Life + Work Balance :: Terrica Skaggs - Part I

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

wedding planner in savannah georgiaTerrica Skaggs is the owner of Fabuluxe Inc, an event planning firm in Georgia and the co-founder of iWed. She is more importantly a loving wife to her husband and mother to three young children, ages 6, 4 and 18 months. In this interview, she shares about balancing family and the demands of her company while working from a home office, and a husband who is away most of the time for his job.

What are the most difficult challenges you face in balancing your wedding planning company and family?

The ages of my kids make it hard. They are 6, 4 and 18 months and don't understand that you're home and working.  They don't realize that mommy's not just playing around on the computer, but that she is focused on something important.  To them, if you are there, it is for their benefit.  This took some time for my husband to realize, too.

It's also hard to make sure that the lines of work and home don't blur.  I've learned that I have to be very specific about how I spend my work hours. I don't do laundry during work hours anymore and I've learned to prioritize what can wait until afterwards.

With the kids being home, it's quite a challenge, especially considering I don't have outside studio space.  For me though, my work hours at home still have to be professionally maintained because clients don't care if you have one kid or 3000, if you're Angelina or Brad. They want what they want and they want it handled professionally.

Did you start out with boundaries in place or did they evolve? What boundaries have you implemented to help you balance your family with your work?

I didn't have any boundaries at first and I learned quickly that I need them.  It was too chaotic otherwise.  When I started my company, I had just had my daughter and we had just moved from Baltimore to Georgia.  So for the first year, I was commuting back and forth between Baltimore and Georgia in order to coordinate the weddings.  Now that I have my third child, we're rockstar status, and we have a system down.

I try really hard not to check email before 10 am.  I'll read it on my iphone sometimes, but I really try to stay out of my inbox before then.  I like to devote that time to my kids.  From 7:30 - 10 is focused on getting them ready for school or the day, brushing their teeth, getting breakfast, and playing together.  After that, they would go outside and play and because I had just spent a few hours with them, they didn't feel neglected when I sat down to work.  Then naptime rolls around which is awesome.

I knew that my kids needed something visual to know when I was working, so I made a little sign that hangs on my office door.  One side says "Mommy's at Work" and the other says "Mommy's Off".  If the Mommy's at Work sign is up, they know that they can come in, but they have to be very quiet, can only ask limited and important questions.  When the Mommy's Off sign is up, they know that they can come in and play and have my full attention.  It's also important for me to remember that this works both ways and that I need to give my kids the same respect they give me.  If the sign is flipped to Mommy's Off, I don't go look at the computer or pull files to work on.  That time is focused on my kids and they need to see that I respect them in that way.

Along with setting up office hours for me and my kids, I set up office hours for my clients and vendors.  I used to say "call me anytime" out of habit, but didn't really mean it - I was just being polite.  Some people really will call at any time however, so I learned that lesson.  I now say "feel free to call at anytime between" and then I give them a specific timeframe.  

It's really all about schedules.  Kids like routine and schedules - it creates familiarity and makes them feel safe.  So I really try to create schedules for the kids and for me and stick to them.  Dinner is promptly at 5:30 at bedtime is at 7:30.  In between is hanging out as a family and the "wind down" routine before bed.  My daughter announced yesterday just before bed that she was changing her name to Beyonce, and I said "Awesome, but Beyonce's bedtime is also 7:30."

The number one boundary I have is that I do not give out my personal address or phone number to anyone.  If you have kids or are even thinking about having kids, don't put your personal info online or in print.  I recently received a call on my unlisted home number at 10:30 in the evening from a woman who aspired to be a wedding planner.  When I answered, she said "oh my gosh, I can't believe I am actually talking to you! Please don't hang up!"  That incident was another reminder that people will go to great lengths to get what they want when they obsess about something.  I still have no idea how she found that phone number.  I do not know this woman and would not recognize her if I walked by her on the street.  I have no idea if she was just a fan or mentally unstable and if she showed up at my house, that could put my children in real danger.  It is not fair to put children in jeopardy over the relatively low cost of a mailbox or business phone line.

Your husband is overseas quite a bit for work, how have you learned to deal with him being away so much?

My husband's job has had him away for most of each year since my daughter was born, so it's regular business for us at this point.  When he is home on leave, I make sure that he knows the schedule beforehand so that he can adjust into it when he is home.  He is only home for 30 days at a time, so if he comes in and creates his own schedule, it throws the kids' schedule off and I have to start over with them.

Some people will disagree with this, but I also rarely take weekend or evening appointments to meet with clients or potential clients.  Since we are a one parent at home household most of the time, I don't have someone to watch them while I run to a meeting.  My parents are staying with us now, and that has been so helpful, but they are not available all the time.  I compare my job's time structure similar to a doctor's: if a client wants an appointment, they have to make time for it - either leave work a little early or meet at lunch or whatever. I cannot bend my schedule entirely around theirs.  During my off hours I am on call, and if the question is important, I will return a call that evening, but if it can wait until the next morning to answer, that is when it gets done.  If a client wants to talk about her dilemma of choosing between pintuck or bichon linens, then that can wait until the next morning.  If she needs to talk to someone at 10 pm about that matter, then I am not the planner for her.  My clients have been able to respect these boundaries and I haven't had any of them question them thus far.  

Before my parents moved down to Georgia, I would fly them in for my wedding weekends so they could watch the kids because I didn't really know many people whom I could entrust my kids with all day.  I also try really hard not to blur the lines of professionalism and I don't take my kids to appointments with me.  They say that you can have it all and wear both hats simultaneously, but really can you?  At my very core, I am a mother first, and the stress of whether or not my kids will behave or keeping an eye on them in case they fall will always take precedence in my mind over the work I need to be focusing on during an appointment.  If my parents aren't available to watch them, I'll drop the two younger kids off at a day care center for the appointment (my oldest is in school).  But even then, it is $25 per kid per day, which adds up quickly.  I find that many planners don't plan for these costs, and they really need to make sure that those real costs are built into their overall fee.

Check back later today for Part II of our conversation with Terrica. Become a Smart Planner by subscribing in a reader or via email so that you don't miss out on any of our future Life + Work Balance conversations.

{Photo by Anna and Spencer Photography}

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