It’s no secret that it’s tough being a parent. And everyone knows how hard it is to launch and run a business. And even with the best partner in the world (and mine is!), it’s a challenge to be what your community thinks is a “good mom” while running your own business.
I’d love to not care if other people think I’m a “good mom.” But I do. For myself and for my kiddo. For the record, I think I’m doing a pretty good job – my son is awesome.
Building a business is both fulfilling to me and crucial for our family finances, so I have to find a way to make it work for us. Because of the nature of my husband’s job, I’m the primary parent during the week – I’m the one the school calls, I’m the one that has to handle all the appointments, I’m the one who gets the boy ready in the morning, I’m the one who helps with homework, and I’m the one who drives him to martial arts in the afternoon. I know lots of you reading can relate.
I hear and read debates all the time about a life and work balance. How you can have it all if you’re smart about it. How you can’t have it all and balance is impossible. How you can have it all but not at the same time. I think that last one is closest to the truth. And as work-intensive as it is, I think that building your own business is the best way to get there.
In all honesty, at the writing of this post, I’m still building my business. I’m not yet where I want to be. I have all this experience and knowledge from my corporate days, and I’m learning more every day about business ownership. I’m moving forward every day though, helping other women achieve their dreams, and that’s wonderfully satisfying.
I’m also able to be home when my son hops off the bus. I used to think that being with him was important when he was little. But I’m thinking it’s even more important now, as he grows up. These kids need adults around and need guidance all through their lives, just different guidance at different stages.
Here are some of the hardest challenges I’ve faced and what I’m doing about them.
Realizing you’ll never get as much done as you think you will
Now, I had this problem even when I was childless and single. I have always tended to over-book myself. If it seems like a spare moment is looming there in the future, I rustled up a project or two to fill it. My brother and sister (also business owners) are the same way, so I doubt I can escape it.
However, when you really do have two huge tasks competing for priority, you have to pick one and name it. Otherwise, you’ll be scheduling conflicts all over the place. For me, family is my priority, with my business a close second. Just by saying that aloud, decisions about how to spend my time become clearer.
When I’m making task lists for my business, I make sure to put the most important tasks of the day first, and I limit those as much as possible. I then have a running list of tasks to get done. If I finish the must-do tasks, then I grab a task from the running list. Still, every day, I think I’m going to get so much more done than I really do.
The two keys to making this work is figuring out what tasks are really crucial, and properly scheduling client projects. I usually have one or two crucial tasks for my own business, and I do those first. Next, I try to add in one important client or follow-up task. That’s it. If I only do those each day, my business will move forward, even if it’s slow.
I still tend to be too optimistic about client work – I’m great about how much actual work time is required, but I under-estimate the time needed for approvals and discussions and emails. Finally, I’ve looked back at some recent projects, not just for hours worked, but I’ve taken a hard look at actual calendar time. I wrote up some guidelines to follow for different tasks, and it seems to be working. If I properly schedule client work, I rarely have a day when I’m scrambling on a client project for a tight deadline.
On the parenting front, I can only do so much. I remember signing up for every field trip, every service project at school, every volunteer opportunity (except room mom – I know that’s not me!). It nearly killed me. Everything was at weird different times and days of the week, and I never had time to focus on work.
Now, I ask my son what’s important to him. I show up for those events. Those are the ones I need to care about! Usually, I pick one or two volunteer jobs throughout the year instead of all of them. I was brave and told our parent-run Scouts group that I could take one job and only one job. I do the things that bring me closer to my son, and have dropped the rest. I’m much happier that way.
Constant changes to your plans
Be very careful when you plan something big for your business. You know, like a product launch, a client website migration, or world domination or something like that. On the morning of kickoff day, the school nurse will call for you to come get your child – the latest victim of the crud that’s going around school. That crud will require a doctor’s visit (in case it’s strep) and will require you to constantly attend your child. It seems to be a law of the universe or something.
On the launch day for a client site, while getting ready for school, my son stepped on a deer antler (dog chew toy) that was left on the floor. He sliced open his foot, but I couldn’t tell how bad it was at first. I had recently had surgery and was on crutches, and we schlepped up to the pediatrician’s early morning walk-in clinic. They sent us on to the emergency room, where the nurses looked at me, then at the boy, then asked to hear our story again and again. I guess they eventually believed us, because they finally stitched him up and let us go. We were home around 1:00pm.
You can really only be mentally prepared for this sort of interruption. There are too many eventualities to be 100% prepared for each one. Know ahead of time – Which tasks can be dropped? What childcare options are there? What food delivery service is easiest? What time is your spouse (if you have one) going to be home from work?
It should be very rare, but there are going to be times when you have to re-arrange your tasks and work during previously scheduled family time.
Generally, on days with client launches or deadlines, I switch things up and do the client work first, right after my son leaves for school. That way, the launch gets done, even if the school calls mid-morning.
Family members expecting you to do errands or tasks since you’re on your own time
I find that because right now, my business is me plus contractors when needed, I’m busier than when I was at my corporate job. Although I could take a break and run to the drug store to pick something up, it’s often inconvenient. And I can’t do it every day. It’s disruptive. But that’s tough for others to understand.
Fortunately, this isn’t really a problem in my family, but I know it’s a problem for a lot of work at home business owners. My solution was to ask for enough notice so that I can “bundle” errands. It’s so much easier – keep a running list and do them all at once so that you’re not interrupted every single day.
Separating home and work, when you work from home
I struggle with separating home and work. Even though I have a home office, I tend to do a lot of work in the living room or at the kitchen table. It’s all too easy to hop up and throw a load of laundry in the wash. But then that turns into more chores and “one more little thing.” For some people, the availability of Netflix right there in your living room is too tempting.
And then in the evening, when you want to have family time, the call of checking email can ruin conversations. Finishing up that last task is easy when your laptop is on the kitchen island, when instead you’re supposed to be helping with homework.
If you do have a home office, shutting that door and staying in there can help – at least you can’t see the dishes in the sink or the TV in the living room. You can also leave your work computer in your office after your official “go home” time. There are many strategies, but you have to find what’s going to keep work and home lives separate for you, or you’ll compromise both.
I promise I’m not complaining!
I’m not complaining about the challenges of building a business while being a hands-on, in-the-trenches parent. I wouldn’t change a bit of it. Instead, I want to spell out some of the big challenges so that if you’re facing the same ones, you know you’re not alone. I want you to know that even tough problems have solutions. Don’t give up. If you can look back over your month and know you’ve made some progress, and your kids are alive and mostly happy, you’re kicking ass and should be proud about it.
You're a business-owning mom, so you use this guide to prioritize your tasks in 2 minutes, and have 41 minutes left to knock out a task.