The first of this year’s interviewees is Sophie Cafolla, a Dublin mother of one. Having worked in events and marketing for years, she recently stepped away from this to set up her own business. She talks about the importance of her relationship with her husband, the “always on” element of business ownership, and being sure she always wanted to work.
Thank you for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?
I have one daughter, Sienna, she is 2 and a half. We nicknamed her the ‘angel baby’ when she was born as she was such a good baby. Then she turned 6 months and it all changed, lol, she is the worst sleeper of all time but she is so smiley and full of personality we wouldn’t change her for the world!
And now could you tell me a little about your job – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?
I’ve worked in Events, Sponsorship and Marketing for the last 10 years on projects such as Taste of Dublin and Web Summit but in May last year I left that all behind and set up my own business The Stork Box.ie, an online business that specialises in products for Mum & Baby. We sell prepacked maternity hospital bags, gift boxes for Mum & Baby and we have our own kids clothing range for 0-3 years.
What kind of hours do you work?
Unfortunately, when you have your own business, especially a start-up, it is hard to ever switch off as if you aren’t doing it nobody is! In saying that though, I strive to create a good balance between work and family life as I don’t want to miss out on seeing Sienna develop and grow. I tend to work 9am-5.30pm Monday- Thursday and finish a little earlier on Fridays. I’m lucky in some ways that Sienna doesn’t need much sleep so she tends to be up late which means we get lots of quality time together as a family!
What kind of childcare do you use?
We have an amazing childminder that Sienna adores and vice versa, we are beyond grateful to have such a caring person looking after Sienna when we aren’t there. We tried crèche when I first went back to work but given I worked in events and my husband works in the nightlife industry, neither of which are 9-5 jobs, it just didn’t suit us.
Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you for yourself, apart from being a mother and an employee?
I try to get to the gym however since launching The Stork Box it has been challenging as ever minute I am not with Sienna I am thinking about new products, new opportunities and so on! My husband and I try to do a date night out of the house once every two weeks as I think it is important to keep connected with your partner as well as your children. I use to always laugh when my Mum would say to my Dad ‘they will leave you one day; I will always be here’ and it is true, kids grow up, move out and develop their own relationships so it is so important to keep growing yours with your partner.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
Given Sienna hasn’t started school yet I am lucky that we don’t have the school drop offs/collections or holiday dates to work around but I am sure that will change soon and there will be difficulties with that. My husband also owns his own business though so we have the capability to be flexible when we need to.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I love working, I find it incredibly satisfying to be creating a brand that maybe one day my children can get involved with or if not, that they learn from. Both my parents worked when my sister and I were growing up so this instilled a sense of drive and ambition in us. Of course I feel guilty for missing things like swimming lessons and ballet classes but I think Sienna will respect what both her mum and dad have done and created to give her the life she has. I am lucky in that I have the flexibility to work my schedule around important things so I hope that will continue.
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 think it totally depends on each family’s situation and goals. I have friends that are stay-at-home mums and they absolutely love it and then I have other friends who are both employees and entrepreneurs who seem to have a good balance between it all. For me, a perfect balance is making sure the time I spend with Sienna is good quality time. If she is happy then my husband and I are happy.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I love this new area that I am in as it encompasses both working with family and parenting needs, it is something that I can relate to and understand. I have always loved fashion and am so delighted to have the clothing side of the business, I hope this is something that we can grow.
Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?
No, since I was a child I always wanted to own my own business. I absolutely love being a Mum but I can be both a business women and a Mother, it’s not just about the financial side, it is a goal I personally have.
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?
I think now more than ever there are incredible opportunities for women, I am seeing so many women starting their own businesses and following their dreams too which inspires me. I do think it totally depends on each family’s situation though.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
- Prepare, prepare, prepare! The mornings are tricky as there are so many things you have to do in such a short time frame. If you can pick out your outfit and baby’s outfit the night before it definitely helps. I also try to make a few meals on a Sunday so that I am not spending my evenings cooking and I can actually spend good quality time with Sienna.
- Do take some ‘me-time’ when you can, you can’t do it all and not take a break otherwise you will burn out and be no good at either jobs!
- The first three weeks are the hardest but both you and baby will get into the swing of things, it will all be fine! Don’t feel guilty, you are amazing.
Any other comments?
Enjoy the journey, grow and learn from it and adapt when you need to. Life is for living, strive to be the happiest version of yourself, it will only benefit both you and your kids.
Thanks Sophie! I’m fascinated by stories of women setting up businesses after they have children – it seems to be an increasingly popular way to merge career and parenting. It’s always interesting too that it brings flexibility – as you say, having breakfast and lunch with your daughter – but if often means you’re always “on” too. Having run this interview series for four years now, it seems (logically enough!) that the happiest parents are those who are doing something they really enjoy doing – whether that’s as an employee or running a business – and that it’s easier to cope with being away from children if you love what you do.
I loved what you said here: “For me, a perfect balance is making sure the time I spend with Sienna is good quality time. If she is happy then my husband and I are happy.” I think that’s key and lots of guilt-laden fulltime-working parents forget about that – it’s not how much time you spend with your children but how you spend it. In some ways, being self-employed can make that more difficult I think – the boundaries between work and home are blurred, and the phone is always on. This is a timely reminder for me too!
I hope the Stork Box continues to go from strength to strength and thank you for taking part in the series!