After a fast-paced, jet setting career in the hotel industry, Renata Spies came to New Zealand with her husband and kids for a very different lifestyle. She has no trouble filling the day, though. The founder of Spies Publishing talks about publishing her 12-year-old son Ben’s books and why she stepped out of the traditional workforce to be a full-time mum, and passes on her Nana’s sage parenting advice.
F&R: Hi Renata! Tell me about becoming a parent.
Renata Spies (RS): I was backpacking in Europe when I was 26. I had the time of my life and learned English; I’m Brazilian and English is not my first language. I met my husband, Robert – and I never went back to Brazil. We got married and started a life together in London.
When Ben was born, the idea was I would keep working full time. I took six months at home and I really wanted to go back to work. I was with Marriott Hotels, overlooking the European Asian market for incentive marketing. I was travelling a lot – our head office was in Washington – and I had a nanny at home looking after Ben. It was what I wanted to do; my dream career.
But one day, he walked for the first time – and I missed it. I started thinking, what’s more important for me now? Is it being with my child or having this career? It really surprised me that I wanted to be a mum, because since I left university I had this image of me as a career woman and working a lot. But now, being a mum is my main goal. I try to do the best I can – it’s a very hard job!
Ben was two when I stopped working and we came to New Zealand. It’s the perfect place to raise a family. There’s so much to do with kids and I think the government understands that you should be with your child for the first years and give all the tools for that. Daniel came four years after Ben. He’s 8 now and Ben is 12.
F&R: These days, you have more of a portfolio career, right?
RS: When Daniel started kindy, I thought ‘what now?’ I didn’t want to go back to the office because I still wanted to spend time with them so I decided to start my own events business. It was great because it showed me I should be networking. I put myself out there, enrolled in workshops and met all these businesswomen. Three years ago, I started Kapiti Women’s Expo, to show the community what this group of women is doing. That was growing for two years. It coincided with starting the publishing business so I decided to sell this year and pass it on.
Time management is one of my everyday challenges. Everyone’s struggling with that. At the Expo, I made sure one of the talks was about parenting. The speakers always went back to look after yourself first. If you don’t look after yourself, you can’t look after your family.
F&R: What does that look like for you?
RS: Every morning I go for a walk after I drop the kids off at school. I do a bit of yoga and I have my time that’s just for myself. And then I start my day. I know I have between 10am and 2pm to work; that’s four non-stop hours for my business.
I’m so glad that lots of companies nowadays are more flexible with mums and dads. They’re really seeing that your capability isn’t just available within office hours. You can work from home, or work in the evenings, and be as good as if you’re in the office; you still deliver but in a different way. My husband Robert works for New Zealand Post. They’re really flexible. It’s good that he can have that flexibility; you have to work as a team at home as well, parenting together.
F&R: What’s the story behind Spies Publishing?
RS: It started with Ben writing every day when he came back from school. I would see him on a lonely journey in front of his computer, just writing, and I didn’t know how to reward or recognise it. He wrote his first book Weirdo when he was 9. I had it published and I gave it to him as a gift. He hasn’t stopped writing since. I think he writes so much because he reads so much. Reading a lot gives him a great imagination. Children are so authentic in their thoughts and so funny and imaginative in their stories.
It’s a whole new world for me – I’ve never been in publishing before. When I started, I didn’t even know there were three edits; the structural edit, the copy edit and the proofreading. The most recent book, The Magic Pencil, had these three amazing editors. I found the best I could afford in order to have a really good quality of work. It didn’t take me long to realise I can do this; what I need is a great team of editors and designers to make me a good product. I’m learning as I go but I’m really excited. I hope we can inspire other kids to read more and write more. We need to really reward, recognise and nourish children’s writing.
F&R: You’re from Brazil and your husband’s from England. Even with technology, it can be incredibly difficult to build a relationship between children and their grandparents when they live in different countries. How have you dealt with that in you family?
RS: It’s amazing what technology can do. But there’s really nothing like grandmother’s cuddle and sitting down on the floor and playing with them. It’s not just the grandparents; it’s the extended family as well. We just came back from San Francisco. It was a family reunion with my sister and her family. There were seven children, all the cousins, all playing together. We try as much as we can to get together; I don’t want my children to grow up with no memories from family.
F&R: Last question: what’s the one piece of advice you’d pass along to new parents like me?
RS: I’m going to tell you what my grandmother told me when I was pregnant. She said babies need fresh air every day. So when I had Ben, I would go out with him every day to get fresh air. And then I realised it was for me! It’s not for the baby! My clever Nana, she knew! She died before I could tell her, but she knew I had to get out of the house and meet friends and go to playgroups – otherwise you can go crazy! So that’s my advice; just get out of the house every day and have some fresh air.
Check out Ben’s books, Weirdo and The Magic Pencil at Renata’s company, Spies Publishing.