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Work, Kids and the Pursuit of Sanity (Part 1)

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Work, Kids and the Pursuit of Sanity (Part 1)

It was four in the morning, and I was on the bathroom floor, hugging the toilet bowl; struck by a severe gastro bug for the second time in a month.

Since my two-year-old had started daycare, it seemed we were hit by a different virus every week. To make matters worse, I was heavily pregnant. And I was due on a plane in two short hours, to manage a major conference as part of my marketing job at a big bank.

Of course, I didn’t make it to the conference, and the team had to deliver it without me. I felt terrible. The conference was my project from start to finish – and I’d had to leave it to everyone else to execute. In my next performance review, my boss said, “I don’t know what to do with someone who’s great at the job but struggles to be here.” She had a point. It was obvious my job wasn’t compatible with my family.

I wanted to be there for my kids. I wanted to drop them off and pick them up from school, do their homework with them, be there for the school play. When they got sick, I wanted them to be able to rest and recover, without it being a big deal.

So, I started my own business. Two years on, things are definitely better … but there are trade-offs. I get to be there for my family, but I’m often distracted when I’m with them. I can turn up to work whenever I like but I work through most of our holidays. I earn more money and work with clients I love, but sometimes I don’t get paid for months.

I wondered, how do other business owners with kids do it? Do they experience the same highs and lows? Is it possible to balance entrepreneurship with kids, and if so, how?

I went out and asked business owners these questions, and I was overwhelmed by the response. In this article, I’ve shared their perspectives.

The chance to design your lifestyle.

There’s no doubt that having your own business gives you the chance to design your work life around your home life; to an extent. Many business owners have created freedom and flexibility that would be completely out of reach in a corporate role.

Rodrigo Miranda, a motion and graphic designer, was able to take a sizeable chunk of time out when his first child was born:

“We planned and saved enough for us to live for almost a year, even if all clients suddenly disappeared. Obviously, that never happened, but having that safety cushion helped me keep my sanity during the first year when my wife was mostly out on maternity leave.

The advantages have been priceless. I took three and a half months of paternity leave, to help out and get to know the little one. Even after those initial months, I could allocate so much more time for us to bond as a family, something that working in a full-time job I could never do. I’m really happy with the decision of managing the fear and not jumping back into a corporate job.”

Portfolio entrepreneur Rebecca Newman added:

“I couldn’t be more thankful for babies coming into my world on so many levels. I have grown more both personally and professionally than in any time in my life, and I have more play in my life than I had in decades. My health has improved to pre-teen levels, and the bulk of the time I feel unstoppable.

In addition, my businesses have bloomed, and my revenue has grown while I’ve been having babies. I have two businesses, three babies, and I work 100 days a year. I used to have a riveting career that I loved at the time, but I worked up to 100 hours a week, my health was the pits, and I rarely saw people I loved.”

Managing the juggle (when the buck stops with you).

 At the other end of the spectrum, some business-owning parents, especially sole parents, were under extreme pressure.

One entrepreneur mum told me:

“I’m a single parent, and unfortunately, I haven’t made most of my kids’ school events, as, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. I feel enormous pressure, especially during school holidays. I quite literally hate school holidays because it impacts my work: my customer service levels, my cash flow, my clients. It impacts my kids because I’m stressed, they’re often home alone, their friends are on holidays.”

Others could attend school events and manage pick-ups and drop-offs, but at the expense of their evenings and weekends.

Architect Simone Strushko explained:

“I used to work 40 hours a week at an architecture firm, I had no kids, and I thought I was under pressure every day to get all my work done on time. I didn’t even know what pressure was.

A typical day now for me is 8:45 am drop-off, work until 2:40 pm. Then school pick-up and start work again around 3:30 pm. At 6:30 pm we have dinner, then I work again until 10:30 – 11.00pm. I realise that I am blessed to be able to do the school run and not have to pay for after-school care or a nanny. I keep telling myself how lucky I am to help out in the classroom and with excursions… but all the while I’m thinking about how much work I have to do.”

Risk, responsibility and reward.

Being an entrepreneur comes with huge financial opportunity; you benefit directly from your own success. But it also comes without a guaranteed, regular pay cheque. You have to hustle for your income. This is particularly stressful when you are the breadwinner for your family. Not to mention when you have a team relying on the success of your business.

For some, the demands of growing a successful small business simply involves too much sacrifice in the areas of family, relationships and self-care.

Brett Roland, former owner of Brisbane hot spot, Brew, commented:

“If you plan well and the cards fall in the right way in the long term, you will earn enough to be able to have the holidays, buy the toys, pay for a great education and have the lifestyle you want. But, unfortunately, in the short term, especially in the hospitality space; you will lose time that you’ll never get back with your family.”

Setting up your business for balance.

 So, what’s the verdict? Does being your own boss make it easier to balance kids with work? The answer is … it depends. It depends on many things, including the sector you’re in, whether people work for you, whether you’re a sole parent, whether you’re the breadwinner, and much more. Safe to say, better balance doesn’t necessarily go with the territory of being a business owner.

There’s an art to doing business in a way that allows you to achieve financial success, combined with the level of balance and flexibility you want.

In part two of this series, read some of the tips I received from business-owner parents, on balancing it all successfully.

With thanks to all the entrepreneurs and small business owners who generously shared their insights and experiences for this article.

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