Welcome to our series of ‘Real Stories’ where we provide a snapshot into the personal lives of working parents in the hope that their experiences can help others who are interested in taking a similar path. In this short candid interview we sat down with Sarah Nutolo (Global Head of Talent, Culture and Inclusion at Reckitt) to discuss her journey as a new working parent to twins and also about some of the challenges and how she navigated them with her partner during the transition.

My name is Sarah Nutolo, and I was born and raised in Italy in a very traditional and humble South Italian family established in the North of the country during the ‘60s.

Unfortunately, nothing came easy in my youth, and things got even tougher for the family when my mum lost her job when I was a teenager. This was the defining moment where I chose a career in HR. I didn’t know exactly what HR was back then, but I thought that there were better ways to treat people rather than leaving them outside of closed factory gates from evening to morning. I decided that I would have never passively accepted what life brought to me.

My mum truly hoped I would work as an accountant to contribute to the family’s budget, which aligned more with the family’s needs and their idea of a woman’s career, but after high school I had other plans. I went to the top ranked private university in Italy, winning a scholarship every year to pay for the tuitions, and I did brilliantly in my studies before starting a career at Danone.

I started in Talent Acquisition and Learning & Development, then I moved to the second largest biscuit factory of the Danone group in Europe – a tough and highly unionised environment where I ended up living in a 1000 people village, next to the factory, having lunch and dinner in the canteen every day so I could see people from the three shifts every day. I then went to the head office to become the HR BP of the company. When Kraft acquired the biscuit business of Danone I decided to go to Milan and begin a new experience in Compensation & Benefits. After a while, I left Kraft to join Reckitt and since then I’ve been in 7 different roles in 3 different countries, and I am now back in my home country.

I met my husband in my 30s, we married in my 40s and after a year we decided to go through IVF, which resulted in my baby girls, Aurora and Bianca, who were born in February 2021. Our family routine is quite complex as my husband works away from home 3 days a week and we don’t live close to our families.

In your experience, what have been some of the key challenges to being a working parent to twins?

Despite having managed challenges throughout my life, nothing compares to being a first-time parent to two children. The psychological weight of having someone who fully depends on you plus the fear of doing things wrong despite all the theory I studied and the books I’ve read has been very confronting. Like many parents, there is also a spiral I’ve fallen into: for a parent to go back to work, babies need to go to the nursery; by being at the nursery, children are often home sick, you need to take care of them, and you cannot go to work. The constant feeling of failure is also something that never leaves me alone and I’m therefore trying to normalise failure. Nobody dies if the twins go to the nursey and their outfits don’t match! 😃

How have you managed to overcome these?

The key word is organisation. Managing twins can be incredibly tough if you are not organised. It starts with your house: make sure the space is organised so that you can manage the babies together or alone if needed. For instance, by having two changing table next to each other. If you breast-feed or bottle-feed them, look into how to do it simultaneously to save time. Ensure you have the right quantity of supplies (nappies, food, baby products, …) available right when and where you need them. It will help you when you are in an emergency (and there is always one, believe me 😃) Prepare to always be a step ahead of their day. If they just had breakfast, you already need to be thinking about their lunch because you cannot just come nearer the time and not have it organised.

Needless to say, support is key, whether it is from family or friends or just someone you employ.

What resources or sources of support would you recommend to those preparing to have a family? Are there any specific resources regarding twins?

There are many resources available, but there are two that I found incredibly useful. The first is an exercise for you to imagine how your day will be once you have babies. Take a circle, divide it in 24 even parts and start colouring the parts related to sleep, to eat, to play, etc. At the end, discuss it with someone you trust. It helps a lot to understand what the future will look like and for you to start picturing yourself in it.

The second resource that twins demand is organisation: whether you decide to breastfeed or not, by the babies’ will or at fixed timings, your life will now be controlled by schedules. Keep items in the same place so you can find them in the middle of the night when you are sleepy should you need it. Have a meal planner so you know what you are going to eat and can buy groceries accordingly. Most importantly, stop saying “I’ll do it later” as later might not be in the exact timeframe of your previous life 😊

What role do you think managers have in supporting working parents?

As allies, managers have a key role to play. Working parents carry an additional burden that can be reduced by allowing for flexibility that in turn supports them and allows them to perform their best. My manager pointed me to my mentor to help me face the return to work. My manager is supportive of me at every step of the way. She understands the importance of flexibility and has made sure I have the right environment to perform at my best and I’m incredibly grateful for this.

What conversations have you had that have been key to helping you successfully manage the transition to parenthood?

My partner has a child from a previous marriage, so he was somewhat clear about what we were about to face, despite the added complexity of having two tenants. He has been a great source of help for me, even in the present where I still strive for perfection and get frustrated with myself when I fall short. Talking to friends who became parents also helped me – I remember a conversation with a friend who gave me the below advice and truly allowed me to come back to work without unnecessary stress.

What advice did you or would you have wanted to receive as a parent expecting tis?

There are a few different things I figured out pretty quickly, and some I have received from others. I truly recommend the following to any new parent:

1. Ask for help. Whether it is to a friend, a colleague, another parent, or your own parents, asking for help is always a good thing. If it works, you receive relief; if it doesn’t, at least you have let a bit of steam out. In my experience, every time I’ve reached out to someone, I’ve always found help, comfort and a loving hand ready to catch me. I cannot thank my mentor enough, who truly gave me loads of tips and tricks.

2. Change is everywhere in your life when you become a new parent, especially of twins. Control the change you can control and concentrate your energy on the change that you cannot. I enrolled the kids in nursery 2 months before I actually went back to work. In those 2 months I got familiar with their constant sickness, the symptoms, the first aid care, the hospital route, the paediatrician and all the learnings you need and that would have been so stressful if you had a job to re-start at the same time.

3. Be very clear on defining the time you need to protect. Whether it is breakfast, dinner or bath time, make sure you are clear on what your priorities and your non-negotiables are. Fight hard to push back meetings that come to you in that protected time, no matter what.

Sarah Nutolo  Global Head of Talent, Culture and Inclusion at Reckitt