Being a parent is often called a full-time job. The thing is, most parents already have one of those. And if you’re a startup founder, your full-time job likely requires even more commitment than a traditional 9 to 5. This begs the question: Is it possible to raise a child (or — gulp — children!) and run a business without falling behind in either arena?
Why not ask Mark Zuckerberg? He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, recently announced they’ll soon welcome a second child into the family. Meanwhile, Facebook keeps growing. Last year, Zuck even found time to attend the wedding of Spotify founder Daniel Ek and his wife, Sofia, who have two children of their own.
What they—and many other founders and CEOs with kids to raise and businesses to run—have likely learned is that being a parent doesn’t mean your personal and professional dreams simply disappear. It just means your priorities have changed.
First Things First
Anyone committed to building and running a business will tell you that time is precious. So is your hard-earned money. As an entrepreneur, these are perhaps the two most important resources you have. But when you have kids, they instantly become the most precious things in your life.
I discovered this firsthand. Unfortunately, you can’t devote yourself completely to one or the other. For a lot of current or aspiring entrepreneurs with kids, this can be the source of plenty of guilt.
I get it.
As a CEO, dad, coach, husband, friend, leader, and human being, I have felt the pressure. There’s no sugar-coating it. I have two kids who need their father just as much as they need their mother. I also have this other child — my business.
That other kid needs love, time, attention, nurturing, and care, just like my toddler and my 8-year-old clone. What helps relieve some of my guilt is knowing that work will always be there but my kids will only grow up once.
I don’t want to look back at their formative years and realize I was too busy chasing my own dreams to help nurture theirs. I believe my legacy is completely rooted in my children. Their memories of me and the lessons I’ve been able to teach them matter far more to me than a few extra hours a day spent at the office.
When Worlds Collide
But just because I’m not in the office 14 hours a day doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about my company. These days, my reality is one in which the demands of business and the demands of my kids must be met simultaneously.
There are times when I take calls in my car on the way to the little league field so I don’t miss my son throwing the first pitch of the game. Other times, my wife and I will enjoy a less-than-relaxing 20-minute lunch break before I have to run back across the street to the office and she has to race to pick up the kids from school.
Some weeks, we’ll spend less than two hours together alone because the balancing act leaves little time for anything other than our kids and our business.
As any entrepreneur parent will tell you, balancing it all gets harder as kids get older. Sometimes, juggling the kids’ increasingly busy schedules with your own means you make sacrifices. You miss out on business opportunities, which can cause a lot of anxiety. They’ve certainly kept me up at night more than once.
But I also worry that my son doesn’t get enough time with me. I’m afraid my daughter doesn’t get enough love and attention because she’s almost always tucked in and asleep by the time I get home. And I worry I’m putting too much on my wife’s shoulders — she’s managing their daily lives and still helping out with the business.
Fortunately, our strong commitment to one another and our shared commitment to our business helps keep us focused on the long-term outcome for our family. Entrepreneurship is absolutely a team sport. In our case, the overlap between time we spend as a family and time we spend working has been a blessing.
And in those precious moments when work and home life don’t overlap, I don’t let anything interrupt the time I get to spend with my kids, even if I’m just playing video games or reading aloud for a few minutes. But I always wish those minutes wouldn’t go by so fast.
Finding Your Balance
Of course, I’m not the only one who juggles a seemingly infinite number of personal and professional obligations and responsibilities while wrestling with the doubt and guilt from every angle.
It can be done, and there’s plenty of precedent beyond myself and the examples mentioned at the beginning of this article. But if hard evidence isn’t enough to convince you that parenting and professional dreams aren’t mutually exclusive, maybe you’ll find inspiration in three of my favorite quotes on the subject.
1. “There is no such thing as a perfect parent. So just be a real one.” — Sue Atkins
Do your best every day. Try not to beat yourself up if your best isn’t good enough for some people, but never believe for one minute there’s a perfect parent out there who is also a rock star in business.
Everyone struggles. Don’t let this overshadow the countless rewarding moments you’ll have as an entrepreneur and as a parent.
2. “To be in your children’s memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today.” — Barbara Johnson
My kids have had amazing experiences, and rarely do they go without. More than anything, they sincerely value the time spent with their mom and me because that’s when we’re truly getting to enjoy everything we’ve worked so hard for.
Every summer, regardless of what we have going on with our business, we take time away with the kids. For the past few summers, our trips have centered around Little League All-Star games, which has been a lot of fun for everyone. Three years ago, we purchased a motorhome. We’ve traveled across the country and even to Canada to take our son to the NHL Hall of Fame.
The best part of the RV option for me is the ability to work while we’re on the road. I have a mobile office setup. When the kids are napping or watching videos, I work and my wife drives. By the time we reach our destination, everyone is ready to be outdoors and enjoy time together.
These trips give us a lot of time to be alone as a family. Even more importantly, they’ve allowed us to make some incredible memories while visiting some beautiful places we would not have seen otherwise.
3. “A parent’s love is whole no matter how many times divided.” — Robert Brault
I never knew I could love another child as much as I love my son—until my daughter was born. It’s a totally different experience now. It also means resources like patience, time, money, and my attention are even more scarce.
Even though there are plenty of parallels between my company and my rambunctious toddler, I’ve learned that addressing challenges at home must come before tackling business problems, or the latter will be that much harder. There’s no way you can completely focus on business if you’re constantly worried about your kids.
While there’s no substitute for you as the parent, you can make sure you have a good support system. Having the right people in place can help you achieve your home life goals, just like your employees help you achieve your business goals.
Balancing the demands of parenting and the demands of running a business will always be tough. But when you’re bonding with your family or celebrating a company win, you’ll know your hard work has been worth it.
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