Lifestyle & Travel

Published on November 21st, 2013 | by Kelly Rose Bradford

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Lone Parents Mean Business: Victoria Hopkins

Victoria Hopkins heads up her three-generation family engineering business, Hopkins, which supplies catering equipment to trade customers. Victoria has been a single mum for seven years, and tells us about the challenges of combining a demanding career with parenting – but how she wouldn’t have it any other way!

When did you become a single parent?

I separated from my daughter Abigail’s dad seven years ago when she was six-months-old, and I have been on my own ever since.

Were you working at the time of your separation?

I was working part-time in the family business, but gradually increased my hours once Abigail started pre-school at three, and then I eventually returned full time.

How do you manage to juggle work with parenting?

It’s a challenge! At first I was consumed with perpetual guilt. If I was enjoying some time with Abigail then I felt I was neglecting the business… when I was working I worried I was neglecting her needs… I wasn’t of course, I was just being to hard on myself.

What are your home/work rules?

I have always insisted that I have a balance – I need to work, but I don’t let it compromise my role as a mother. I don’t work on the weekends she’s with me – it’s our time and we do lots of lovely things together. Occasionally I need to bend the rules if there is a work function I need to attend, but it’s the exception not the norm.

Have you done anything in particular to make the juggling act a bit easier? 

I made the decision to put Abigail into a small private school which is two minutes drive away from the factory. I live about an hour’s commute away so if she went to the local school where we live, it would be so much more difficult. Although it is a huge financial commitment, it means I can juggle the school run with my work schedule. I pick her up after school and she comes back to work with me – she has her own desk in my office and we will sit and do her homework and she will do little jobs for me, so we still get to spend time together, even though I’m working. And I’m very lucky that my parents help out too. I’m not sure I could do it without them.

What is/what has been the biggest challenge?

Letting go of the guilt and learning to ask for help (I’ve never been very good at the ‘asking for help’ thing!). I’ve learned to do both and it was the best thing I ever did.

How do you split childcare/access etc with your former partner? Was this easy to arrange?

Abigail’s dad lives in Liverpool and I live in Leeds. She goes over to stay with him every other weekend and he takes her on holiday for a week once a year. The rest of the time, the onus is on me. But I quite enjoy the time she’s with her dad – it gives me a chance to recharge my batteries and enjoy some ‘me time’.

What advice would you give other lone parents who want to start their own business, or like you, take on a demanding role in their current job?

Go for it! It won’t be easy, but you can mould your work life into something that suits you and your family. Remember there is no rule book. Make your own ground rules and stick to them. Between 5.00pm and 8pm or on days off I’m strictly not working. I don’t take calls and I don’t send/read emails unless it’s an absolute emergency.

Is it hard to make colleagues understand how tough it can be for working single parents?

My staff and business associates know my circumstances and respect it. Outside of work it is ‘Abigail and mummy time’ and they don’t impinge on it. It’s easy to let the business take over your life, but my primary role is as a mum.

What advice would you give to other lone parents?

It’s not always easy running your own business – the commitment is enormous. There’ll be times when you will be mentally, physically and emotionally drained and exhausted. There will be times when you ask yourself ‘what was I thinking?’, but the benefits outweigh the downsides, and being your own boss is incredibly liberating.

Depending  on the type of business you start, involve your kids wherever possible. When Abigail comes to work with me she often helps out – she’ll type emails for me or maybe open the post. She’s only seven so things take 20 times longer to do, but it makes her feel a part of it and she feels very grown up and important. I know it’s not conventional and some mothers may think I’m doing it wrong, but I don’t care. I’m making the best of my circumstances and if means we get to spend more time with each other then that’s great for us both. I couldn’t give a damn what the ‘other mothers’ think!

What is your biggest fear as a lone parent?

That something may happen to me and my daughter will be left without a mummy. All the other challenges I can cope with.

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

I once saw a Facebook status that blamed all the problems of society on single parents. I’ve never read anything so utterly ridiculous.

“There is definitely still a stigma attached to being a lone parent, but I do think that the majority of people understand that the dynamics of the traditional family unit have changed and are more accepting of parents raising children on their own”.

Have you ever experienced any negativity as a single mum?

No – never. Quite the opposite – I get a lot of praise and respect. When people find out I run a business and bring up Abigail alone, although sometimes they’re shocked, they always tell me that I do an amazing job and that my daughter is a credit to me. I know that sounds very self righteous, but so what! It can be bloody hard work and if people want to give me a pat on the back for it, then I’m happy to let them!

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

I don’t think it’s any different – and if anything, perhaps it’s easier. I do miss the support sometimes, it would be nice if after a hard day I had someone to take care of my needs instead of me taking care of everyone else’s needs – but I suppose that goes for single parents no matter what job they do!

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

I’ve never really needed any help as such, but it’s definitely a struggle financially – I don’t think the tax credit system supports lone parents who work. We don’t get benefits or tax breaks and we only have one income to cover household expenditure and the cost of raising our children. I definitely think we’re penalised and it really frustrates me. I also think employers need extend a little bit more flexibility to lone parents too.

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

At first it was just me – but over the past couple of years I’ve seen a lot of my friends’ relationships break down and they’ve found themselves single parents too. Most of them now have other partners – it’s just me who is a dedicated singleton!

Tell us more about your business?

My granddad started the business in 1957, so it has been established in the family for over 50 years. It’s only been in the last year or so that I have taken over from my dad, and now I run the company. We employ 54 staff and have an approximate turnover of £4million. We get involved in all sorts of engineering projects, but primarily we sell industrial catering equipment to the food service industry. We also manufacture fish & chip frying ranges which we ship and install worldwide.

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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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