Whether you are trying to build a business, are in the midst of career growth, or going back to work after maternity leave, “balancing” our professional lives with motherhood, especially with babies and toddlers at home, feels almost impossible. I was newly pregnant with Maddie, who turns 11 in April, when I quit my steady, decent paying job and started my first company.
In my first three years of business, I had two babies, and it was rough. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious, guilt-ridden and had no idea what I was doing – at work and home.
Now that my kids are older, I look back on that time and realize just how hard it was. Hard, but not impossible. With some planning and perspective, you can do both without going crazy.
Here are a few ways we pulled off the impossible, built a long-standing business and didn’t mess up our kids that badly … yet.
Get Rid of Childcare Guilt
My parents were instrumental in the early years of the business because they stepped in and watched our girls regularly. This was a gift, especially in the years before they were old enough to go to preschool. It allowed me a few uninterrupted hours of work knowing my kids were in the best possible care. Once they were old enough, they went to full-time preschool.
Of course, I had epic guilt in both scenarios, but you have to adjust your perspective so you can be productive. When they were with my parents, I would remind myself how fortunate they were to spend that kind of time with their grandparents. And at school, they were having a blast and making a ton of friends.
Years later, it’s easy to see how unscathed they are. They have a beautiful relationship and tons of memories with my parents and 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.
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 failing was not an option. This thought drove me every day and still does. 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 small and big failures all the time), I never viewed it as the end, I just created a new strategy for success. If you take on this philosophy, you’ll be amazed how quickly you get things done and how fast you’ll reach your goals.
Carefully Select Your Friends
I don’t mean to feed into the mommy wars, 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 sit on a flight flying somewhere to see a client, 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 will be jealous that you’re brave enough 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 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.
You are Going to Give Up A Lot
All entrepreneurs give up a great deal in the beginning. There is a ton of upfront sacrifices 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 Joneses, I was dying inside.
It’s hard not to use your friends as a barometer of where you “should” be in life. We were living in a tiny house, with two active toddlers, and we were bursting at the seams. 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.
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 genuinely believe my decision to work is the best choice for our family and I’m passionate about showing our girls by example that women are capable of anything. So when I have days when I want to give up, which are often, I remind myself of my “why.”
When I refocus and not make it about me, it’s easier to get back on track.
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 alleviate 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.
Follow Your Own Rules
Stop comparing your family to others. Everything looks easier when you’re looking from the outside in, but everyone is dealing with something. No family is perfect, and no one has this all figured out.
Once you realize that you have autonomy over your life, you’ll gain control and feel confident in your choices. You also free up a lot of much-needed headspace and will feel a weight lifted.
Be Transparent and 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. Explain to them why you work, what you do, and how it helps your family. Even though my business is very much my gig, and my husband has his 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.
At this point in their lives, 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 it becomes.
So when something positive happens, I share it with everyone, and I can see their genuine excitement.
Take Care of Yourself First
My advocacy of self-care stems from how little care I took of myself when my girls were babies. I didn’t have maternity leave, I ignored my mental health and because I had a slim frame thanks to good genes, I also ignored my fitness for years. Eventually, it caught up to me and showed up in all kinds of negative ways in every aspect of my life.
Self-care doesn’t mean a full day at the spa (though that helps too). It’s as simple as a bath before bed, 10 minutes sipping a cup of tea and reading, or going to a cardio class for 45 minutes.
It’s also not being so tough on yourself and monitoring your internal dialog. We all have days when we wish we accomplished more or weren’t the mothers we want to be. Don’t beat yourself up. Even on your worst day, you’re still doing more than most.
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, or if you just kissed your baby goodbye at daycare drop off, 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.