This post is part of a series of Professional Parents Profiles where working parents around the world share their stories and experiences of family work balance. Whether you own a business, would like to or work full or part time, you can share your story too! Together, we can all share ideas and inspiration to find better balance. Please contact me. Renee
Alena Kouzmenkov is from LuxCars Development – originally from Russia, she is now based on the Gold Coast, Australia. Mother to a 10 year old girl (Alissa) and 1 year old boy (Daniel), she is 37 years old and has been running a business since 2004. She’s learnt a lot of lessons along the way about both business and balance and shares her story below.
Brief description of “Life Before Children”
Well, I love that question! Because I LOVED my life before children! Even though I absolutely love our life with children too!!! It was busy, funny, creative, self developing and very independent! My husband and I have been married since we both were 20. So we had enough time to learn and get to know ourselves and adjust to our life together before our first daughter came along. Together, before kids, we have immigrated to Australia from Russia. That was extremely hard, not knowing the language, culture, not having any relatives or friends to go to. We had to work 3 jobs each and learn English along the way but that was still FUN. We were young and restless and wanted to own the world. I remember we partied hard and worked hard. We made friends and loved our new country. We could find any proper work to start with and took any and all sort of “dirty” jobs available (cleaning offices, delivering newspapers, looking after elderly etc) until we both felt confident enough with our language skills to apply for something more decent. Needless to say we both have high education and both completed universities in Russia ( my husband with Honours in Engineering and myself with BArts and Communication) however starting life from clear sheet again in the new country we had to reeducate ourselves and completed an array of new courses to adjust to a new life.
How does this compare to “Life After Children”
Ha! It is like black and white where black is a new white. Your whole life is turned around and any plans that you had or have all go to bin. When our daughter was born we had no family or immediate support. We both had to work and continued to work to support ourselves financially and she was a very demanding little lady who did not sleep well till she was almost 3 years old. At that time I was a real estate agent and had flexible work schedule so I remember driving around showing houses to people with Alissa in the baby capsule on the front seat next to me. Next to me because when and if she cried, I could reach and give her a bottle to calm her down so I can continue to drive and work) So yes, 5 cups of coffee in the morning after the sleepless night and there we go to work together, a baby and me.) It was hard, it was different as I am a control freak and so used to everything been planned, scheduled and organized in my life. The word “plan” does not exist in the household with the children though. You plan one thing and your kid wakes up with the temperature next morning… You decide to do something and next minute you kid throws the tantrum because he\she does not want to do that way .
(Approximately )how many hours a week do you work?
At present, around 35-40 hours a week. At home, at the office, at night when everyone is in bed, in the car, at the school pick up. Thanks for the modern technology I am able to do that and organized my work around my kids.
Are there any particular laws/initiatives in your country/location that support working parents?
No, not at all. In fact, I think the laws here punish working parents as the waiting lists for kindergardens are so long it almost takes an year to get the place at kindy. The cost of childcare for working parents is equivalent to a weekly amount of rent of the nice house in suburbs. Thus, I remember when Alissa finally got into kindy I was getting $550 a week and the childcare cost me $350 a week.. Parents who don’t work though receive rebates and benefits from the government and their child care fees are twice as less as ours because they are considered low income earners.
What are the main challenges in your country/location in terms of achieving balance?
As mentioned above, there are no compensation or encouragement for you to work AND have a family. If you work part time and balance your children and work you only get enough money to cover the cost of childcare. If you don’t work you soon will start feeling useless and have emotional personal issues that will have an impact on your family and kids but again, there is no real support or encouragement for working mums or mums working from home.
Your top tip/s for Family Work Balance:
Honestly, the best advise is to have a husband who earns enough to support you so you don’t have to make a choice between your family and work and can enjoy both at your own pace. But this is very rare. In the real life it is very hard to achieve the balance. The key here from my point of view is to prioritise and to have a plan. Yes, I know I said plans and kids don’t go very well but at least some sort of the plan to action will help. I plan my week ahead. Every Sunday I sit down and write in my diary the most important things that I need to do that week for all of us: my kids, my husband, myself, my business. Then I look for empty time spots in the diary and think how to best fill them wisely with the ton of other things that are left for me to do ( more work, more kids, house cleaning, washing, cooking etc)
Sometimes there is no ME time at all. Not at all. Thus, I have this gym membership that I keep paying weekly but the last time I had a chance to go there was a couple of months ago… Sometimes there is no friends coffee time and friends who have no kids get offended, friends with kids understand and we chat on the phone while I am driving around ballet and school pick ups ( thanks for blue tooth technology).
However, most of the time I find that the plan and schedule works well. Another advise that I found works well for me is delegation. The house tasks such as ironing, washing, cooking and cleaning are always last on my list. Not because they are not important because I can delegate them to somebody else and use this “free” time doing something else which will bring me more value ( playing with kids, doing accounts for work, even going out for a dinner with my husband ..) Yes, this “somebody else” will cost money when doing these delegated tasks for me but I figured out that my nerves costs more and im much happier if im not stressing out about housework and concentrate on more important things. By saying that, it is still a luxury for us to able to afford constant household help. So again what we do is engage help of young adults or older kids from our street or our friend’s children who are about 13-15 years of age. They are not costing an arm and a leg and are very capable of doing the washing, cleaning and basic cooking.
How long have you been in business?
I have been in business since 2004. At first it was a fast food chain of stores , an Australian brand that we have developed and took overseas. It has proven to be very successful and we had more than 150 outlets around the world. Then one day it all has ended when our business partner ( who was a native Australian) forged our signatures ( while we were overseas on a business trip opening up new shop) and signed us out of the company’s records, thus we were no longer Directors or Shareholders of the company and “sold “ our shares to him. Of course we did not. But it took 4 long years in court to prove it and to re establish the truth. In the meantime the business was left with no management as by court order no one was allowed in until the judge will establish the rights of each party, as of course gone burst. This is when I found out when I am pregnant with our second child and of course it was a very hard time. We had to find ways to keep afloat having one daughter already, a mortgaged house and my sick mum who was living and still lives with us. So we had to think… and think fast.
I then remembered that once while is London we saw this beautiful and magnificent chariot that belongs to Queen Elizabeth The Second. I was mesmerized by it. I just could not take my eyes of it. It was majestic. I remember I then thought – I want to have something like it. Live. Here. Available for simple people. Not just royalty. Then of course I got carried away with other things and forgot about it. But time passed and here I found myself thinking about it again.. To cut the story short. This is how the idea of Cinderella carriage was born. Then it took two long years of finding funding, putting the project together, knocking on Department of Transport doors, no one believed that something like this can drive as a real car and transport real passengers so it was a real struggle however it finally happened! (See pictures below)
Any professional qualifications/training you’d like to mention?
Bachelor of Arts from Russian University, several professional business course in Australia, constantly re educating myself going to courses and workshops and forums if and while I have time.
Do you find these qualifications/training still relevant now you’ve become a parent?
Not really as most of them are business qualifications and not relevant to working parent situation.
What was one of the most unexpected things about becoming a parent?
That I wont be able to have a shower and enjoy my shower or bath anymore. That the privacy as such disappears once you become a parent and that I would crave for a minute of silence at 10 pm at night when everyone is in bed.
What is one of the greatest wishes for your children? And yourself?
For them to be happy and healthy. For them to be able to Love the World and Love Themselves and Be good at what they want to be.
One of the moments you are most proud of in the last few months?
The card that my daughter did for me couple of weeks ago on my return from my business trip ( see below).
One of the biggest challenges in the last few months?
With kids been sick here in winter – Not enough work time to implement all the ideas and business strategies that I have in my mind in order to run and develop my business further.
Share one of your favourite resources for working parents (website/book etc.)
French Kids Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman , It is too late after 3 by Masuru Ibuka, www.babycentre.com
What kind of work does your partner do?
He is in construction industry supplying quality European materials and fittings to the local australian construction market.
What do you love about being a working parent?
When my daughter comes home and says:” Mummy, I am so proud of you for doing this and this for me even though you have been so busy…” And generally, coming home and seeing my kids after missing them all day!
What do you think is a myth about being a working parent? That you can look good!
With the horrendous lack of time, especially in the mornings I hardly have time to choose proper clothes and do proper make up. Though I know some parents somehow manage to do that but I still need to master that skill)
Do your children go to school/daycare/alternative child-minding? How often?
Alissa is at school now plus doing after school activities ( dancing ) every day ( including Sunday!) She dances professionally though and competes in different competitions and dance shows all year along (that is more driving and more motivational work for me at home ). Daniel is at kindy 3 times a week ( on a good week if he does not get cold, tummy bug, broken tooth etc…)
Do you and how do you support other working parents?
By doing run around for them like school drop offs, pick ups, driving kids around to after school activities when I can, doing random shopping for my other working parents-friends, sometimes helping them in and with their business.
Describe your office
Well, guess what – this is my office now – see attached ( yes, I have a lounge room where my kids are hanging out while I work. )
Describe your “typical” day or week
Lets take Monday. Wake up at 4.30 ( every day for the past 13 months as this is Daniel’s normal wake up time. By the way he also wakes up at 10 pm, midnight and 2 am. Every night. From birth. Till now) 1 minute shower while Daniel is occupied in his cot with his toys that seem new for him after not seeing them all night. Then, clean and change and wash Daniel. Put new clothes on him. Let the dog out for a pee. Then Daniel and I cook breakfast for everyone. Daniel normally eats what we eat, however he eats earlier at 5.30 am while everyone else is still in bed. Then Alissa and Slava ( my husband) get up at 6 am I give them breakfast and while Alissa eats I do her hair ( as she has dancing every day she needs to have a special bun done daily which she cant do herself as her hair is very long and heavy) After breakfast Alissa does her school homework and I help her if she needs help. At the same time I try and clean the table, put my make up on and do my hair as well as look after and play with Daniel. Slava normally leaves to work after breakfast at 6.45 am. Then around 6.30-7.00 I put Daniel down for a nap and feed the dog, then clean the floors. I have to do it every morning as our dog lives inside and her fur is everywhere on the floor. I only have 30 minutes as Daniels’morning nap is very short so I try to do everything as a superman, very fast.. Clean the floor, get the washing out, prepare Daniel’s kindy bag, check Alissa’s homework, hurry Alissa up with her school preparation. Sometimes if I m lucky I even have time to have a cup of coffee but this is very rare. Normally my first cup is at around 9 am at work. Well, so, at 7.30 Daniel wakes up, I quickly put his kindy clothes on him ( as you would know to dress a toddler is a real challenge so the last two weeks I have been doing it together with Alissa, my daughter, she distracts him with blowing bubbles or doing silly faces and I try and quickly put the pants and shirt on to him) Alissa normally is ready by then and occupies Daniel for 5 minutes while I race into my wardrobe and put something on. Then we drive to school, Alissa’s school starts at 8 am. Thank God we live just around the corner. Oh yes, I forgot school lunch that I normally prepare from the day BEFORE as there is no way I can find time to do it in the crasy mornings) This is a typical morning.. Do you want me to continue ?
After dropping Alissa to school I drive screaming Danny to kindy. He hates driving and sitting strapped into the car seats so I have to blow strange faces and sing The wheels on the bus go round and round ( his favorite song) in different voices and pitches to keep him quiet while we drive. Then he throws a little tantrum not wanting to get off me when we are at kindy and I am all upset and mostly crying when I drive to the office from leaving him there. Though I know he will stop crying after I leave , the thought of leaving him and seeing him in distress is killing me.
Well finally I am at work. Mondays are very busy here as weekends are our main work days. So on Monday I have to meet all the drivers , check all their work, check all the cars and plan the week ahead for every driver and myself including. If I am lucky I work till 2.00 pm , then I have to go to school to pick up Alissa, give her quick lunch in the car ( normally we go past some noodle or sushi place and pick up takeaway food) and drive her to her dance school. After I drive to kindy to get Danny and we head home. On a bad day I get a phone call from kindy at 10, 11, 12 o clock asking to come and fill an incident report, pick him up because he is sick\upset\not behaving etc..If this happens I take him home and try and work from home however working with sick child is very challenging as you would know been a mum yourself. Well, so how do we continue our good day ? After the kindy pick up Danny and I go home, get changed and head to the park. We play in the aprk for an hour or two and go home to cook dinner.
By 6 my husband is normally home and he helps me to bath Daniel and prepare him for sleep. Then we put Danny to bed at 6.30 and either myself or my husband go to dance school to pick up Alissa. When she is home we have dinner together ( Daniel has it after park walk I forgot to mention), then she has some free time while I clean the table and prepare lunches for the next morning. At around 7.30 pm Alissa goes and has a shower and I put her to bed. I make sure I always put her to bed as this is the best time for us to talk about how her day has been, she shares a lot of her thoughts with me at that time and it is very private and special for us. So at around 8.30 pm my husband and I are finally alone. Then we have our evening conversation and a glass of wine which I really need and enjoy! If he is away on a business trip though I use this time to do my work. But when he is at home I spend this hour with me. WE go to bed at about 9.30 pm.
One or two of your favourite Professional Parents Businesses
Tanya Targett from the headlinehunter (http://www.media-money-profile.com/) is my inspiration, a truly empowering woman , a single mum who have achieved great success and all by herself. As well as my friend Cathleen Williamson from http://www.pamperpartyworkshops.com/ who have built her business around her two young kids.
What is your business structure?
It is a one man ( woman ) show ) I manage the business, I do my admin, accounts, marketing, PR, HR and everything else..
What are one or two of your favourite products or services?
Of course my baby, the Cinderella Limo. We also have three other cars, just standart limos but Cinderella is my all means the product I am trying to push and promote more because of its exclusivity and uniqueness.
What was one of the most unexpected things about starting a business?
The beaurocracy of the government and Transport Department in my case.
Where do you see yourself and your business in 1 year? 5 years?
Ideally, I would like to start franchising the Cinderella concept next year and expand in different states and even countries in the next 5 years.
What advice can you give others just starting out in business?
Keep going. Even if the whole world tells you are crazy and cant do it, just keep going. It a compound effect, do something for your business every day, even if it’s a small step. One email, one article, one letter.
Is your partner/family/friends supportive of your business?
Yes, as much as he can. He works full time in his own business but if I need to fly to another city for a meeting or conference he is always there for me to stay and look after kids.
What is your favourite thing about being in business?
Being busy. Seeing the results. Hearing positive feedback from our customers. Dreaming about further growth and development.
What do you think is a myth about being in business?
That money grows on trees and that all business people are rich and got their by luck. There is no luck in business but planning and hard work. Very hard work when you cant go home and forget about your “work”, when you don’t have sick days and vacations and often don’t have your own salary as you have to scarify your wage to be able to pay others.
Special offer for Professional Parents Network:
Well, we are on the Gold Coast Australia. We are always happy to promote our business and work with others. If somebody would be interested in booking their wedding or special event with us ( formal, birthday party, kids birthday etc) we would be happy to give you 1 hour of FREE service if you commit to our two hour booking! This is a saving of $495.00. Our normal hourly rate in Cinderella is $495 per hour. So if they book for two hours they get an extra hour for FREE. We provide champagne and swiss sweets and the chariot seat 6 people. Valid until 30 September 2015.
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