There are a lot of similarities between parenting and entrepreneurship.
Think about it—both are incredibly high-stress endeavors with irregular hours that, most of the time, garner little to no credit for those who undertake them. You’re constantly managing difficult personalities and both can be a real drain on your bank account. Plus, everyone always seems to have an opinion on how you’re doing it wrong and why their way is right.
Both parenting and entrepreneurship can be overwhelming, round-the-clock pursuits. That’s why combining the two can seem like a completely insane choice. It can feel unfairly binary; you either run a business or you raise a family, but you can’t have both.
Fortunately, that’s not the way it has to be. There are millions of successful entrepreneurs out there who also happen to be devoted and loving parents. It can be difficult juggling the two, but it’s not impossible. In fact, as we’ll get into later, it’s actually far more common than you might expect.
Don’t worry, I’m not here to tell you the best way to raise a family. Full disclosure: I’m woefully unqualified in this area. But here at Foundr, we talk to plenty of entrepreneurs who very successfully manage to balance family with business. We’ve also learned a thing or two about managing stress and creating healthy work-life balance. And I’ve gathered up here some of the best info around on how people out there are able to strike a successful balance.
So in recognition of all the amazing parents out there, who either have their own businesses or are working hard to launch them, here are some ways you can find time to be both a great entrepreneur and great parent.
Accepting What You Can’t Change
As anyone raising a child and running a business knows, or anyone expecting to can predict, it’s not easy. The simple math is tough.
Even a “regular” day can be a delicate tightrope act where you’ll struggle to find the right balance between the two. And that’s not even counting extenuating circumstances like someone getting sick or something getting botched at work.
One important lesson that applies to both areas of life is learning to take setbacks in stride.
Entrepreneurs raising families will often report feeling so overcome with stress that they feel they’ve failed at both, falling prey to some of the games our brains like to play with us when times are tough.
It’s hard to admit when family is involved, especially for us ambitious overachievers, but it’s important to learn to let go of perfection.
“We’re all balancing as best we can and trying not to drop the balls. But my message is the balls WILL drop. Acknowledging this has been the most liberating realization I’ve ever had.” – Tracy Moore, host of CityLine.
Just like there’s no such thing as a perfect entrepreneur, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent!
Yes, crises will happen, and there may be moments when it’ll feel like you’re not doing a good job. But when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, you’ll realize that you’re not actually doing too badly after all.
Just like in business, stumbles are a part of life, and once you happily accept that fact, you’ll be able to focus on getting the job done, whether it’s playing with your kids, or figuring out what your next product is.
“When it’s tough you’ve got to keep going. As a parent, you’ve got a lot of struggles. You just have to stick with it and you just get better.” – Emma Twist, founder and CEO of Squeaky Clean.
How to Find the Time
One thing we harp on all the time at Foundr is that an entrepreneur’s most precious resource is their time and energy. When you’re the founder of a growing startup, you’re in charge of everything, and the business lives or dies by where you direct your time and effort.
A lot of entrepreneurs complain about how they wish they just had more time in their day, and finding a proper work-life balance is hard enough without a growing family.
But sometimes it turns out all you really need is proper time management and a clear sense of priorities. In fact, many people find that having constraints placed on their time actually forces them to adapt and thrive.
It’s a common pitfall for entrepreneurs to work incredibly hard on their startups and set aside whatever might be leftover to their personal lives, almost as an afterthought, and expect to have a good work-life balance.
In fact, it takes proactive attention in order to prioritize both, otherwise one will naturally dominate. According to a 2013 study by Pew Research Center on working families, 46% of fathers and 23% of mothers reported feeling like they don’t spend enough time with their children, with 50% of fathers and 56% of mothers reporting that juggling work and their family life is difficult for them.
A lot of entrepreneurs will burn themselves out at work so that when they get home they don’t have time to relax or do the things that are important to them. They’ll schedule all their effort and energy into work and assume that when they get back home they’ll have the energy to do what they want.
Here’s an alternative: Start treating your personal life like it’s a job and your family as if they’re important clients.
It might sound silly, and you don’t want to treat them like clients in every respect. But once you start thinking of your personal life with this kind of mentality, you’ll actually start managing your time and energy much more effectively.
Making sure to spend more time with your family can actually make you a better entrepreneur because it forces you to prioritize and manage your time better. A 2003 study by the Family and Work Institute found that the 32% of executives in the study who reported placing the same priority on family and life, actually felt more successful at work, had less stress and were much better at managing their time and workloads.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and the same could be said about startups. You’ll never see a successful business built entirely by just one person.
The reason is simple: You can’t do everything by yourself, it’s literally impossible to do so. That goes double when you become a parent.
Yet, oddly enough, one of the hardest things for any entrepreneur to do is learning how to relinquish control. When you’ve built a startup from the ground up, it can feel uncomfortable delegating tasks to someone else, as necessary as it may be.
For your business, consider hiring a virtual assistant to help you out with the mundane tasks that you just don’t have time for. They can be very affordable depending on what task it is you need done.
Delegating more and working less on your business means that you can spend more quality time with your family. It also means you’re able to spend more time focusing on the bigger picture and how you can take your business to the next level.
In regards to home life, it’s similarly important to recognize that you can’t do it all. That means being as upfront as possible about planning and managing time as a family, and developing a support network.
Being a parent and an entrepreneur might feel isolating, like you don’t quite fit into either camp. But here’s a secret—it’s actually very common.
A survey conducted by the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship found that 59.7% of entrepreneurs had at least one child when they launched their first businesses.
Contrary to the popular image of the young millennial entrepreneur working 80 hours a week, the majority of entrepreneurs are actually parents. That means, as a parent entrepreneur, you’re far from alone!
Start leveraging the power of community and connecting with other entrepreneurs who also understand the dual struggles of running a business and being a parent.
The easiest way to find these communities is to just go on Meetup and search for entrepreneurship groups with a parenting focus.
Involving Your Kids
One successful way entrepreneurs strike a balance between business and family is to blur the lines between the two. No, not through child labor, but by exposing their kids to the business aspects of their lives.
“I’ve found that being transparent with our kids about the challenges we face and involving them in finding solutions has been incredibly helpful. Both the kids and the company keep growing, that means that I need to adapt and adjust with both of them. While it’s always challenging, it’s definitely doable and fun.” – Adi Tatarko, founder and CEO of Houzz.
One thing we don’t give children enough credit for is just how smart they can be. All children have a natural curiosity and a desire to learn.
Even doing something as simple as taking your kids to the office with you occasionally provides a chance to teach them about what you do and that side of your life. And the simple act of involving them in what you do is bound to prompt hundreds if not thousands of curious questions. It might even help you to view your life’s work and your business from a fresh perspective.
Although do fear the dreaded, “why?”
Another benefit to involving your children in your professional life is that they’re able to get a better understanding of you and your work. So many of us grow up with only that vague understanding of what mom and dad do (Go to an office? Something with insurance?).
As an entrepreneur, you have an opportunity to show them first-hand just how passionate you are about your startup and share with them that passion. Show them the value of hard work, how your job can be your passion, and why you chose to become an entrepreneur in the first place
You’ll likely even get a chance to find out what their interests are, and to encourage them to further develop them.
“Something that my wife and I have always believed in, rather than impose upon your kids or try and steer their lives in a certain direction, to recognize what their strengths are and support their strengths and support the development of the things they’re passionate about.” Dr. Edward Zuckerberg, father of Mark Zuckerberg.
Making Stress Your Friend
Managing stress as an entrepreneur can be tough as it is. There are hundreds of strategies out there that’ll teach you how to lower your stress levels, ranging from meditation to removing the actual sources of concern. But last I checked it’s hard to meditate when there’s a crying baby nearby and, well, you and junior are in it for the long haul.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, something that so many high-performing individuals do when they encounter stress. Instead of worrying about stress, they make stress their friend.
This might seem ludicrous since we naturally think about stress as a negative force that just saps our motivation.
But research suggests stress is actually inherently neutral. All stress is, at its most basic level, is your body preparing itself for an instinctive fight-or-flight response. Your heart beats faster, adrenaline starts pumping, and your muscles start tensing up.
It’s actually the same process your body goes through when anticipating something positive or exciting.
What many athletes and executives alike do when they start to feel stress is to simply change their mindset about it. They don’t try to push it down and get back to normal; instead they view stress as their body preparing itself for something great.
You can actually choose whether or not stress is going to affect you positively or negatively. You have the power to either use stress for productivity or for pain.
Check out this fantastic TED talk by Kelly McGonigal on how to turn stress into your friend.
So when it feels like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, between trying to make meetings and drive the kids to soccer practice, take a deep breath and actively tell yourself that your body is preparing you to do the impossible. Don’t try to fight it, embrace it and let it help you get the job done.
Define the New Normal
Another thing that parenting and entrepreneurship have in common is that there really isn’t a guidebook on how to do either. Sure there are sources out there that provide some general guidelines that you should follow. But a lot of it is just trying to figure things out as you go.
It’s the reason why the majority of first businesses fail, and why the eldest child gets dropped the most (I say this as the oldest sibling).
It’s all one big learning curve, and the only way you’re going to get better is through sheer time and experience. Even then, the way one person does things could be completely different to how another does it.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to finding the perfect work-life balance, which means you shouldn’t compare yourself to how others are handling the dual responsibilities of parenting and entrepreneurship.
What you need to do is define what is normal for you.
On one side of the spectrum, there are entrepreneurs who keep their work and home life as separate as possible. On the other side you’ll have parents who do their best to integrate their family into their business as much as possible. Where you fall on this scale depends on who you are, your family, your business and all their individual quirks.
The easiest way to do this is to figure out what your priorities are. And once you’ve defined them, let them guide your routine and what you commit to doing. Be dependable:
“Children thrive on routine, so develop and honor certain rituals like family dinner, bedtime, or movie night. Make sure that no matter what’s going on, they can depend on you to be there during those key times. Also, make and keep your commitments to your kids. This shows them that they can trust you and that they are a priority.” – Elizabeth Saunders, founder and CEO of Real Life E.
One of the most frustrating things for anyone with a child or running a business is that there are just so many different ideas and expectations on what it means to be a good parent or entrepreneur. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you need to conform to these norms.
Listen to your kids when you need to figure out what it means to be a great parent. Listen to your peers and your business partners to find out what it means to be a great entrepreneur. Find out what kind of schedule you need to be both.
Most importantly, give yourself a break, give yourself and your kids some more credit, and do things in a way that fits you.