‘I need coffee’: the anthem of the sleep-deprived parent. Abbie McKoy, co-founder of Wellington-based company For Mums, knows the feeling – and her Coolest Little Coupon Book makes it a bit easier to get that caffeine hit. She talks about launching the business, getting back to her day job and connecting with her family in the USA.
F&R: Hi Abbie! Tell me about your family.
Abbie McKoy (AM): I met my husband Hamish 13 years ago in New Zealand. It was love at first sight. I moved here from the States for three months and we travelled around the country. It was amazing but we were really young; I was 17. We stayed in touch for years and would meet up in different countries, but the distance always made it really tough to make anything happen. Then five years ago I was almost engaged to someone else. I knew I couldn’t get married unless I knew things were over with Hamish. So I gave him a call – after a little bit of wine! – and we decided we love each other. We figured things out and did long distance until I moved here three years ago and we got married.
Jackson was born in April 2017. We both always wanted to be parents. Having a kid is the most amazing thing ever. For me, work had always been number one, but now it’s Jackson.
The first few months at home were monotonous – eat, sleep, change a diaper. Jackson was born in the winter. A lot of the mums nearby stayed home out of the cold but I didn’t have the option; my dog – a labradoodle called Hendrix – had to go for a walk! So I’d strap the baby on and we’d go for two hours. It helped me because some nights we weren’t sleeping at all, so at least I did something that day.
The thing that got me through those first few months was creating little projects for him – trying to apply that drive I have in my career to new stuff. I wrote him a book about how much our dog really wanted a brother. He loves that book!
F&R: When did you go back to work?
AM: At six months, I went back one day a week and then at seven months, I went back two and a half days. It was tough. I was so lucky that my mother-in-law could help me. My kid went on a bottle strike. He’d just started taking solids and we just got through it; I came home at lunches to breastfeed him.
Work was awesome; my team was really supportive. I work on a city centre revitalisation project in Porirua (25 kilometres north of Wellington), working on community development through placemaking, events, supporting and attracting businesses, and activating strategic property. When I went back after maternity leave, the plan was to hire a second person to look after the events, but it took a while to find someone. There was a month when I was trying to do the whole thing in 20 hours. One week, I wasn’t sleeping because all Jackson’s teeth were coming in. I was crying at work, thinking ‘I can’t do this’. But my boss was amazing. He said ‘Abbie, this is just a job. Don’t worry about it’. That’s so nice, coming from your boss. This year, I feel like I’ve found my stride. I look forward to seeing my baby; I cannot wait until I get off work so I can go see him. And that’s really nice, compared to ‘oh, you again’ when they’re with you 24/7!
The biggest things employers could do for new parents, particularly mums, is encourage them to check in as often as possible to see if they need additional support, and to create part-time jobs that are actually part time. I think that’s the big danger – giving people jobs that they can’t actually do. It doesn’t help the organisation and it definitely doesn’t help the person.
F&R: Tell me about your business, For Mums.
AM: While I was on maternity leave, my friend Angela McDonald came over to my house with an idea for an entertainment book for mums with little ones who are zero to four years old. Because honestly, when you have a kid, you don’t know what to do with them! You need to figure out where you can help them develop with the right activities and get good mum support. So we talked to every mum we know about the places they take their kids, where they feel comfortable popping in for a coffee, and the businesses they find really useful. And the result is a collaboration of carefully curated offers encompassing a wide range of children’s activities, child-friendly cafes, children’s products, household services and a few treats for mum herself!
The uptake was really good with businesses – 125 businesses from the Wellington region are part of it. It’s a great avenue for them to promote themselves. We tried to select mum-owned businesses. We worked really hard every naptime and evening, curating all the accounts and locking in the design while I was on maternity leave. We launched the book at the end of 2017. Now we have all these cool contacts and next year, hopefully, it’ll do its thing.
For Mums is in Wellington right now. In the future we’re hoping to launch in other markets – Auckland, Christchurch and hopefully Australia eventually. We’ll see how we go.
F&R: You’ve lived in New Zealand for three years now, but your family lives in the USA. How’s that been since you’ve had Jackson?
AM: Thank God for technology, because otherwise it would be impossible. We’ve done so well at contacting each other on FaceTime every few days. My mum has a puppet! It sounds weird but she gets on the phone with this puppet and Jackson loves it. And my dad always sings him songs. He gets so excited when they call. It’s really fun.
F&R: Last question: what advice would you give to new parents like me?
Don’t think about the next day, just do today as well as you can. Whatever phase you’re in – if they’re crying round the clock because they’ve got colic or they’re not sleeping – it’ll pass. Do something for yourself; take five minutes to breathe, meditate, listen to a podcast, whatever. Just find something that fills you a little bit, because you are giving everything you’ve got all the time.