Mums today most definitely need their mum mates; people who understand what it is to be mum because they’re on the same rollercoaster as you. But if you’ve ever tried to find a new best mate at soft-play, when you’re panicking that your eldest is trapped in a cargo net and your youngest is drowning in the ball pool, you’ll know that that’s easier said than done. Fortunately, mumspiration Jess Sizeland, has brought together hordes of Hertford mums through her business, Social Mama. If you’ve not been to one of her events yet than you really should – they are fun, friendly and the women are fabulous. I caught up with her to find out how she does it all and what she has planned next…
Hi Jess, Please tell us a little about your family.
I am mum to identical twin boys, Gus and Jude, who are nearly two. We live in Hertford with my husband, Brett, who works for himself. He runs a property management and development company.
Who did you identify as before you became a mum?
Prior to having kids, I think you’d probably say that I was pretty much all about my career and all about work. I used to organise events in the city. I was an event director for a publishing company doing events – very corporate – and then I went over to a film and TV magazine in Shoreditch. I used to organise parties and film festivals and loads of really lovely glamorous sounding things that actually were a lot of hard work and meant that I was hungover a lot of the time, but it was lots of fun. I was travelling a lot – I used to run events in Cannes, Monte Carlo, New York, Berlin, LA – I was very lucky; now I don’t really travel anywhere apart from Hertford – times have definitely changed!
How did becoming a parent affect your identity?
I massively struggled with a crisis of identity when the boys were first born. I didn’t know where I was supposed to be, where I fitted in. I didn’t have a career, I was the first out of my friends to have a baby and I had to make new friends. I didn’t have a clue what baby massage was before Gus and Jude came along, I was so poorly prepared for once they got here that I really didn’t know who I was. But I realised that this is quite normal and you’re not weird if you feel like that, there are other people who feel the same. Those early days massively played a part into me looking after myself now. I put on lots of weight when I was pregnant with the twins – I couldn’t move after about five months – I was in hospital most of the time as well, so when they were born I didn’t feel like ‘me’. I’d lost a lot of my fitness so I had to build that up again. I started training with Michelle from Mother Fit and that made a huge difference both physically and mentally.
What have you achieved since becoming a parent?
The twins were incredibly difficult as newborns. Obviously having one child or four children is tough, full stop. But twins are especially hard when they’re tiny because there’s all the logistics involved: feeding, getting up in the night – they never slept which didn’t help matters either (and still don’t!) We had quite a tough pregnancy. I had loads of complications due to the fact they were identical twins, so for us, I think it was just a real achievement getting through the first year. I remember when they turned one, I finally felt like I was coming up for air because we were in that newborn stage for so long, just getting to grips with them getting here. They were in NICU for a couple of weeks, then bringing them home and just really settling in to life as a family of four. We had gone from just the two of us to a ready made family in a very short space of time. For me, the adjustment of getting through that massive first year as a family was the probably biggest achievement – just surviving! And now they are nearly two!
After the boys first birthday, I started thinking about work. I was freelancing before I got pregnant, so I didn’t really have a job as such to go back to. This made life easier because I didn’t have to worry about maternity leave and making a decision probably sooner than I would have wanted to about work, but it also meant that I didn’t really have any goal for what to do next. So, using my event background and looking at what was available locally, I found that there were loads of really lovely groups and clubs to bring your baby to during the day but there was nothing just for mums, to meet other local women, have a glass of wine and not worry about children in the evening – just getting out of the house whilst their other half or grandparents or friends looked after the kids. Hence Social Mama was born! I had been thinking about doing it for ages. I spoke to a few other mums and friends and said, “Should I go for it?” We had a launch night in December 2017 – it sold out in about a week – and then we just went from there.
Have there been any pivotal moments in your success?
Probably selling out Hertford Theatre in seven hours for the Scummy Mummies Christmas Show. That was a real moment for me where I just thought, wow, this little thing that I’m doing in the evenings and when the boys are napping has got legs to it and could really go places. That, for me, was a moment of okay, what I’m doing here is worthwhile, and people want to come to the events!
I had a really lovely email from a lady a few months ago who came to one of my events. She was really nervous because she was coming on her own, she was thinking about cancelling the whole day. She emailed me afterwards to say that she was sitting in the carpark thinking, “I could just lie and tell my husband that I went and just sit in the car and read my book for a few hours, or I could get up, go out and actually reclaim a bit of who I used to be before I had children,” and she did. And that – honestly – that makes all the late nights, all the why am I doing this, what am I doing, am I doing the right thing, it makes it all worthwhile.
The Social Mama tag line is ‘You can sit with us,’ because I want people to feel like they can come to events on their own and they will meet other people. They’re not going to be left on their own at the bar, feeling awkward. We are creating a support network where we can all help each other. I think that’s something so special about our area; everyone that I’ve met is lovely and supportive and they just want to help each other out, whether that be in business or with a playdate. Going forward, that’s really what I want to see more of.
What would you say are the key elements to a successful event?
To be honest, much of it is still trial and error and a little bit of winging it! I’m still relatively new in business and I’m still trying to figure out what people want. I always try to pick speakers or topics that I think are relevant, not just to mums, but women in general; for example, self-care. We had Nicola aka This Girl Can Organise come and speak at an event back in April, talking about decluttering your life, something relevant not just for busy mums but all women.
They have to be fun too. It wouldn’t want to run events in drafty village halls with cold cups of tea. I always try to choose venues where you might go on a night out with your friends, have a drink, relax and just feel like you can enjoy yourself.
How do you manage childcare and (if it even exists) a work/life balance?
I don’t really have any formal childcare as the boys aren’t at nursery. We looked at nursery, but because there are two of them, it was cost prohibitive, so for us it didn’t make sense. Brett’s mum has the boys on Fridays and my mum takes them for half a day. In October they will be starting pre-school for a couple of mornings a week. I’m gradually eeking my way up to getting more childcare sorted, so I can have more time to devote to the business, but at the moment it’s very much I just grab time where and when I can – which can be chaotic at times!
You mentioned self-care earlier, what would you say works for you? Any tips?
Brett and I work together to make sure we both get some time on our own, not with the kids where we can. We can be pretty flexible at weekends, so often I’ll get them all out of the house on a Sunday, so I can have a couple of hours to myself! I think that’s something I’ve realised since having children. I was quite comfortable in my own company before, but I actually feel like I crave it more now.
Self-care is something I do talk about quite a lot on social media. Having opportunities to look after yourself as a mum – that doesn’t mean just having a bath or drinking a hot cup of coffee! It’s about doing something just for you. I appreciate in some family set ups you take what you can get and you run with it. But, really, I don’t think it’s a lot to ask for once a month to have a day where you get to do what you want to do. How you get that, I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes it’s works, sometimes it doesn’t.
I think a lot of mums are nodding in agreement with you on that one. What do you look forward to most about your job?
I love actually getting to meet people in real life at the events. So often you get to know people online and you chat to them. You see their lives and they see yours, but you’ve never actually met. It’s so lovely to meet people when you feel like you know them already and that’s pretty special.
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
I’ve got lots of ideas and I struggle to find the time to work on them. I feel very conscious that I don’t want to miss out on business opportunities. I am so excited about growing Social Mama but at the same time, I am juggling looking after both children. It’s trying to get that balance between spending time with the kids and work. I am fortunate that I do get to go to all the baby classes, I get to see the milestones, but I also want to have my new career. Trying to align those two things is really, really difficult. At half past seven at night, when the boys have been a nightmare all day, I’ve just put them to bed, the last thing I want to do is grab my laptop. Trying to find that motivation can be really difficult when all I want to do is sit on the sofa.
Do you suffer mum guilt?
All the time. Trying to be mum/wife/daughter/sister/friend/business owner is hard work and it’s not possible to be great at all those things all the time.
I feel guilty if I wish that they’d nap longer during the day so I can get some work done, or if I’m answering emails when we are at the park together. If anyone finds the cure for
mum guilt then let me know!
Your proudest achievement in business so far?
Launching my own business! Social Mama isn’t even one yet and we are still growing. And I’ve also just launched a sister biz to Social Mama – the Mama Hive.
Mama Hive was something I had been thinking about setting up for a long while. Through Social Mama I have met so many amazing local women who have already set up their own business or are thinking about going for it from a flexible working point of view. They don’t want to go back to working full time, either because they can’t afford it, or they’ve just had enough of it, but they still want extra income. Or they might have had a talent that they have been thinking about using for years but have never really utilised it. The Mama Hive is a women-only business networking members club. Each month there are evening meet ups featuring a special guest speaker who will be talking on a topic that is relevant to small business owners, whether that be marketing, social media, copy-writing, accountancy. The idea is to create a home for all of us where we can meet online and in real life and work together. In a hive all the bees work together – and that’s something that is so important to me. Working together we can achieve much more, and we’ve all got the same goal at the end of the day; nobody wants to go back to working seven until seven and miss out on their children growing up.
And your proudest moment as a mum?
The boys were 5 weeks premature when then were born and have always been a bit
slow to hit their milestones, so these moments always make me incredibly proud as
their mum. It always makes me feel like I’m doing mum hood right! Now they are nearly
two and becoming real characters and they’re very funny. We can go to the park, and have brunch on a Saturday and they’ll sit and eat breakfast with us. These are the things I hoped for as a family.
What future hopes or aspirations do you have for you or Social Mama?
My dream is to open a flexible working space in Hertford, with hot desks and a creche for childcare. It would be a space for networking events, workshops, to have a cup of coffee and just create a social hub for mums and working mums.
It sounds fab! Please share some sparkly words of wisdom that motherhood has taught you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s the biggest thing that I learnt with the twins. When
they were tiny, I really thought that I was failing if I had to ask for people to give me a
hand. A lot of the time my friends just used to turn up at my door because they knew that
if they didn’t, I wouldn’t ask otherwise. And then eventually I got to the point where I
realised that there was nothing wrong in asking for a hand with bathtime, or asking a
friend to go out for coffee because I’d had a rubbish day. There’s no failure in saying that
sometimes you just need a bit of a hand because it’s really hard work. If you’ve had a
really awful day and your kids are teething, no one is sleeping and someone’s got a cold on top of it, sometimes you’re so bogged down with those day to day things that just taking a step back for half an hour makes it suddenly feel like it isn’t an insurmountable task. So for me, asking for help is probably the only piece of wisdom I have to offer!
I think you’re absolutely right. We are all probably guilty of not asking for – or accepting – help as often as we should. Thank-you for speaking with me today, Jess. The Fairytale Mum is very much looking forward to your next event soon.
Mums can find out more about Social Mama and Mama Hive by following these links: