(By Susan Lamotte)
The challenges that working parents face are daunting. When a child is sick, there’s the battle of who can more easily leave the office. When one parent travels, the other has to maintain the work-life balance solo. As we embarked on parenthood, my husband and I were prepared to face these obstacles. What we weren’t prepared for was life with an entrepreneur parent. Forget maternity leave: I was back working three weeks after my daughter was born. When you own a business you can’t pass off all of the work, even if you want to.
BALANCE IS TOUGHER THAN YOU THINK
Since then, I’ve set out to find kindred spirits. We’re so used to the millennial entrepreneur with unlimited hours and no dependents that we forget entrepreneurs don’t always fit that profile. And many parent entrepreneurs aren’t veterans of the startup world with millions already in the bank from successful exits. They’re risking it all to balance a business they believe in with the love and commitment of being a parent.
The first challenge: the sheer number of things and people needing attention. Angela Harless, managing director of AcrobatAnt, struggles with wanting to spend time with her daughter and shouldering the responsibility of being an entrepreneur.
“[There’s a] constant pull of wanting to spend time with my daughter, attend her school functions, and supervise field trips versus the pull of wanting to run a business that I’m proud of and not let my partners, employees, and clients down,” she said.
IT KEEPS GETTING HARDER
For Nina Madoo, a self-employed diversity consultant with two teenagers, entrepreneurial juggling doesn’t get easier, either.
“Life became more challenging as my children got older. They needed to be driven more places and had more numerous activities. They didn’t need as much care and nurturing but the momentum increased exponentially.”
That means that many entrepreneurs have to weigh the value of a new business call against their child’s basketball game. You hope the client will understand, but the reality of making choices like this means losing business can happen.
Like most working parents, Danny Boice has turned to outside caregivers. “Using caregivers is fine, and often necessary,” says Boice, a single father with children ages four and seven. But the founder of Speek and adjunct professor at Georgetown University doesn’t fully rely on them.
“You have to be intimately involved in your child’s upbringing, he says. “You have to volunteer to be a room parent. You have to show up to all of the various opportunities during the school day.”
And thus the conundrum for many working entrepreneurs. There’s flexibility, but there are also numerous, differing demands that it’s easy to feel like you’re letting someone down at any given moment.
YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES ARE DOUBLED
In addition to balance, there’s the added stress and responsibility of being in charge. Not all entrepreneurs are wealthy. Multiple studies, including one from American Express OPEN, found that the average entrepreneur is making less than $70K annually.
One California-based CEO is frustrated by that perception: “[People think] that life is easy for entrepreneurs. Many of our friends simply don’t know the stress and financial strains that we take on.”
And when there are two entrepreneurs in the family, it doubles the stress. Parents feel responsibility for their children as well as their respective companies and their employees.
Joshua B. Lee is a serial entrepreneur with two young children at home. His wife is an entrepreneur, too.
“Both my wife and I are running our own companies, but as long as parents are working together for the common goal of having equal success in both [parenting and careers], it can be done.”
IT’S NOT EASY FOR ANYONE
But is it harder for moms or dads? That’s a tough question. My husband is a former entrepreneur so he understands the pressures of running a business. And most entrepreneurs I spoke to also had supportive partners. Still, several entrepreneurs weren’t afraid to admit that moms have it harder.
Dave Nevogt, cofounder at Hubstaff.com, wasn’t afraid to be honest: “[It’s] much harder for moms because the expectation that society places on them is to be the primary caregiver.”
Alexandra Levit, mother of two and author and blogger at The Fast Track, agrees.
“Many of us have co-parenting relationships with our spouses, but that doesn’t change the fact that the buck stops with Mommy. School needs a volunteer? Ask Mommy. Two-plus kids’ schedules need to be coordinated? That’s Mom’s job.”
But Levit also thinks dads struggle, too: “It is also hard on dads because it is not as accepted in the workplace to be part of the caregiving equation. In general, we need to remove the stigma of caregiving for both parents.”
IT’S ENTIRELY WORTH IT
So why do it? For Lea Woodward, she realized her own identity was at stake. The founder of Inspiring Ventures, she’s also the mother of two.
“I [realized] just how important my work and what I do professionally is to my own identity. I know I’d be a much worse mother if I also didn’t have my business to run, which sometimes I feel keeps me sane and challenged in different ways.”
Being a “parent-preneur” doesn’t have to be all or nothing: you can choose to grow your business a bit slower and take more time out of the office, though it may inhibit your success or increase the time it takes to achieve specific goals.
But that’s the goal in and of itself—any form of balance is only as good as how much attention you pay to it. At my company exaqueo, we built our business like that from the beginning and we revisit the way our babies-and-revenues seesaw works everyday. It’s not a perfect model, but what parent is?
Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo. A workforce consultancy, exaqueo builds and develops cultures, employer brands, and talent strategies. A veteran of HR and leadership roles with brands like Ritz-Carlton, CEB, and Marriott International, Susan is now an official “parent-preneur” as the proud mom of a six-month-old daughter.