We spend a lot of time here talking and writing about the life of an entrepreneur, from oddball successes to measuring success to mental health. But we tend to overlook the home life of entrepreneurship, and one group in particular who are rarely asked for their viewpoint on a day-in-the-life.
That group are the children in the house, when one or both parents are entrepreneurs.
I thought it was time to tune in to the kids.
My husband and I are both entrepreneurs, and we have twin boys who are 11 years old. They've known us in various stages of employment, from corporate America (and corporate Europe as well) to startup to failure to success, and all the stages in between.
The entrepreneur stage has been the most recent, when the kids have been the most mature of their still-young lives. So when I asked them what they think about having two parents who are entrepreneurs, they had a lot to say.
Here are four tips on being an entrepreneur, from the kids who live with us.
"It would be nice if you and Dad traveled less," was the first thing that came to our kids' mind. We teased that out a little further and, yes, it's "sad when you aren't home," they said, but on the other hand, they realized that that's when they get what they call "kid time," when the rules are a little more relaxed, when they probably do a little less homework and probably eat a few fewer fruits and vegetables. It isn't exactly a case of when-the-cat's-away-the-mice-will-play (see the next section on Child Care), but it does underscore their need for more relaxed and unstructured time, whether parents are home or not.
Few decisions for entrepreneurial parents are as critical as who takes care of the kids when we're away for work. In our case, especially as the kids have gotten older, we've relied mainly on "mannies," or male care givers. As one of our kids pointed out, however, we can't tell what someone's really like just by looking at them.
When they first met Owen, for example, a mechanical engineering student at a nearby university, they were skeptical of how good he'd be at playing games (which is, naturally, what matters to them the most.) "He turned out to be really good though," our son said, "and he could even beat us sometimes at some games. We were surprised!"
Kids are not impressed by how many hours we spend on our laptops over the weekend. They are, however, impressed by how crisply we can fold paper into "poppers," and by how loudly we can snap or "pop" that paper. They are most impressed when we do that over and over and over again. For a very long time.
The point is that entrepreneurs need to find our own "off" switch, to separate work time from family time. There will always be more tasks that we can do and, especially in the early stages, there will always be i's to be dotted and t's to be crossed that, for better or for worse, we feel personally responsible for dotting and crossing.
Center of the Universe?
I don't know whether being "helicopter parents" and entrepreneurs can peacefully coexist, but I do know our kids get the message that we have active lives quite independent from our roles as parents to them. "We know we aren't always the center of your universe, Mom," they said. "But we do think we have front row seats."
What's been your experience as parents and entrepreneurs? How do you manage the separation of work and personal life?