The number one question I am asked, from style advice to business tips, in some form or another, is “how did you start your business when you had little kids at home?” Most of the women who ask me this aren’t wondering the actually steps, because they are the same with our without kids. I wrote a plan (kind of), set up a business entity, built a website and hustled. What they are really wondering is how I handled the guilt, the unknown, and the crazy ups and downs.
Whether you are trying to build a business, or are in the midst of career growth, “balancing” our professional lives with motherhood feels almost impossible. I am far from perfect. I have my moments for sure, but I also have some tips and perspectives that help through even the toughest times.
I was newly pregnant with Maddie when I quit my job and started Kristel Closet. It was, without a doubt, the smartest and dumbest decision I ever made. The first several years were rough, to say the least. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious and guilt-ridden. Luckily, I learned a few lessons along the way. Please share your thoughts and experiences below in the comments!
1. View access to childcare as a privilege.
Because for so many women, this is the number one barrier to entry. Without proper, safe childcare, many women are unable to pursue their dreams, whether they want to work in corporate or start a business of their own.
My parents were instrumental in the early years of the business because they stepped in and watched our girls regularly. This was particularly useful when they were babies and not yet in preschool. I was able to focus on work knowing they couldn’t have been in better hands. I didn’t want to leave them, but I had to change my mindset to focus on the positive. Once they were in preschool, I tried to focus on how much fun they were having with their friends, and that they were surrounded by loving and kind teachers.
Years later, I realized that their exposure to so many different people at such a young age, helped them grow into confident, articulate little ladies. So as much as I wanted to be around them 24 hours a day, my absence didn’t ruin them, our relationship, or their ability to function in the world.
2. Work as if failure is not an option.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish, how brave you can be, and how hard your hustle will become if you go at everything as if failure was not an option. For me, if I failed, I would take my family down with me. See? Not an option. This thought drove me every day. It helped me get out of my own way, stay focused and never give up. So even if I had a small failure (and I had lots of them), I never viewed it as the end, I just created a new strategy for success.
3. Carefully select your friends.
I don’t mean to feed into the mommy wars here, but I’m here to tell you they exist and can be painful on either side. Every working mother has heard things like, “I just couldn’t leave my baby all day!” or “It’s nice you’re okay leaving her, it would be too hard for me.” And, I am sure, stay at home moms have heard equally condescending comments from working moms. I’ve always tried to practice the idea that we’re all in this together, and have to do what’s best for our families. That doesn’t mean, though, that comments like that don’t sting, and that I didn’t spend a 45-minute drive into the city sobbing because I thought I was a terrible mother.
Starting your own business adds a layer to this narrative. Not everyone is going to think your idea is brilliant, many won’t understand, and heaps with be jealous that you have the ability to go for it, which is why it is so important to find other mothers who speak your language. I found it didn’t matter if my friends were professionals or not. You just need to find your mom friends who get you. Once you do that, you not only have the emotional support system you need but also a safe community for your kids.
4. Know you are going to give up a lot.
All entrepreneurs give up a great deal in the beginning. There is a ton of upfront sacrifice when you start a business, and it’s frankly, not any fun. You might skip vacations (we did), and nights out (yup). More than that, you will likely not have the same as some of your friends. I remember early in the business when many of our friends were moving into their big single family, new construction homes in the suburbs. For as much as I never cared to keep up with the Jones, I was dying inside. We were living in a tiny house, with two active toddlers, and we were bursting at the seems. But we knew we didn’t want to risk over-leveraging and needed a little more time to build up our financial foundation. Even though we were smart and practical, I felt like an epic failure, especially for the girls.
Fast forward ten years later, I would do it all over again to have what we have now. Because of our patience and diligence, we were able to turn that tiny home into an investment property, bought a fantastic forever home and have traveled extensively with our kids. Be okay with temporary sacrifice for the life you want for you and your children. Not only will it all work out, but it will likely exceed your expectations.
5. Put the kids first.
This is both a mindset tip and daily practice. Remembering why you are doing what you are doing is how you will get through the tough times. I would look at my girl’s shiny little faces sleeping at night and feel both terrified and resolved in my decisions. They deserved the best from me. Knowing the why – the kids – propelled me forward.
Practically speaking I did, and still do, little things to make sure they know they are our number one priority. For example, my husband and I both have regular dates with them. Something as simple as a trip to Starbucks, or just taking one of them to Target for some uninterrupted time together makes all the difference. We have dinner as a family, with no technology just about every night, and we’ll go out to dinner once a week to elevate some of the stress around cooking and clean up. On their birthdays, one day around the holidays, and one day in the summer after school lets out; we have a whole day with each of them. We call them “day dates.” It doesn’t make up for the time we are gone, but it does communicate that they are the most important people in our lives.
6. Celebrate your victories together.
Perhaps my most important piece of advice is, once your kids are old enough, talk to them about what you are doing. Even though my business is very much my gig, and my husband has his own career, we view it as a family business. Since my girls were little, I would tell them what I was doing, who I was working with and why it was important. Today, at ten and seven, they don’t know any different. I know I am teaching them work ethic by example. But more than that, they feel equally invested in the business. They understand the importance of its success and that the more you work and nurture something, the better is becomes. So when something positive happens, I share it with everyone, and I can see their genuine excitement.
Just yesterday, Mothers Day, I was laying in bed opening their school-made gifts. Ava handed me one of those All About My Mom cards. You know, the ones where they think you’re still in your twenties, that your favorite store is Target and that “mom likes wine” at the end of the day. This year, there was a new question: What is your favorite memory with your mom?
Ava’s answer: Her store opening party.
That was it. It was all I needed. I didn’t mess them up; they don’t hate me. They are happy, kind, resilient kids who best of all are proud of me. I couldn’t ask for more.
So if you are in the midst of the crazy, unpredictable journey that is entrepreneurship, or if you are working insane hours at a job to get to the next level, don’t give up. Believe in yourself, believe in your dreams, know you are a great mom, and that one day those little buggers are going to tell you just how proud they are of you.
It will be all worth it in the end.