I’ve gained some insights into the above the extra hard way, parenting three kids whilst running a few small businesses simultaneously.
So what I’m going to share today are not your usual lessons of time management, business structure, and self-help because I think we can all agree that finding the balance between parenting and soloism go beyond those things.
It’s more about the blood, sweat and tears of loving kids you don’t always have time for.
It’s about feeling torn between ambition and responsibility in and out of the home.
And it’s about identity.
I mean, who AM I? The person picking Lego bits out of the carpet before I vacuum and then make the organic dairy-free coconut icecream for the birthday party? Or am I the person negotiating partnerships, speaking at workshops, getting some bit of writing ready for a deadline, and then reading Gerald and Piggie books before I have to do twenty-five loads of laundry and make ten school lunches (only a very slight exaggeration)?
These kinds of questions are relevant especially if you are a woman in business, but it equally applies to dedicated fathers who live the truth that fatherhood is more than being a provider, in the office day after day.
So here are some strategies I’ve found very helpful, and some insights that have gotten me through the dark days. Dare I say, they fill me with light and joy when moving forward into work-life territories that are poorly charted at best.
1. Focus on your strengths
It goes without saying that you are stronger and more effective when you play to your strengths – although we all know that in the beginning, business owners tend to do it all themselves, especially solopreneurs. But don’t let doing it all become a lifestyle choice.
I love Sally Hogshead’s “fascination advantage” assessment tool on how the world sees you. Unlike personality tests such as Myers-Briggs, this tool captures your strengths regarding how you can work to your advantage in how others perceive you, and by extension, where you have the most influence. I’m a visionary, big picture kinda gal. Learning about and accepting my strengths was quite validating. It relieved guilt, internal conflict, and empowered me to focus on what I’m good at. I gave myself permission to do business my way, focusing on strategy, vision and inspiring others. It also gave me permission to find others with different skill sets to do the tasks that are not my forte, which brings me to my next point.
Do so because your strengths are what drive your business, not your weaknesses. If you’re wondering what to outsource, start with your weaknesses. It frees up time that you can spend with your kids AND it reduces the frustration of doing stuff you don’t like – i.e. doing stuff which would makes you a grumpy parent! You get more time, in a better frame of mind! Win-win.
I have a habit of asking myself: what do I need to do regarding this task or idea? Do I need to be the one who does it? Is it the best use of my limited time? Who else could do it, and do it better? If my biggest advantage is strategy and vision, and getting systems in place, then I am not doing anyone anyfavours by spending hours on social media, maintaining databases, etc. I’m especially not doing my children any favours and they’re the ones who will notice (and complain) when I become frustrated and grumpy.
Delegating doesn’t have to cost the earth. There are freelancers out there who will do any number of things for reasonable prices, and many online tools that are free or very cheap that can help hugely with keeping business running and growing. From Upwork for freelancers, to Canva for banners, and everything in between.
3. Get your kids involved – create a family culture that supports entrepreneurship.
Not only is it great for your kids to get a sense of what’s possible in their own life, but it aids them in having empathy for you. It’s about putting your life in context for them, and taking the edge off the times you are just NOT available.
I’m taking my 12 year old son to an entrepreneurial event this weekend, and partly, yes, it’s because I’d rather have a laugh with him then be all alone spewing out my elevator pitch to strangers who are pitching theirs. But, even more important, this kid sees me working all the time, as in around the clock, blurry eyed and overtasked. The inevitable parental outburst (mine!) normally involves an element of “I have so much to do, just give me a moment!” – to which he and his siblings are mostly uncomprehending and ever more demanding.
The laptop screen that sits between my face and those of my inquiring children doesn’t offer them much in the way of clarity about what I’m doing day after day as domestic life erupts in chaos around me.
Understanding the ‘why’ of my existence may not change my kids’ frustration, but it helps to create a family culture in which passion for work give us all permission to live on the edge, to become consumed, be fulfilled, and to create an income. So I talk to them about my businesses. I get them involved, from asking their opinions (see below), to taking them to meetings and workshops, to telling them about MY day as well as asking about THEIRS. They are 12, 10, and seven, and they all know what it means to think outside the box and pursue their interests and goals themselves.
At the moment, for my 10-year-old daughter, this means scouring the internet for kittens for sale. For my seven-year-old, it’s about waking me up at six am as he cleans the mirrors in my room, announcing that he’s earning extra pocket money (and naming his rates!). For my pre-teen, it’s about going to a convention with me, learning firsthand what this marketing stuff is all about beyond his know-it-all-ness on YouTube monetisation (“You should be a YouTuber, mum, they make millions!”).
As I hinted above, kids are pretty tech savvy and can be great advisors. They have opinions about social media, the usability of online tools, and much more. Listen to them—listen to yours. They are the consumers of the future (after they’ve consumed you bare!)
4. When it comes to having a break, get outdoors with your children!
A lot has been written about the need to take a break, and it’s never more true than when you are running your own show and working odd hours, often late, in order to accommodate family life. Research shows that taking time out, having a break throughout the day just to disconnect from work and have mental space – actually refreshes you. Your brain is more active when the mind wanders, meaning that unplugging for a short while is far from ‘doing nothing,’ as in fact, the synapses are constantly working. You are much more likely to have a ‘sudden inspiration’ after a break.
If you’re going to take a break, then the best kinds are those involving nature and sunlight, to get rid of those negative ions (especially necessary when you’re surrounded by technology).
Having kids is a great excuse to stop, breathe, and go outside. Just sitting on the grass or at the beach is restorative. You get time with your kids and more juice to power your next bout of work.
5. Give yourself permission to do things your way
The biggest struggle personally I have faced in business is the pressure to conform to norms and expectations – those of being a woman, a mother, and a businessperson – which seem to be three different categories of humans, leaving me feeling slightly unidentified, since I am usually tottering around from box to box, none of which fit me neatly.
I want to be with my children after school, bake cookies and watch Modern Family, and I want to build and run a business successfully. Others who work in the online and startup space are mostly men, and mostly work long hours at the office, and this seems to be ‘what success looks like,’ which doesn’t match my vision for myself, and can leave me feeling isolated, misunderstood, and insecure. I find too often at social business events that I just don’t know what to say, because clearly I am many things to many people, and sometimes even to myself (and at worst, I am constantly morphing from one role to another).
I have had, alas, no huge revelation, no grand moment of validation and clarity about who I am. Rather, over time, as I just live my life the way I have to, constraints, mothering, ambition, and all, I have come to accept that this is just MY way of living, parenting, and working. There is no ONE way.
The entire manner in which we as a society are evolving work life is changing so rapidly that I doubt any norm will last very long. Online business and remote work have created so many opportunities that didn’t exist before. I think I am just at the forefront of new wave of entrepreneurs demanding more of their careers and family life. There really is NO single path to successfully balancing it all, which confers as much freedom as it does uncertainty. What it means, in the end, is that I create a new path every single day, and it is MY path.
As should we all.
What does your path look like?