do with your daughter?”

Welcome to the question I get day to day from the people I meet in my professional life.

You see the conversations all go well and good until I let slip that I have an almost 3 year old daughter at home. I could be discussing application security or the vulnerabilities of a highly dependent technical eco-system. It doesn’t matter. Let the D word slip and I have some explaining to do.

Today seemed like a good day to share some of the realities of my adventure as a working mom and some of the challenges women like me face.

I used to be ashamed that I am a working mom

I am not wired to be a stay at home Mom. It’s ok. I have come to terms with this. I’m not ashamed anymore… but I was.

Back when Miss 3 was born I assumed the light of motherhood would shine down on me and grant me the patience and domestic goddess skill-set that I had been missing for the past 29 years. I hoped for the glimmering moment where I cared about home baking or the cleanliness of my skirting boards….

The glow of stay-home-motherhood never came

I spent 10 months at home with my wee monster and she is amazing. A tiny fully functional human being was created and I revelled in every achievement she made… but the whole motherhood as a career thing didn’t stick.

I was bored and a looked for challenges and projects in everything I saw. I didn’t really have a lot to discuss with my Mom friends outside of poop and the usual baby things. I was interested in science and technology and they … well they were awesome but we didn’t find common ground that made me feel like an adult rather than a baby machine.

So I compensated, I blogged about the science and physics between quantities of frozen milk and did hardware hacking on breast pumps. It was not going to end well.

10 months later…

I was planning a hostile takeover of the local playgroup (due to their overwhelming inefficiency and my overall lack of patience) when I realised I was no longer healthy.

So I became a working Mom

I started a business, that I thought would just be a part time thing and that was that.

It grew, I hired staff. We invented and developed products. I was given chances to speak at some international conferences. We grew a bit more.

But I’m still a Mom.

This of course isn’t a story of how awesome I am because I popped out a baby and held down a job. I’m from a small town where popping out babies and working is BAU. For many of the women in that town money is lot tighter and life a lot tougher than I have it. For many there is a lot less help and opportunity available. I am lucky.

This is about how I deal with the realities of two children – my daughter and a small business and some of the things that people don’t realise when they as me _that_ question.

My daughter will always come first

The first secret I will share is that despite how much I take on and how much I want to achieve, Miss 3 will always come first.

I start work at 08:15 when the small monster has safely reached daycare. At daycare she has friends, learns a second language (Maori) and does fun extra things like Soccer lessons and more arts and crafts than can be healthy.

If this ever stopped being a fun and joyful place for her, I would change things, no questions.

Family time is sacred

If you ever try to book an appointment with me after 4pm or on a weekend, you will likely be disappointed. At 4:30 my phone and computer are banished until she is sound asleep and dreaming. The same goes for the entire weekend.

Me and my daughter are terrible but enthusiastic botanists, butterfly hunters and avid readers of books about giants, monsters and small fluffy black dogs. My phone is a nasty distraction and unless its taking photos, I don’t want it to disturb me.

I work 2 hours most evenings (after she is sleeping) on projects and sometimes to catch up on work (especially after I have been travelling). I do this curled up watching terrible tv shows or listening to music while my husband plays computer games. I hope one day to not have to do this but small business life is tough and those early years sometimes need the extra time.

I am spending a lot of effort to be disturbed less

Taking time out and having boundaries is important to me. At SafeStack we have a ‘minimum vacation days’ policy that encourages people to get the hell out of the office and do exciting things. I don’t want people working late or dealing with email or phone calls at all hours.

The day I can suspend my Google Apps for business account from 7pm to 7am will be a glorious event.

I travel a lot but never carelessly

Travelling for me is a double edged sword. It brings amazing opportunities for both me and my business but it means time away. Skype makes it easier but as she gets older the harder it gets. Timezone changes can be brutal and nothing makes me cry more than doing bedtime via a cellphone with bad internet.

I don’t travel carelessly or for no reason. I decide carefully before each trip and turn down a lot more trips that I take.

If you find me at an international conference, I have made a statement that the trip was worth the sacrifice and pain. I don’t make that choice lightly.

“But what did you do with your daughter?”

There are questions you should never ask a working mom

There is no other question that can hurt me like that one.

Regardless of your background or circumstance, please think twice before you ask this.

Do you think I have flown for 25 hours and spent nights alone in a strange city whilst leaving my toddler home alone to survive on 2 dollar noodles and play-doh?

Were you expecting me to say I left her in my carry on luggage or perhaps in a car (with the windows rolled down)?

I am lucky. I have a great team mate in my husband that not only puts up with my ambitions but actively encourages me. He does a great job with Miss 3 when I am away and I know she is in good hands.

But that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter where my daughter is, what matters is that you felt the need to ask me.

It’s a question that you would never ask a working Dad so please don’t ask me.