Director of Birchbox France and “maman poule” (mother hen) of two children, Mathilde is expecting her third child in May. Before the photo shoot we had lunch at Nanashi in Le Marais (Paris), to exchange stories about our everyday lives as young, working mothers. I’ve known Mathilde since she gave birth to her first child, three years ago, and I really appreciate her advice, full of good sense, and her serenity when she talks about maternity. In this article, we’ve chosen to discuss in particular the balance between career and family life, a subject she has already covered accurately on her blog.
Career and Management.
You started your career eight years ago, firstly as a free-lance journalist and a blogger and then as an entrepreneur creating Joliebox, which is today a company with more than ten employees. Your everyday life and your responsibilities must have changed a lot. Have you had to make any concessions to your career? Or on the contrary, has becoming a mother helped you to redefine your priorities and mature in your job? I don’t think I’ve had to make any concessions. On the contrary, I think launching my own company has meant that I need to ask myself less questions: I had the liberty to have children whenever I wanted to. Maybe if I’d stayed in a large company I wouldn’t have dared? I really hope not, I think it’s really scandalous that women can be penalized in the development of their careers because of a pregnancy. Especially because if women can handle children, they can take care of work! Mothers know how precious time is, and so they are very time-efficient.
Is being a manager of a composed madeup of youndger people with different priorities in life (Parisians, no children…) a difficulty? Three years ago when I had my first son, I felt really different to the rest of my team. I was the only one to have a child and a “family life”. I reorganized my schedule so I could come home earlier and my priorities were different. However, I’ve managed to rediscover my rhythm and now there are other mothers at Birchbox, we support each other!
Do you enjoy real time off or do you work from a distance (i.e. vacations, week-ends, nights…)? When I’m with my children, I force myself to disconnect fully in order to enjoy my time with them. I don’t see them a lot during the week, so nights, week-ends and holidays are dedicated to them. Asides from that, because of my job I always keep an eye on my emails and social media, but I’ve learnt to manage it.
You live in Reims and work in Paris. What do you do during the commute? In the morning, I either read or watch a TV show (I’m addicted to ‘The Affair’ at the moment). On the way back, I finish doing my emails since I’m one of the first to leave the office.
Do you have a secret to making everything work? No secret, just a very involved husband who looks after a lot of things. We’ve found our balance and a fair division of the daily tasks. This is key for me, it’s impossible to handle everything alone.
Tell us about your day-to-day organization. The children go to nursery. I get the train early in the morning. I get the children up and ready, and then my husband takes over and is in charge of taking them to and from nursery, and giving them dinner in the evenings and sorting out bath time. I come back for story-time and cuddles!
When you went back to work, were you children sleeping through the night? If not, what did you do to deal with the tiredness? They were sleeping through the night when they were 3 months old. The nights when they were sick though meant that the tiredness and exhaustion didn’t entirely stop. But I feel as though from becoming a parent, you develop a true resistance to fatigue. Tired or not, we have to be present at work and at home so I just forget about being tired and get on with it (with some good concealer)! A piece of advice: go to bed as early as possible. I’m in bed by 10pm, otherwise waking up at 6am is just too difficult!
What do you do when you want to go for a night out with your husband or for a romantic weekend break? Do you leave the children with close family, a nanny, a baby sitter? We are lucky that we have our two families close to us. This is a real luxury that grants us some private moments for just the two of us. This is so important for maintaining our stability because you can soon forget yourselves as a couple when you become parents.
Do you receive help for hosehold chores (nanny, housekeeper, family…)? A housekeeper comes once a week.
Pregnancy and maternity leave.
How did you organize yourself when you were on maternity leave? Did you continue to work from home? I kept reading my emails! After my first maternity leave I learnt that no one is irreplaceable and essentially that everything carried on fine without me. It’s a relief once you realize this! For my first child, the team at the office was very small and I had nobody to delegate my work to. So I was back at work within 2 weeks of giving birth. I really don’t recommend it though, maternity leave is a precious time and you should make the most of it.
Did you plan your pregnancies around your professional obligations? Not at all, it is a personal matter and not a professional one. I think it’s risky to plan children around work, because there’s never a good time. Even more so in a startup like Birchbox that keeps on growing very fast.
Your children go to nursery school, why and how did you and your husband choose this type of child care? We wanted our children to be part of a childcare community.
When you returned to work, did this adaptation go well with your first two children? Do you have any particular advice for mothers to make this transition go more smoothly? It went very well. I think it was harder for me than for my children. During my son’s first week at kindergarten, I cried everyday whereas he seemed quite happy. I don’t have any specific advice because I think the situation is different depending on the childcare option you choose. However I think you need a week to adapt to whatever new scheme you have chosen. It’s important to accept that things are different at nursery to what we are used to doing at home (different nap times, activities…) otherwise it’s easy to get frustrated. Even it’s heartbreaking for the first few days, I was glad to return to work each time. I need both to feel balanced and happy!
I really admire the way that you’ve maintained your blog and your Instagram account with such an intense professional life at Birchbox, and with young children. Do you have any time specifically dedicated to writing your blog? Thank you! From now onwards it’s going to be during the weekends when the children are taking a nap. I post less now than when I started my blog, but I’m really touched to see that my readers continue to follow me. Most of them have “grown up” with me and can relate to my new posts when I am talking about maternity, children, lifestyle… I love how my blog has developed; it’s a real representation of me! However, I haven’t yet found the time to write the book I’ve always dreamt of writing!
Do you have any other personal projects on at the moment? A third baby for next month! Also we’re very lucky to have found our dream house, which we’re moving into soon… in short a wonderful spring ahead for the family!
What would you most like to do (or dream of doing) when you have:
An hour off for your lunch break: I book a manicure at the office with the app Simone!
A day off without children: I work on future posts for my blog, tidy the house, or arrange to have lunch with my mother or with a friend.
A weekend with your husband (and no kids!): Whenever we have the opportunity, we organize a weekend away, just the two of us, to a new place every time. The only rule: less than 3 hours away by car, and some history to soak up (Bruges, Lausanne, Pierrefond…). Sometimes, we just stay at home and chill!
Do you have any more advice specifically for future and young mothers reading this? Don’t try and be perfect, and be lenient with yourself: in your children’s eyes you’ll always be the best!