"Excluding My Children Was Not an Option"
Nicole Dawes practically grew up in the office of her father, Stephen Bernard, founder of Cape Cod Potato Chips. So it seemed only natural that when her own children were born they would spend their days at Barnstable, Massachusetts-based Late July, an organic snack company Dawes co-founded with Bernard. Her husband, Peter Dawes, is on the scene as well, as co-president and COO. Dawes doesn't worry about work-life balance, because her work and her life aren’t separate. “It’s just one big life,” says Dawes philosophically.
Q: Your life is a crazy Venn diagram of overlapping work and life spheres. Your father was an entrepreneur. You work with your husband. And you are raising two children. Which aspect of this overlap is toughest to manage?
A: Leaving the kids just doesn’t get easier. I travel a lot. It’s heartbreaking every time. I keep waiting for that heartbreak feeling to end. Facetime helps, and the kids send me little videos when I’m on the road.
Q: When do you feel most stretched?
A: When we have more than one problem, which is very often. From the outside, we look like a well-oiled machine of magic work-life balance. We can handle one setback pretty well. But if someone gets sick, and a new product launch gets pushed up or pushed back, and I suddenly find I have to leave town on business, that’s when we run into difficulty. Oddly, though, when Peter and I are in those situations, we’re not that tense. We just do it. We triage. Tension and anxiety are indulgent emotions. We can’t afford them. We get externally focused on how to solve our problems. We don’t stop and wonder: How is this affecting us?
Q: What’s it like working with your husband?
A: A lot of people are scared to work with their spouse. They hear the horror stories. But for us, sharing in the whole experience together is what makes it work. So much happens in a small business on a daily basis. If Peter had a different experience all day, we wouldn’t have the deep understanding that we share.
There are practical benefits, too. I just found out I have a last-minute trip. Because Peter and I are partners in work and in life, he can accommodate my trip and pick up more home responsibilities. There are certainly days we could kill each other. We are passionate about our opinions, and sometimes we don’t agree. We know we shouldn’t hold back on things simply because we’re married. Just because we don’t agree on a work issue doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. The fact is, I can’t imagine doing my life’s work with another person.
Q: You once said that “It takes an office to raise a child.” How so?
A: Being an entrepreneur is all encompassing. Excluding my children from it was not an option. I want them to understand the business, to be part of it and proud of it. I grew up in an office. My dad taught me about gross margins when I was 12. I was fascinated. Kids raised in an office learn what their parents do. They develop a vested interest in it. They become able to picture themselves working in a business someday. When Stephen was entering nursery school, he asked me why he was the only Late July worker who had to go to school.
Raising kids in the office is not for everyone. You have to be a person who can work with distractions. If you’re going to have kids in the workplace, they really need to start coming in as newborns. You can’t introduce a 3-year-old into an office setting--that’s a recipe for disaster. If kids have been there from the beginning, they get it that they can’t disturb you when you’re on the phone. They learn to do their own thing. We tried not to have our kids be disruptive to the rest of the office, but we did have one employee available to help if necessary.
We’ve had other employees bring their kids over the years, but none now, and sadly, our kids are both well past this stage, too. Now that Late July is quite a bit larger, we decided to adopt a results-oriented workplace policy to help give people the flexibility they need to get their job done and successfully accommodate the other parts of their life. We are very flexible on letting people work from home or bring kids when necessary.
Q: Do you alter your work patterns to accommodate your kids?
A: Now that both my kids are in school, I start very early so I can leave early to pick them up at 5:30 p.m. When we get home, my older son does his homework, while my youngest helps me make dinner. He loves to cook. We try to eat together as a family every night. When I was a kid, we did that, too. Sometimes, we’d go to the factory to have dinner with my dad. After my kids are asleep, I go back on the laptop to work and answer the emails that I missed. People at work try not to call me during that dinner hour unless it’s critical. Our family gets a lot of together-time on our annual road trips, too. We recently drove cross-country!
Q: You believe that the concept of work-life balance is a sham. What do you mean by that?
A: Peter and I have no separation between our work and our life. Every facet of our lives is wrapped up with all the others. We don’t try to compartmentalize. We discuss work at home with our kids. When I ask my oldest what he did at school today, he’s more interested in hearing an explanation of why Late July can’t spend more on advertising.
You have to figure out what is essential for each part of your life--what is mission critical in all areas. If the kids need me during work hours, I tend to them. If the business needs me when I’m at home, I tend to it. I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself to be the working mom who does everything perfectly. But it’s just not realistic.
Being an entrepreneur is all encompassing, and you have to acknowledge that. There is no balance because there is no true separation. I love my children with all my heart and I love my company with all my heart. The notion of work-life balance doesn’t accurately represent that. It’s just one big life.
MEG CADOUX HIRSHBERG | Columnist
Contributing editor Meg Cadoux Hirshberg is the author of For Better or for Work: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and Their Families. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.