I’m a mom + entrepreneur. My girls are 10 and 7.
If you’re running a business and raising children, I can share my best advice built on a few years of experience:
* Volunteer in the classroom once a week, doing something you absolutely love to do. For me, it took me 4 years to discover it: I help in the art room. It’s delightful for me, fun for my kids, and I get to know all their classmates quite well. It keeps you grounded in their school activities, shows them that their academics really matter to you, and you know who everyone is. As they get older, it becomes even more important to know everyone they hang around with, and this is a casual and meaningful way to do that.
* At any given moment, either work or be with kids. Severely limit the times that you are trying to do both. You will be frustrated that you “can’t get any work done”, your kids will feel shortchanged and build a resentment against your business, and time split that way benefits no one and can never be retrieved. Better to really focus on them when you’re with them, even if that means being with them a little less time. They know when they’re seen as “in the way”. Not good.
* You don’t have to squeeze the life out of every drop of time. Yes, even when you’re making dinner and they’re just sitting nearby – you can talk about things, sing together, share outrageous stories, imagine the future, do homework, have her read out loud. But you can also just daydream, relax, and not talk at all. It’s not the number of activities you achieve together that measures family well-being.
*** FUN STORY: Bert Jacobs, one of the brothers who founded Life is Good, keynoted at an event. After, I went up to him and asked, “What does it take to convince the best t-shirt maker in the world, the Life Is Good Guy, to buy someone else’s t-shirt?” I showed him our t-shirt, and he said, “That’s a great shirt.” He pulled a $20 out of his pocket and walked off with one of our shirts. A shirt my then-four-year-old daughter drew the character for. She’s old enough now to get why this is notable, and it’s one of her brag items in life.
* If they help out, pay them like employees. I pay my girls a dollar to help me make deliveries, and when I used to make it at home, they sometimes helped with labeling and invoicing too. Subtle messages will get through: This business benefits me. Mom’s business is work, not all play. I am competent and capable.
* See if there’s a way to extend your business to their school friends in any kind of “cool” way. If you can be successful at this, it earns them a little status, which builds good juju toward you and all the demands of your business. I brought trays of roasted sweet potatoes into school one day with all the fixin’s: sour cream, steamed broccoli, grated cheddar, red peppers, and a lot more. My daughter’s fourth grade class loved them. It felt like a party in there. They all think it’s incredibly cool that her mom has her own business and makes such yummy food. Those vibes help them feel prouder of the whole gig.
* Share your brave adventures, your dreams, your successes, and your failures with them. It helps them see that it’s not all an easy road, that you’re not choosing this business because it’s more fun than being with them, and it gives them a chance to root for you. I still have a couple of the cheerleading voicemails my kids left for me when we entered a national food contest. We didn’t win, but that meant I was able to show them one way to handle disappointment gracefully, and keep aiming toward my dream undeterred.
* Above all, keep it fun, and keep the faith. Don’t bring a troubled mind to the dinner table, and don’t let a kid’s tantrum spoil your business plan. Keep the optimistic view. What they’re learning from you, you can’t possibly know for years, maybe decades, maybe never. But they’re learning it nonetheless. And they’re seeing that women can own businesses and change the world. When I was a kid, my father made my mother quit her job so she could be home at 3 when I got home from school. She did it, and she was a fine mom. But her spirit was broken, and she spent most of those years miserable on the inside. What child doesn’t know that? The most powerful thing any of us can do for our children is to live our dreams. The world needs people who are lit up from the inside, so show them how to do that, and you’re way ahead as a mommy.
Lisa Johnson, Y’Ambassador, Yummy Yammy