I like to think of myself as pretty resilient…able to adapt to most things, flexible, positive, and able to spot opportunities even in the most challenging of times.
I was made redundant 4 times in 10 years from the public and voluntary sectors in my twenties and early 30s (the final time pregnant with my daughter) so unexpected change was not new to me.
After that time though I actively chose full-time self-employment as a way of minimising risk…the risk, that is of men in suits dictating my future and my capacity to earn.
HOLY FUCK if only I knew then what I know now.
2020 was going to be the year that I took my online business to whole new levels, it would mark a decade of running my plus-size fitness blog www.thefatgirlsguidetorunning.com which was planning international events and even had a couple of major sports brands interested in sponsoring us as we scaled up.
And my work as an engagement strategist and business mentor helping small business owners to grow profitable tribes was picking up too…2020 was going to be my year.
I had a corker of a January…a 5 figure month, over 800 new clients, a day trip to Paris to celebrate my 7-year-olds birthday, and I even booked off the February half term…a whole week off work to go to Butlins (oh the glamour)
I can remember though a slight unease as I saw my little one living her best life clambering around on the soft play with a billion other kids, while I read updates on my phone about this virus that had now reached the UK and was starting to create concern.
It will be alright I told myself
I kept telling myself that, “keep calm, and crack on” was my motto…right up to the moment the schools closed their doors, and reality hit home.
How the hell was I going to homeschool a lively 7-year-old, manage my existing client load, and find ongoing work to prevent the business from going under?
I’d just registered for VAT in my business AND taken out a loan to buy new equipment, and invest in a few other upgrades for my business. I didn’t qualify for any of the governments support loans on offer, have no family to bail me out and no stash of cash saved for a rainy day…well not an indefinite number of months worth of rainy days that’s for sure.
I literally would need to keep calm and crack on.
I kept reminding myself, “You can do this Julie, you have dealt with worse, you are resourceful, resilient…and you have a loyal tribe of clients, peers, and friends to support you.”
The first few weeks were a blur…managing a tight ship of homeschooling work, crafting activities, and screen time to allow me to do calls with my clients. Everyone was very understanding.
I literally packed a week’s worth of work into a day…often working first thing in the morning and last thing at night while she slept…but her sleeping patterns changed as her activity levels dipped in tandem with mine.
I dealt with panic attacks going to the supermarket, we had melt downs attempting bike rides or walks (not quite the same when you live in the middle of one of the busiest cities in Europe) oh and ethical dilemmas about access with my daughter’s dad, leading to calls from her school and social services (hey there is no shame lurking around over here on that count)
It was tough.
And yet most days I would show up on social media with messages of positivity, and updates from our new life, I’d run free masterclasses for business owners struggling to take their offline businesses online…while also helping my clients to stay focussed on their goals.
My days become all about negotiation, bribery, snatching short moments for a loo break and a cup of tea between zoom calls…me and my daughter Rose would sometimes eat lunch out on the balcony together, or play Guess Who between client calls…and then she’d retreat into my room to watch something else on Disney Plus.
OMG the guilt.
We’d have conversations about Covid, and the things we were missing, Rose learned about profit and loss, as we bagged up merchandise and shipped it to my clients….we clapped for the NHS, we made window displays, we did jigsaw puzzles…and we got used to our new cat (a panic purchase the evening of lockdown).
Why do I share this? In part its to ensure there is a record…because at times I feel like I’ve made the whole thing up…like its one big montage from a movie.
But also because I think the single working mother has been somewhat lost in the media.
There has been a lot written about the impact of women during this pandemic, in particular, working mums…the unfair balance of caring and household responsibilities where there are actually two parents living under the same roof.
I would nod along with those articles, but also find myself thinking “you don’t know the half of it” and “What about us??”
Part of the difficulty of going through this thing on your own…is, well…you are on your own…I couldn’t ask a partner to pop to the shops this time or to do the bedtime routine or help me decide upon a fair policy for my daughter’s YouTube viewing…or TicToc video uploading…it was all on me.
The fact nobody seemed to be talking about this in the media almost felt like a “well thats what you get” fingers up for not towing the line and leading a more conventional life.
And there were moments when I questioned a lot of my life choices too…it would have been nice to have had another adult to experience this with, to share a bottle of wine in the evenings with…to make plans for the future with based on our new view of the world.
That was the most challenging bit of all…not having another adult in the house. Nobody to help make some of those smaller decisions….or to be there to give hugs to a frustrated little girl who screams “You care more about your calls than you do me” because I can’t leave a call halfway through to make noodles or to smell the cats breath or to help her make slime….or a million other interuptions?
The highlight being her crashing through the front room in just her knickers, tripping over her own feet and almost smashing through the patio doors, all while my clients watched on.
There were of course moments of joy too…getting the sewing machine out to make masks, and then barbie costumes. I hooked up a hammock on our balcony (our only outdoor space) and served her cocktails (non-alcoholick FYI) in the sun. We played scrabble, and monopoly, and the colour game…which goes choose a colour and wear and eat only that colour all day…she lucked out with yellow…me not so much with orange.
AND my business thrived…new clients, new opportunities, new programmes…I have had 5 of the most profitable months in business EVER.
But still looking back at the last 4 months, even I don’t know how I did it…nor if I could do it again. (please don’t make me do it again). How women with multiple kids did it I do not know…I can’t believe it would even be possible to run a business with multiple kids and no childcare….I bet some women did though.
As dramatic as it seems…it feels like trauma…like I may never truly recover…like perhaps she may not either….and of course, we will, we all will, somehow.
So many people had it worse, losing loved ones, being a keyworker working double shifts, people losing their livelihoods, losing their businesses altogether…but comparing your pain, your discomfort with that of others…well it doesn’t really change much…I guess it just adds to the guilt.
How dare I complain?
So this article just serves as a reminder that we did endure, that we did make it through to this point. And despite having no idea if things will get worse before it gets better…that we will (or at least I will)…survive.
Single Mums (and dads) out there I salute you.
Julie Creffield is a serial entrepreneur, community engagement strategist and business mentor from East London, where she shares a 2 bed apartment with her fashion-conscious, tictoc obsessed 7-year-old Rose, and her ginger kitten turned cat Tom.