The challenges that face a working mum, especially in the corporate world, can seem never ending – but Michelle Fragar has found a way to create a life that she loves, so that she can have both a fulfilling career and raise her son Maddox! Read on to see how she handles it all, and how she feels the education system could adapt to better suit working mothers:
Name: Michelle Fragar
Website/blog: Blackbox Finance
Social media: Facebook
Tell us a bit about yourself and your child/children….
My name is Michelle Fragar and I’ve been a career Marketer for 17 years, having worked in Fortune 100’s and been the head of Global Marketing activities for a Billion dollar Multinational. I was in this Global Marketing role when I had my son Maddox back in 2012 and as we are expected to, I returned to work within 7 months, assumed full control of my position and went back to 12+ hour days. All the time feeling the guilt every mother feels of leaving my child in someone else’s care. I was lucky, on my return, the company’s CEO took me aside and said “nothing is ever more important than a school play. We know you work hard so take the time when you need it”, which was a wonderful blessing knowing that the company supported me coming and going for special events. The problem is the hours you work, the responsibilities you have often mean you’re travelling or in a meeting for those special events. And more to the point it doesn’t allow you to actually find a balance between putting your child first. I think as Australians we have an amazing work ethic, but it’s hurting our families in the long run. So the only real winners here are shareholder driven corporations. In late 2014 we left Newcastle for a sea change and moved to the Gold Coast. I had visions of a great life on the beaches with my child and work to pay the bills. See I think most women in my position would happily take half the pay to do a lesser job or a part time role so that they could have more balance. More businesses need to come to grips with the fact that if a senior level person applies for your job, before you say “Too qualified, why would they want this job, or they will get bored and leave”, maybe ask them about their situation as you may just find you can secure yourself an amazing talent for ½ the price and you both win. I had hoped by 2017 that it would be mainstream to have job sharing for senior roles, yet businesses are too scared. If they stopped looking at the negatives they might find they end up with an incredibly stable workforce who are excited to do their jobs as it’s giving them the balance we are all looking for.
So this is how I ended up working on and in my husband’s business, Blackbox Finance, a Business and Residential Finance Broking business. I wanted to know that when Maddox was sick I could work from home. I wanted to know I could watch his Easter hat parade or take him to sports after school. I feel like for his 5 years on this earth my career and financial stability have taken the priority, so if no business will create an environment I want to work in, it thought I’d create it myself and then as we grow and hire new people I’ll be looking for parents that want flexibility and job sharing roles.
What is the name of your business/blog and what does your work entail?
I still do some corporate consulting to mid / large companies on Branding (as I love it) however I’m fully committed to working in and growing my husband’s Finance Broking Business, Blackbox Finance. As a Finance Broker we can source finance for every need in life from your new home, refinancing, investment properties, personal or car loans all the way to business lending. I’m intentionally doing it differently to the rest of the market. Finance can be a slow boring process so we are putting the customer first and really focus on that customer experience, I guess that’s my marketing coming out. Our tag is “Stay Excited” as that’s our goal, to make sure that you don’t lose the excitement of the new home or car, these are big purchases so we want to make it an awesome and memorable experience.
After all the years working in large companies and talking about shareholders, I find it really refreshing working with people on their finances, especially when we can find a solution to the harder cases or save people money. The one thing I’ve noticed since entering the finance industry is the lack of financial education in Australia and how helping people understand their own finances and how to budget can really help them change their lives. Because once they are financially stable we can then help them start an investment portfolio and help them find long term wealth.
What made you decide to be both a mum and a career woman?
I was a career woman first and foremost and always had rose coloured glasses about the reality of working and children. I think I’m naive and always though by the time I had children the workplace would have progressed with me. It just didn’t. I see so many amazing women turning to their own businesses not to grow new empires, but to provide them with a work life balance we are all craving. You look at the hormonal and mental health issues from overworked or stressed mums at the moment, it’s seriously becoming a problem! I’ve tried to have another child for over 4 years now and time and time again physicians and my naturopath keep saying there is no way career women can have it all. At some point we need to work less and balance out our lives.
What challenges do you face balancing both roles and how do you overcome them?
I’m blessed I have a great child, he has cruised alone with me. He squeezes in between my arms while I’m on the computer so he can help me work. I think you just need to realise that as much work as we have and as many hours as we think we need to work, our kids only get one childhood. And they don’t care what you do or how much you earn, they just want to sit with you or talk to you. So I’ve made finding little moments effective, I try to walk Maddox to school instead of driving as much as we can so we can have a conversation and other little ways to make sure he knows he is my number one. But as with many parents, we try and fail, but as long as we keep trying my goal is I’ll get there one day.
In all honesty, I think the biggest challenge for me being a career woman and a mother is the stress the career takes on my body. In hindsight if my career impacted my ability to have more children it’s a harsh and confronting reality for me and other women in the same situation.
The biggest challenge for me as a mother has been the past few months since my son went to school, I could NEVER have coped with this process if I worked in my previous corporate role, so I take my hats off to parents that are surviving. I LOVED daycare, I could drop him off and pick him up based on my schedule. Now it’s “before school care” for networking mornings, and school drop offs at 8.15am the pickups at 2.30pm – Most days I haven’t had lunch by 2.30pm! So after-school care has been a savior but now that Maddox thinks he should be coming home at 2.30pm he hates going to after-school care. I really think someone in the education system should really be looking at the school system, you have all the resources, why can’t we pay teachers extra to supervise the kids after school? Or even pay staff (not teachers) to use the school grounds. There are so many rules around this process and kids per square meter that it’s all become ridiculous and the only thing that isn’t being considered is the family and kids that actually need to use the services. I’ll get off my soap box now.
What is one tip you have for unwinding after a stressful day?
I’ll be honest for years it was wine, but as I get older I’m trying to find better coping mechanisms, I love a morning walk or yoga. I spent years being the gym junkie with high adrenaline classes like RPM, now I find the calmer and relaxing options are a must to balance my mental and physical state. Plus I love walking around the lake in the morning with my girlfriends – it’s great to stay social and catch up.
What is one fun weekend activity that your family enjoys together?
We love going down to Currumbin Creek on the weekend, it’s a beautiful piece of QLD that links to Tallebudgera Beach inlet. We go down for a swim or Kayak and then finish it off with a nice wine or lunch at Currumbin RSL on their beautiful outdoor deck.
What is one time-saving parenting tip you can recommend?
Let your children be as independent as they ask to be. I think it’s important to let them try and fail, try and fail till they succeed. I’d prefer to clean up a mess from a child trying to do something that develops them. I hear too many people say “I just do it so I don’t have to clean up”. Well ladies we enable our husbands and our children by just doing it all for them, don’t worry I do it as well. I just try to reduce the about of enabling I do. Last year we flooded the upstairs of our house when Maddox turned on his bath and then fell asleep in bed. Yes it was a lot of mess and a costly error, but how do they grow and learn if we do it all for them.
What benefits do you think there are to being a career mum?
I think being an employed career mum is much harder and I take my hat off to you. I’m lucky I have the skills and drive to build a business that will allow my family the work life balance that we need when we have kids. I don’t know if I ever thought of not working, my brain would implode or I’d go crazy. I love being stimulated and knowing that I can support my family and give my child a great life. I know that I’ll always work, so working at Blackbox gave me the ability to work when I need to so that I can have the balance that my child needs and deserves. Sometimes that means I’m still working at 9-10-11pm but that’s my choice as I took the time between 2.30-7pm to hang out with Maddox.
Lastly, what do you do to ensure you maintain a strong bond with your child/children, despite having numerous responsibilities?
We do two things every day I’m home, we have morning cuddles on the lounge (we are both early risers) and then we read a book together every night – these are our good habits. It’s important to slow down and smell the roses even if only for small tasks.
Taking time away from work can be difficult – especially when you feel your career is all-consuming! But as Michelle has stressed, it’s important not to miss the special moments – be that a school play, a soccer game or simply cuddles before bed!