For five years, I’ve been collecting stories of those who balance family and work to publish on this as PP Profiles on this website, with the vision that by sharing experiences, we can all learn from each other and find better balance. This project has happened in stops and starts, much due to the fact that I, myself, also am constantly juggling so many things daily. Yesterday, I published the 39th profile and realised that though there is part of my story on the about page and throughout several personal blog posts and vlogs, I’ve never actually done a profile myself! I also thought it would be fitting that I am the 40th profile and turn 40 this week! So here goes..
My name is Renee Veldman-Tentori and I’m mother to Sophia (8) and Isabella (6). I’m currently living in The Hague, The Netherlands though am originally from Brisbane/Sunshine Coast, Australia.
I’ve always been one to take on way too many things and have learnt I’m happiest that way! A friend shared a great book with me called “Refuse to Choose” by Barbara Sher, which talks about personalities like mine being called a “Scanner” – read more here to learn more.
Brief description of “Life Before Children”
After leaving high school in 1992, all I wanted to do was travel. I was accepted into a Bachelor of Business, majoring in Tourism but it was based “out west” in Gatton, Queensland, Australia and after growing up in the countryside (Maleny), I first wanted to experience city life. So I turned down the university place, moved to Brisbane and found a job at a travel agency and spent the next 9 years working in the travel industry and travelling the world! I was fortunate to go to Canada, USA, Africa and Europe. My own country of Australia was also a fabulous place to explore and I met a lovely Dutch man when he was on holidays on Fraser Island in 2001. I had already planned to live in the UK for a while and moved there in 2002, and after a few trips back and forward to the Netherlands, I ended up moving here and marrying my Dutchie. Finding work in Europe was difficult and I began to regret not getting a degree as in both the UK and the Netherlands, it seemed that without one, you had very limited career options. On top of that, in the Netherlands, I needed to learn a new language, which was tough going! However in the end, after several years hard work, I became fairly fluent in Dutch, gained dual nationality (Dutch Australian), studied towards and completed a degree (Bachelor of Business, Marketing & Tourism) and gave birth to my first daughter in the Netherlands – at home! Funnily enough, even when writing in the section of “life before children”, I realised I’m still including giving birth, I guess I can hardly remember what life was like before becoming a mother.
How does this compare to “Life After Children”
For me, life after children has been a little confused with “life moving between countries”. When my eldest daughter was 5 months old, we relocated from Delft, The Netherlands back to Brisbane. Being new parents and adding an international move into the mix was a challenge but we managed. I had trouble finding work that matched my skills and interests and fit around caring for my daughter so found the solution was to start my own business. My girls are amazing and I love being with them, and since the moment I became pregnant every decision I have made has involved what’s best for them. Now I’m also trying to balance that with what’s best for me too – which is often the same thing but involves looking at things differently. I do love that just last week, I managed to incorporate the travel of the “life before children” and took my 2 girls for a week to the UK.
(Approximately )how many hours a week do you work?
Over the years, this has varied widely, from about 5 to 40+. For the last year or so, it’s been around 25-30 hours per week. I’m about to take this back to around 40 as I begin 2.5 days a week work and 2.5 days a week studying towards a Masters from later this week! With both girls, I tried to limit my working hours to only a few hours a week until they were 1 year old and looking back, feel this was a good decision.
Are there any particular laws/initiatives in your country/location that support working parents?
In Australia, I found that childcare costs and the difficultly of getting a place really made it a challenge to decide whether working was actually worthwhile. In the Netherlands, I’ve found a similar situation. For local Dutch mothers, it is actually a great culture as nearly all return to work part-time after becoming a parent. However if you’re a newcomer and didn’t have a job before having your children, it’s much harder to get into this situation. Childcare is also really expensive – there are subsidies but I feel that in both countries, the system seems to support those at the lower end and higher end of the income scale, but not so much for those in the middle. Apparently there is a law in the Netherlands that fathers can have a “papa day” until their children are about 8 years old, meaning that they work either their 36/40 hours in 4 long days, or they take a paycut and work less hours, but I don’t know too many families doing this.
What are the main challenges in your country/location in terms of achieving balance?
The school hours are really tough for working parents. This can vary from school to school but at our school, children start at 8.30am each day and then finish at 12pm for lunch! You are expected to either pick them up or pay for “lunchtime childcare” for an hour, which costs us over 700 euros a year. The afternoon school session is from 1pm-3pm. On a Wednesday afternoon, all primary school children are off school, so many working parents take Wednesdays or Wednesday afternoons off. This is usually when you run the kids around to swimming and sport or playdates. At our school and many others, Friday afternoons are also off until what we call grade 5 (so the first 4 years of school). Children do start school at 4 years old though, but the first 2 years are play-based.
How long have you been in business?
7 years running my own business
Short explanation of how and why you came to start your own business:
As mentioned above, once I became a mother, I found it really tough to find a suitable part time job. So I began freelancing which was really long hours – but at times when I chose. I have always operated as a sole trader (or ZZP as it’s known in the Netherlands). At first, I started a business thinking it would be an income source. I since learnt that this wasn’t always the case, however I learnt so much from it that I don’t have any regrets at all. Even now that I am about to start my first employment contract in many years, I plan on keeping my business active “on the side” as an online training/consulting set up.
What was one of the most unexpected things about becoming a parent?
Just how incredibly constant it is. This video kind of sums it up!
What is one of the greatest wishes for your children? And yourself?
Health, happiness and balance.
One of the moments you are most proud of in the last few months?
It’s taken a lot of planning, hard work and negotiating, but I am about to start a contract as a university lecturer 2.5 days a week, alongside studying for a Masters 2.5 days a week (which is necessary for the contract). Though this is likely to be a fairly intense schedule, I feel I’ve looked at every option and this is the best fit for me and my family.
One of the biggest challenges in the last few months?
Same as the one I’m most proud of!
Share one of your favourite resources for working parents (website/book etc.)
When I first became a parent in 2007, there were really limited resources out there. I’m so thrilled to see the absolute explosion of online support as well as books, groups and so much more. Here’s just a couple of things I’ve found have inspired and helped me:
- Be A Fun Mum Blog: I’m fortunate to have Kelly as a friend and have been following her blog since the early days. She writes with a beautiful balance of grace and practicality about parenting
- Lean In: Launched by the TED talk and book by Sheryl Sandberg, this has since developed into a fantastic online resource with links to meet up groups around the world as well
- TED: I’ve spent many hours being inspired by these amazing talks and have attended several live TEDx events in the Netherlands
- Udemy: This is just one of the many fantastic online learning tools which you can use to develop your skills in any area you are interested in, or can even teach online
What kind of work does your partner do?
He’s a full time project manager/aerospace engineer
What do you love about being a working parent?
That I still get to use and develop all my skills and have the satisfaction of raising two amazing girls but also contributing further to my community and society
What do you think is a myth about being a working parent?
I think that initially the myth was that you keep family and work separate – but I love that this has changed a lot in recent years with both mothers and fathers being a lot more likely to share a little about their family in the workplace, and vice versa – discussing a little about our work at home with a partner/children understanding what we do is important.
Do your children go to school/daycare/alternative child-minding? How often?
As my work and study gets busier, I am working on a number of “levels of back up”, especially as my family are in Australia and my husband’s are more than an hour away. After a few years in the Netherlands, I’ve made friends with some other working parents and we help each other out sometimes. My girls are both now in school but as I explained above, that still isn’t that compatible with a working parents schedule! So we are now using after school care one day a week but it’s expensive, so I’m looking into using a service where local college/university students (teenagers to early 20s) can help out for an hour here and there when I need it.
Do you and how do you support other working parents?
I created the Professional Parents Network 6 years ago now to bring together those who are balancing work and family so that we can share stories and support each other. In Australia I ran live events but haven’t found the time yet to do this in The Netherlands.
Describe your office
I have a lovely attic office
Describe your “typical” day or week
This can change pretty drastically but here’s one of the more common days:
- 7am – wake up
- 8.10am – walk to school with the girls (only 200m away, yay!)
- 8.25am – drive to work at the uni if I have classes
- 9-9.30am – either attend classes for my Masters on a Tuesday, other days giving lectures
- 2.30pm – drive to pick up the girls
- 3pm – pick up girls, afternoon tea, do an hours work while they chill/play (or have kids here to play or maybe at a friends)
- 4.15pm – On a Monday – drive to swimming lessons, often take some work with me
- 5pm – Back home, possibly stop at supermarket, start dinner
- 6pm – Husband home, eat dinner together as family
- 6.30pm – bathtime/bed routine starts, whatever we feel like doing as a family, reading a story, playing a game, or just doing what needs to be done
- 7.30/8pm – girls in bed, husband usually watching tv/netflix and has an early night (as he’s up and off to work early).
- 8pm-10/11pm – I work, study, blog, chill, catch up on emails – “My time” to do what I need to do whether that is work or relax. Trying to turn off screens by 10pm or earlier and asleep by 11pm.
Your top tip/s for Family Work Balance:
Just keep working towards it. I feel it’s like riding a bike. Starting off can be tricky but you need to kind of keep going and balance gets easier. If you fall off – which you will do regularly – just get back up and try again. When you feel off balance, learn to pinpoint exactly what the issue is and figure out how to fix it. One of my favourite sayings ever – God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.