A couple of months ago I posted on Instagram about some prep I was doing for an exciting meeting. The only hitch? I was nearing the end of my third trimester and needed to bring my toddler along with my then 35-week-pregnant-self in full glory.
But this wasn’t my first rodeo.
I’ve brought my son along to my fair share of typically professional events and experiences over the past couple of years including not very baby-friendly venues, pitching to seed investors, workshops, presentations and even interviewing for a corporate contract (which I’m proud to say I was offered!)
In this particular instance, I emailed the person I was meeting in advance to confirm I would be bringing an under two-year-old with me and suggested a morning time to suit his nap schedule. I had half expected her to suggest a conference call but instead, she booked a boardroom, told me where to park nearby (complete with map!) and that she’d even give me a pass on the way out so I didn’t have to pay for parking.
As I was heading to a part of the city I hadn’t been to before, I got up early that morning. My son and I had breakfast together, some play time and then I told him what we were doing and who we were going to visit as I packed his bag — clearly, it would only go more smoothly if I briefed him first?
My meeting supplies included:
- Nappies and wipes
- Snacks and a cup of water
- One of his favourite toys and a book to keep him occupied
- A change of clothes for him
- A notepad, pen and snack for myself
When we arrived (ahead of time!) the receptionist warmly welcomed us and let my son walk around her desk while the person we were meeting grabbed some foam balls for my him to play with. She took frequent breaks throughout our conversation to address my son’s questions and comments, and wrapped up the conversation in under 45 minutes before giving us a tour of their office, their glass lift (a toddler’s dream!) and then saw us out.
All in all, I’m happy to report it went well. I always try to remain calm to keep him steady in these kinds of situations but it really does make such a difference when you have an empathetic, patient and understanding person sitting across from you at the boardroom table. He wasn’t shy at all and that says a lot about how kind she was — I think he just felt comfortable in the space.
I’d like to say everyone would be as accommodating as she was but that, sadly, is outside of your control. But there are things you can do before bringing your babe or toddler along that can help make life a little easier:
Communicate in advance
Be up front. Ask your host if you can bring a child along with you — you may be surprised.
Depending on the circumstances, they’ll often go out of their way to accommodate your needs. Or if you’re anything like me, beg for forgiveness instead of asking for permission and plead ignorance at the door. In the unlikely event they turn you and your child away, you’ll have a story to share and — as you’ve already got your bags packed — you can just go to a park nearby and have some fun instead.
How will you get there?
Look up the easiest routes and/or closest parking — I often visit the venue in advance if I can in order to time the route and avoid looking flustered or arriving late.
Is the building accessible?
If you can’t bring a full-on baby buggy, then prepare to pack light! A nappy bag in backpack form can easily be worn with a baby carrier (depending on your child’s age) and will leave you less stressed and sweaty upon arrival.
Where can you change and/or feed your child?
You can download the NCT Babychange app if you’re in the UK. If you’re in another country, then it really depends on what the norm is. I have been in many business venues in Canada which have accessible toilets without a baby change table, leaving you with the option of changing a child on the floor/nearest park bench/back seat of your car.
But you really can change a child in most places if needs be. For privacy and safety’s sake though, look up nearby restaurants, department stores and other venues which may be more child-friendly and visit them before and after your meeting in order to avoid last-minute nappy change chaos.
Look after yourself
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve carried on talking as my baby spit up on me or as he not-so-quietly relieved some gas mid presentation. Human bodies are messy — bring extra clothes for yourself (as well as your toddler) and be sure the wipes are always at hand.
Same goes for your own snack and water. Don’t pack only for your kid and leave yourself starving! Getting out of the house, to the venue and back again can be a mentally and physically exhausting so bring supplies for yourself. And make sure you both take a break at the end of it all with a nice walk outdoors or a quiet nap at home.
Not everyone is used to seeing children in business settings. You may encounter odd looks or double takes. Hold your head high, smile, project confidence and hope they’re not staring at the stain on your top from that morning’s breakfast.
I recognise that poop explosions, snack supply shortages, cranky kids and general unpredictability are likely in the lead up to, during and after outings like this and I’m definitely learning as I go. But my son gets to see me growing as an individual, embracing challenges and bringing him along for the ride. I hope to continue building on these experiences as I build my business, because I believe parenthood and professional development don’t have to be mutually exclusive and that bringing baby into the boardroom will be key to any kind of gender equality in the workplace.