Office Mum stories – Mary Holmes

It can often be hard putting on my coat and heading out to work in the evening. Both from the point of view of missing story and bedtime and also after a long day it’s hard to ignore the sofa calling!” 

This week I meet Mary Holmes, a Dublin based mother, and owner of Ruby Seven, which offers image, style and colour consultations, along with wardrobe weeding and personal shopping.

Thanks Mary for taking the time to answer my questions – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?

Mary Holmes Ruby Seven Office MumI have three grown up step-children and a six-year-old daughter, Zoe.

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?

I’m a self-employed image consultant and my business is called Ruby Seven. I offer wardrobe, styling, personal shopping and image services to individuals and organisations. Most of my clients are female but I’m seeing a gradual increase in the number of male clients I work with each year. Prior to setting up Ruby Seven just over seven years ago, I worked in a series of marketing roles in ICT companies but I always wanted to run my own business. I had the opportunity to take a career break from my last employer and happily, I haven’t looked back.

What kind of hours do you work?

Every week is different and some are busier than others. I mostly work during primary school hours but am available for clients in the evenings and at weekends.

Some corporate client work will run through to the late afternoon but I am usually at home with my daughter after school. I host regular “Style Parties” which are held at a client’s home or a hotel for a group of their friends. I’ve done several hen parties and these tend to run late! Also I do a lot of speaking engagements and again this is quite often evening work.

And is this something you can do from home occasionally?

 The nature of the work I do involves consultations in a client’s home followed by personal shopping at one of many different shopping locations. I am usually on the road a few days per week but I limit travel to the greater Leinster area mostly, so I can still do the school pick-ups. We have an office in the house, which I use for admin, presentation preparation and the odd client consultation where someone wants to travel to meet me.

What kind of childcare do you use?

When Zoe was a baby, I had a fabulous minder who looked after her from 3 or 4 months old until when she was around two-and-a-half. Because of the part-time nature of my work, it was difficult to find a crèche who would offer part-time hours in 2008. That changed in the following years and I moved Zoe to a neighbourhood crèche. It was really hard to say goodbye to the minder but it was time for us all to move on and it was definitely the right decision. And we are still friends, and Zoe is still friends with her daughters. The crèche hours were 9-3, which suited me perfectly and the following year I was able to avail of the ECCE grant to help towards the childcare costs. These days, childcare is school and afterschool when I need it. I have to pay a minimum charge to the afterschool to keep her place and I use it at least twice a week. The remainder of the childcare is Dad! 

Is your childcare solution working well for you?

I found it difficult adjusting my working hours to fit around school hours. Our school starts and finishes early. It’s a 1.15pm pick up for the first two years and then 2.15, so unless I use the Afterschool (which is actually attached to a different school), I don’t have the same flexibility during the day as I had when my daughter was in crèche. During the school holidays I use summer camps, which tend to run until 2 or 3 pm so this enables me to work longer. I have to say that I’m very lucky to have such a great network of neighbours and school mums who all help out when I’m stuck. 

So school is more challenging than crèche was?

School is definitely more challenging than crèche. For example if I need to work late, I have to arrange someone to collect Zoe or pay for Afterschool. Sometimes she may need to miss ballet, swimming or whatever activity she had planned that day. Playdates can cover sometimes but you can’t rely on them for work, as they often get cancelled due to illness, which I totally understand. So I try not to use those days when Zoe is at a friend’s house to meet a client, in case I have to cancel.

Even though it’s harder to balance home and work life, I feel extremely blessed to be able to be there at the school gates most days, to be there for the homework and the afternoon activities. I am so lucky to be able to set my own working hours so I can make the most of these precious years with my only child.

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

The hardest part for me is when work runs over and I have to decide whether I can make it in time for the 1.15 school pick up or I have to call in a favour. The other mums are busy too and I don’t like to take advantage. School holidays can be tricky, as camps are expensive and it often happens that I can be less busy during these times, as clients have kids on holidays too!

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!

Yes, I’m typing this at 11pm, which I would never have done for my last employer!!

But since I started working for myself, work has a completely different definition and I’m a million per cent more motivated!

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

I believe my daughter gets the best of both worlds. I’m more tolerant than I would be if I was at home 100 per cent of the time and she gets the benefit of spending some weekend time alone with her Dad. I get a lot of the benefits of a stay at home mum and I still get to do a job I love. Of course I feel guilty sometimes but I believe I am doing what’s right for our family. I look forward to our afternoons together but it can often be hard putting on my coat and heading out to work in the evening. Both from the point of view of missing story and bedtime and also after a long day it’s hard to ignore the sofa calling!

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 don’t think there’s any one perfect solution. Every family has different wants and needs. Different working structures suit different personalities. Some mums might find a three-day-week works for them, whereas others prefer to do the same work in five mornings. I think the flexibility to choose is key and that may not be an option if you’re not self-employed.

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

What I’m doing now. It’s the perfect job for me. There are times when I’d like to be busier and there are times when I’d like to be less busy but overall, I love what I do.

I would like if the school ran on until 3pm but that’s not an option!

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?

That doesn’t apply to me but I see it all the time with friends. I’ve heard people talk of ruining their careers by applying for a four-day-week or other short-time hours. It’s unfortunate but if we had better state-funded childcare options like in some Scandinavian countries, we would have more equality in the workplace. I know of one lady who went back to her corporate job within days of giving birth in order to be considered for a promotion. She got the job but her husband had to mind the three kids at home. There’s always a trade-off between career and childcare.

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

  • Do whatever is right for you and your family. Don’t listen to criticism from others about what your role in life should be
  • Don’t spend every evening catching up on housework/life admin. Enjoy your time with the kids, the washing can wait
  • My daughter’s school doesn’t have a uniform so getting her dressed in the mornings used to be a battlefield! Now we negotiate the night before and if there is any resistance in the morning she knows about the threat to move her to a different school away from her friends, one that has a uniform! Whatever you can sort out the night before will make the morning run smoother.

Thanks Mary! I find it fascinating to hear what it’s like to run your own business without using (much) formal childcare. I think to those of us in nine-to-five jobs, it can sometimes sound like living the dream – the idea of starting a business, working flexibly, and having time with the kids. Of course the reality is a bit different – you end up working harder than ever, and trying to squash everything into shorter hours!

And I imagine school holidays, and particularly unexpected school closures or half-days can be very challenging. But then, if you’re doing something about which you’re passionate, and having plenty of time with your daughter too, it’s a pretty good trade-off.

I think you put it best yourself, when you said, “I feel extremely blessed to be able to be there at the school gates most days.” Although it’s hard work, I think lots of us aspire to jobs, businesses or careers that would facilitate that school pick-up.

Thanks Mary!

For some more information on Ruby Seven, see below:

Mary Holmes established Ruby Seven in 2006 and offers image, style and colour consultations along with wardrobe weeding and personal shopping services. Many of Ruby Seven clients are women and men who have lost their sense of style and need help in developing a suitable image for their age, physique and lifestyle.

Meeting the client in their own home is key to a successful personal shopping experience. This enables Ruby Seven to identify what is needed in terms of type of clothing, styles, shapes and colours based on the client’s body shape, lifestyle and personality and gaps in their current wardrobe.

Ruby Seven also has a wealth of experience in delivering seminars and training programmes to the corporate market place on topics such as professional image, personal brand and dressing for work.

Mary Holmes holds a degree in international marketing and languages from DCU and a certificate in image consulting from Limperts Academy.

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