Lifestyle & Travel

Published on October 19th, 2013 | by Kelly Rose Bradford


Lone Parents Mean Business: Rena Nathanson from Bananagrams

Single mum Rena Nathanson invented the ‘Bananagrams‘ game with her father shortly after her divorce. She knew that her single parent status meant she had to make her business a success – and now, with sales of over six million games in 31 different countries, it would seem she has done so!

When did you become a single parent?

I was separated in 2003 and divorced a few years later.

What career were you in at the time?

I was endeavoring to start a corporate and hospitality interior décor company. We have a successful business in the US that I was starting to expand to the UK.

What made you decide to start your own business?

Needs must! I have always worked (even when pregnant!) and when my marriage ended, I really needed to secure a steady income to fully support myself and the children. I truly had no other alternative.

How do you juggle working with single parenting?

I was fortunate enough to have a spare room, which has served as an office for many incarnations of businesses over the years! I have always felt it was really important for me to be around and available for the kids. To be able to manage the school runs, dinner and homework was – and remains – a priority.

What is the biggest challenge?

Getting away and switching off! When it is your own business, it lives with you 24/7. Yes, I can make my own schedule, but it also means ultimate responsibility for every aspect of the business. Another challenge is managing the time zone difference and working with the US HQ. I often work into the night as their 9 – 5 is UK 2 – 10 pm! (Thanks goodness for Skype!)

What advice would you give other lone parents who want to start their own business?

Try and structure it so that you can get the home/work balance right. This is different for everyone, so I wouldn’t say definitely work form home – that worked for me and might not for others. It’s about finding a balance, keeping your priorities in order and finding/making time for fun!

What is your biggest fear as a lone parent?

I think my fear is no different than any parent, lone or not – I fear (quite a strong word) for the well-being of my children. My hope and goal is that they are healthy, happy and well adjusted. Academics are not a worry: if they feel they have done the best they can do, I am not concerned about the grades. Yes, it’s a challenge encouraging these things to happen on one’s own – but SO rewarding when you feel you’ve achieved them!

How do you think lone parents are generally viewed by society?

I feel lone parents are accepted much more than ever before.

“I was in a unique situation when I was growing up in that I was brought up in a lone parent family (by my father). I knew nothing else, so it seemed the normal way to be. On reflection, I suppose it was a novelty back then, as most lone parents were the mums, but lone parenting, either with the mum or dad has become much more the norm now, therefore much more accepted.”

Have you ever experienced any negativity as a single mum?

In all honesty, no I have not. I do think it has a lot to do with an attitude. I socialise a lot – even though I may be on my own a lot of the time. Walking into dinners or parties full of couples can, understandably, be intimidating for some. I guess I am lucky that I never really give it too much thought and am quite happy to do things independently. But having been brought up by my lone parent father, I learned a lot about independence – he never had an issue doing things without a partner. I was very fortunate. He was an amazing man who led by example!

Is it harder for lone parents to be self employed/entrepreneurs?

Absolutely. To be honest, it’s harder for lone parents generally. When you add on the necessity to have to work and earn a living it can be quite daunting, and exhausting! When you are responsible for children 24/7, it can be very overwhelming. Unfortunately I had very little support from my ex husband, therefore did not have anyone to share the burden. Working late into the night is the norm. Changing the laundry between Skype meetings and organising client meetings around school pick up is a challenge. But on the upside, I can kiss my kids goodnight every night!

Do you think there should be more help for single parents?

Yes. Schools should have the facility to offer more support both before and after school hours. The government should acknowledge the fact that single parents need flexible support. Also, from a corporate/business employer point of view, flexible hours and to enable employees to work remotely from home is really the way forward. Our company in the US employs predominately women – not a conscious choice – just the way things worked out. We offer flexible hours to all employees and have a very generous maternity package. I guess, as I have been through it, I appreciate what lone parents need and try my best to support that with my employees.

Are you a one off among your family/social circle or do you have lots of lone parent contacts/support network?

Sitting around a table the other night at a pub with five friends I have known since my children were born (18 yrs!), there was only one that was still married. I mentioned that observation at the time and we all agreed that we were very lucky that we had each other and a wonderful support network… “It takes a village to raise a child…” and all that. As I live in the UK and my family are in the US, I had no familial support with the children, so I’m very grateful for my “framily” (friends/family) here!

How do you split childcare/access etc? Was this easy to arrange?

I feel these are always tricky waters to navigate. Suffice to say, it is working out and the kids see their dad as and when they want and need, and always have.

Tell us more about your business?

Bananagrams is a family game that was invented by me, my parents and my children – three generations. My father and I were partners until his passing three and a half years ago. Since then I have been running all aspects of the business on my own. I am very lucky to have a wonderful team in the US that is incredibly supportive and innovative. The business has grown from one product to seven, from two employees to 24 and sells in 30 countries, in several languages! I have lived in the UK for 25 years now and run the business from my home in London. We are fortunate in that the company has enjoyed such huge success in a short time – just this week it was revealed that Bananagrams is Amazon UK’s best selling toy ever!



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About the Author

Kelly Rose Bradford

is a London-based journalist and broadcaster, writing for the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Sunday Telegraph, and a host of women's magazines. Her robust opinions and feisty debating skills make her in demand as a social commentator, regularly guesting on ITV's This Morning programme, and across many radio stations, including 5 Live and BBC Radio London.

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