Recently, I was made to think about this by a question my daughter asked me. How do we face the challenges of being good parents and productive entrepreneurs or workers at the same, without our families or work feeling the pinch? Over the years, I have learned to balance family and business without feeling guilty and I will speak from experience.
It was 3.30 PM on a Monday afternoon. My kids had just come back from school and as always, my home was full of energy. My little boy Afu who is two years old was bouncing off the walls with excitement as he always is, when his big sister and brother get home from school – playtime! In a minute, the two boys were fighting over a toy car. My older son Al, 5 sometimes does not let his younger brother take toys away from him … I think he tries to assert himself as the big brother. Although they get along pretty well, it is not uncommon for fights over toys to erupt. No matter how hard we try to get toys in pairs, there's always one toy the other doesn't have, or one might prefer the other's color, or one might pick his up first and the other especially the younger one instead of going to look for his, immediately goes to take it from him. These days, it's getting better because Al gets praise from us for being a good big brother whenever he shares and he likes that.
But on this Monday afternoon, as I was preparing something for them to eat, I encouraged them to go play upstairs in their room after I broke up this brief fight. A few moments after, Al ran downstairs yelling (at the top of his voice), "Mommy, Afu wrote on the walls!" … sending me into a panic! (my husband says I am a clean freak, ha,ha,ha.).
"He what? Where?" I dashed upstairs to an innocently smiling Afu, got down to his level and shook my finger at him, saying "No, no, no! Don't do this again. See," I pointed to the writing on the wall, "this is messy. Don't do it again, OK?" He nodded as I took the red marker away from him, which obviously one of the kids had left lying around.
Back downstairs, I found the food I had left cooking now burning on the stove. I was getting frustrated. The noise, kids running around the house, my cell phone ringing, the videophone ringing, their friends knocking on the door so they could come out and play, etc were getting to me. Meanwhile, my daughter who is now 7 was sitting on the kitchen table, looking through her school work. She came over to me as I attended to the food and asked, "Mommy, which is more difficult: the business or taking care of us?"
That stopped me and I began to laugh. Wow, what a question! I had never thought of it this way. OMG. It took me a minute, I said to her,"I don't know Abby, but I sure love taking care of you guys. Nothing comes close to that, it is what gives me the most pleasure and makes me mommy. You are one smart little girl, child. Give me 5!" We gave each other a hug, laughing. "You know how it is with your brothers, Abby."
That's a typical day at my house and millions of homes across the world. It sums up the experience of having to juggle parenthood and business, especially working from home. Abby's question which I still think about today cut right to the core, we all know that taking care of children as a stay-at-home parent is a full-time job in itself, and it gets more full-time the more children you have. Many parents have let go of businesses in order to focus on family, and on the other hand, many children today suffer a disconnect because their parents are too busy building businesses to give them the attention they need. How do you commit to the two, and not let one over-shadow the other?
Between changing diapers, cleaning bottles and sippy cups, keeping an eye on kids to make sure they are safe, cooking, feeding, laundry, doing groceries, keeping the house clean, reading to them, homework, taking care of a sick child, breaking up and mediating fights, watching them as they play outside, being active in school activity, taking them to games, etc … your day is taken, both psychologically and physically … and then you have to work a business on top of that? How do you find the time or energy? Here are some tips:
1. Take time to establish a fixed schedule for your kids, including daytime nap-times, bed-times, feeding times, etc. This helps organize your day, and gives you time get some work done in between.
2. Raise disciplined kids. Although kids will always be kids, they do learn to respect rules and boundaries from an early age. My kids are capable of sitting and watching children's TV while I work. From an earlier age I teach them the things they can't do, e.g. in the toddler stages when they start to crawl and reach for everything, instead of taking things away that they can reach, I leave decorations and other safe reachable items in place. What I do is, I teach my kids not to touch them. Whenever they grab something they shouldn't, I go, "no, no, no," and then I hand them a toy. And so they develop an early understanding of the things to play with, and those they can't play with.
3. Come up with a schedule for yourself and allocate time for business. Unfortunately, you can't be on a 9 to 5 shift while working from home. Those are hours when you are busy with your kids. The catch is, those are perfect hours to conduct business as well because most people are available during those hours, so what do you do? I recommend that you keep those hours open for making and receiving phone calls, don't be afraid to apologize for kids crying, yelling or demanding your attention in the background while you are
on the phone, most folks understand that you're running a home based
business. Schedule other business activities (like sending out emails, taking on-line trainings, conducting team calls, reading, etc) after the kids have gone to bed (which for my kids is usually 8pm) or early in the morning before they awake. This leaves you with time for housework during the day while the kids are running around.
4. Arrange for help by calling in a nanny or taking them to a baby-sitter on some days during the week in order to catch up or attend meetings.
5. Dedicate day(s) for your family – family-days, in which they are the only focus. Maybe you take them out to the park, out to a restaurant, play around with them, etc. This permits you to mentally focus on business whenever you have to and not feel guilty about it.
You will find that dedicating enough time to your family brings fulfillment. And of course working on something you like leaves you with a sense of purpose … and the income that comes along with it as well, helps in providing a better life for your family. Always keep your priorities straight. These tips on how to find balance between family and business without feeling guilty require discipline. It takes careful planning to balance the two. You don't always have to give one up for the other. Embrace both worlds and you find that those 24 hours are sufficient to be super-parent and entrepreneur.
What are your thoughts? Please, share some tips of yours.