Typical advice to entrepreneurs has been “don’t have kids when you’re starting your business.” Or “If you start a business while your kids are young, make sure your spouse or partner can be home with them.” I reject the notion that parenthood and entrepreneurship are somehow diametrically opposed and that unless you’re a superhero, both are not available to you. Instead of presenting this as an either/or dichotomy, let’s talk more honestly about how to do both. Over the past fifteen years, I’ve given an inordinate amount of thought to the issue in addition to having lived it myself. Here are five key things I’ve learned:
1. Be who you are. You might not be the kind of parent who wants to go to every single soccer game, PTA meeting, or playdate. Now read carefully: Plenty of parents miss many of these events and are great parents. They bring other things into their parenting, things that feel more authentic to them and show their kid who they are. I threw myself into full-time parenthood when I left Plum, only to realize what I knew all along: focusing on home life exclusively wasn’t for me. I love my boys and they know it—I don’t need to be at every class party to prove it.
2. Take stock. Identify what your family needs to thrive, and use that as a touchpoint. My friend and REBBL investor Mark Rampolla said that early on when he started Zico Coconut Water, he and his wife agreed that Mark’s physical health, their marriage, and the emotional well-being of their kids were not things they were willing to gamble with. They kept coming back to these touchpoints in difficult moments, and it helped guide their way. Are you getting enough time with your kids to feel nourished? Are they getting enough time with you to feel nourished? There was a time when I recognized I was off-kilter, and that it was because I wasn’t seeing my boys enough. That’s when you need to adjust.
3. Build a team. No one does either work or parenting alone. Make a task chart with your significant other, and figure out who will do what and, if you’re able, what you can outsource. You need a deep bench, one that might include neighborhood parents, family, or friends. The same is true for the workplace—do you have people in place who can take over so you can take off to attend an important soccer game, or go on vacation? And do you step in to help them when they need to do the same?
4. Practice presence. It takes a lot of discipline to live in the moment. I used to have an incredibly tough time with this one. I would think about work non-stop when I was at home. I’m still trying to get better about this, every day. Try developing a ritual to leave work at work, whether it’s writing down things you’re worried about before you head home, or meditating in the driveway before you come in the house. And practice putting that mobile device away. Kids will watch what you do instead of just following what you say.
5. Change the culture. Both men and women need to have the conversation about how and where work fits into a full life. Parenting vs. work has been a topic among women for decades, but men need—and want—to be in on it, too. Men need to keep stepping up and women need to keep inviting them in. You may not always agree with how the other is getting it done. However, if it’s getting done, let go of judgement.