Have buggy, will travel
Finding baby-friendly places to eat, feed and meet other mothers can be difficult. Kathy Donaghy meets one woman whose new online guide wants to make all this simple for mums
Those precious first months with your baby are a time you'll never forget. They're also a time you want to get out and about with your baby, discover new baby-friendly places to eat, places to discreetly feed if you're breastfeeding and meet other new mums, too. Now a new online guide makes it easier for Dublin-based mums to do just that.
When my first son was born I was determined we were going to explore the city together, finding the best baby and mum stuff for the two of us. It was a process of trial and error - not everywhere is buggy-friendly or even all that baby-friendly. Like most new mums, I wanted to find activities that suited my baby while also giving me a chance to find other new mums to chat to. Dublin City Mum - a new online guide - does all the leg work so you don't have to and is a one-stop-shop for mums with a baby, a buggy and a will to explore.
When Avril White, who lives in Dublin's Portobello, was on maternity leave with her second child, she would post on Instagram about a great restaurant or park she'd visited with the kids. Slowly people began contacting her, asking her where to go when they were in Dublin with their family.
In response, she set up a map on Google last October, featuring a selection of family-friendly restaurants all over the city. "I love good food and I love getting out and about with my children. I didn't want to compromise just because I have children. I was going to places that had decent kids' menus serving quality food - not just chicken nuggets and chips. The places I was recommending to others made you feel welcome," says Avril.
"You are paying for service when you go out and I wanted my recommendations to have credibility. When I worked in London, I worked in corporate hospitality and my role was all about welcoming people and giving them a big smile. I wanted to see that. Within two weeks of developing the map, I had 15,000 views, so I figured I was on to something," says Avril.
When she returned to work after the birth of her youngest daughter, Olivia (2), Avril says it coincided with her eldest daughter, Eva (5), starting school and she felt she was missing out on time with her children.
"My eldest daughter was missing me picking her up. I was getting fed up working 10 hours a day," says Avril, who, with the support of her husband, decided to leave her job to work on her guide while being at home with the girls.
It was an incredibly liberating experience, she says. "For the first time, I had all this creative freedom. It became a labour of love and I relished the design element of it all."
Using a web development platform, she began to design her website from scratch. "I had zero web design experience and it was a massive learning curve. About two weeks before it launched, I showed it to my husband and I set up a WhatsApp group with my sisters and close friends. They were reading it and I wanted them to check the look and feel of it. They all thought it was incredible. That gave me the final push to get it out there," says Avril.
Just three weeks ago she unveiled her website dublincitymum.ie and she says the reaction has been super with people from all over Ireland - not just Dublin - getting in touch. Avril says initially she wondered if she should be more behind the scenes and "anonymous" when it came to the site. However, she took the decision to put herself out there too as she felt if people saw the face behind the brand it would make it more personable and would resonate more with people.
"My USP [unique selling point] is that at its heart and soul is a mum with a buggy and two kids exploring Dublin. That's what's different about it. It's resonated the most with new parents. I want to create a resource for new parents - it can be such a vulnerable time. With this you can say 'I can get that coffee and feed the baby there'."
But the site is not just about coffee shops and restaurants. It provides a listing of parks and playgrounds. If you have a toddler you can see which ones have toilets so you don't have to make a dash to the nearest shopping centre when you're toilet training or bring a potty in the buggy.
You can check out what's happening all over the city for families in terms of events with lists of classes for new mums and mums-to-be. Avril already has phase two and three for the site in mind and while mums in Galway and Cork have been asking her to do something similar for them, she's focusing on Dublin for now, with plans to expand her offerings to cover summer camps and more ante-natal resources.
She hopes to set up subscription emails to let parents know what events are coming up for families and says she hopes the site will become a resource for families visiting Dublin, that they can plan their trip using her guide.
Avril says while she's enjoying the new challenge of working on the guide, she's also enjoying being at home with the kids. "I feel privileged. It's the simple things like being able to pick Olivia up from school. It's about having the balance - it's such an elusive phrase and it's hard but I wanted to create something that gave me autonomy. I get to be there for the precious time when the girls are small.
"It felt like the right time for me to do this. It was empowering to be able to create something for myself and my confidence is building. In an office environment there are limitations to what you can do and there's a hierarchy. With the guide, I can put whatever I want into this and I can explore different things. It's been a brilliant experience," says Avril.
"I'm 38 now and five years ago I wouldn't have done this. I wouldn't have had the life experience. I think it comes with age and with being a mum. Having children has made me more assertive. It's given me the confidence to say 'I'm going to break away from the 9-5 and I'm going to take a risk," she says.
Finding your way back after baby
Being on maternity leave after the birth of her first child gave Dublin mum Claire Flannery a chance to think about what she wanted her future work-life to look like
With a qualification in business psychology and a background in HR, when Claire returned to work she also went back to study and got her coaching qualifications. This gave her the supports to navigate the changes in her own life and after her second child was born, her business was born too. The name for her coaching business, Strength Within, comes from the famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us".
Claire says she knew from her own experience that getting the right support at the right time in your life can make all the difference to the outcome and this, combined with wanting to do something different and authentic, led to her setting up Strength Within. The big focus in her work is helping people find their way back to work after having a baby, a career break or at other times of transition in their lives. She also runs workshops for HR professionals and line managers to help their staff thrive through change and for expectant parents preparing to take a step away from work.
"One of the big things I do is workshops for women coming back after maternity leave. It's about getting the head space around the transition and managing the practicalities and talking them through the returning process and helping them remember their own strengths," says Claire, who's mum to Seamus (3) and Vaughan, who's almost two years old.
She says many women experience an overwhelming dip in confidence as they approach the return to work and she helps them to focus on their strengths and the benefits they are bringing back to their employer.
As she marked her first year in business last month, Claire says the whole experience has been hugely rewarding as she's doing something she loves and is passionate about. "It's brought flexibility and it works for my family. I'm usually home for dinner and I work four days a week. It's early days and I do a lot of work after the kids have gone to bed," she says.
While she says there are a lot of supports to help start a business, she would love to see something geared specifically towards parents and business. "I'd love to see the Local Enterprise Organisations (LEOs) or other related enterprises offer tailored supports for mums starting a business, for example tailored workshops and coaching," says Claire.