After watching my son's sports day one hot afternoon in Shanghai's humid early Summer, I was saying goodbye before returning to the office. A perfectly turned out school mother looked at me with a puzzled expression asking me "where are you working?" Since I run a communications agency I was either doing a bad job with my own PR, or better, I was managing to do what most say is not possible: be female and balance work with children.
If anyone had predicted 5 years ago that I would be running a communications agency in China with a staff of 20, I would have laughed out loud. Using the excuse of starting my own business, I had left my previous job with the hope of having more time with my small children. But here I am today.
The best advice was given to me early on by my own mother, when the children were tiny and I was falling into the guilt trap which most working mothers succumb to. As a child psychologist and mother of three, she talks from experience. She told me to do away with the guilt, to enjoy working but to include my children where possible so that they understand what I do. She also told me that giving your child undivided attention and fun for, let's say 45 minutes per day, is just as good as hours spent in the park.
Now you may think getting your children to help brainstorm on new client proposals could be madness or futile -- especially when they are just 6 and 8 years old. But do reconsider and you might be surprised. We recently sat down for a brainstorm session on how to get more customers to one of our hotel clients. "Drawing on the walls at the hotel" offered Eloise, a bit extreme maybe, but it actually turned into the base for an art programme. "Kid's cooking classes," my son Orian's input, has now also been put into practice. "Kid packs like on the airplane" was another suggestion, which the client approved. In China, children are the most important family members and for many of our clients, connecting with the parents through their children is a winning tactic.
A recent series of events for our luxury car client did just that -- develop an event completely focused on children. And yes, there had been a session around the kitchen table to test out the ideas before I submitted the proposal in a competitive pitch. We transformed the brand's showrooms into a fashion shoot for children, teaming up with a luxury fashion brand, and even a milliner for live hat making classes. Post event, children were then hand delivered a photo album with their pictures. We had 100% attendance at that event, with parents spending the entire afternoon milling around and getting to know the cars whilst chatting with their customer representative.
There's no simple and easy rule for working and being a hands on mother. But it is possible. I believe including the children in my work helps all of us at home. I love that they are now curious about what is going on and ask how they can help. It also makes frequent business trips a little easier, even if it's never easy to leave them. It made me laugh when someone recently asked my 6-year-old daughter if she wanted to be a princess when she grows up. She blurted back -- "I'm going to be an entrepreneur -- that's what modern princesses are called." It's true that I had explained the old Princess business model not cut it as a career choice for her.
The simple and beautiful logic of a child reminds us of what is important in life. After a tough day recently Orian suggested that I tell a particularly tricky client "to stop being difficult." If only it were that simple. Perhaps it actually is.