I am currently working in an airport restaurant while waiting for my flight home. The sound of a phone ringing nearby invades my focus, and I realize the woman at the table next to me is starting a FaceTime conversation.
I am a bit annoyed until I hear the voices on the other end of her call.
"Hi Mommy," I hear from two tiny voices almost in unison. "Where are you?"
She spends the next few minutes talking with her children, and when she finishes her call, I introduce myself. I discover that, like me, she's a woman entrepreneur.
In her efforts to expand the reach of her family's organic, shade-grown coffee company, she has also found herself traveling more. We commiserate over the challenges of mothering our children while traveling for our companies.
Having been a stay-at-home mom for fifteen years before launching a company, I have worn all of the motherhood hats and can confirm that absolutely none of them are easy. But along the way, I've learned, mostly through the school of hard knocks, a few things that may help other mothers struggling with the challenges of family and work.
No One Else Can Rescue You From Your Guilt Trip
No matter how much support I got from those around me, I still felt guilty for the changes in my routine as a CEO that resulted in less time at home or with my kids.
For many women entrepreneurs, it's far too easy for our guilt to become misplaced as resentment towards whomever is helping us pick up the slack. When our better half makes sure the kids were fed and in bed, we can turn their good deed into an argument when we point out that their idea of a meal was less than the healthy food we think our children should be eating.
But one of the things I've learned is that no one else is responsible for whatever guilt trip I'm on. It's my job to either figure out how to rearrange my schedule to allow time to do whatever it is that is eating at me or to make peace that there is no way to do everything for everyone all the time.
I'm learning to be grateful for support and help in whatever form it comes, even if it isn't the way I would do it. Actually - especially when it isn't the way I would do it, because it means someone else cared enough to step in and fill a need.
Protect Your Family Time - Not Everything at Work is Urgent
Most women entrepreneurs with children understand that whether she is the primary caregiver or not, there is often more demand on her time and attention than is physically possible to meet.
And while it is absolutely vital that a founder take seriously the commitment and responsibilities to her company, it is also vital that she give herself permission to put work away and spend time with her kids.
I recently committed to spending an afternoon with my daughter so that we could enjoy some well-deserved pampering. But when several text messages and phone calls came in from a colleague, I gave up time that I was supposed to be enjoying a massage to edit a document and send it out immediately.
But, in reality, that the document could have waited, despite the numerous voice mails, texts and emails stating otherwise. It wasn't life or death, and my ruined afternoon with my daughter didn't result in any big win or address any major fire.
Some things are that urgent, and when that is the case, we really did sign up to have our plans ruined to address the issue immediately. But far too often, we see a fire where none really exists. When we respond to everything like it is urgent, we cheat ourselves out of needed down-time and time with those we love.
Balance Comes Not in Days But in Months, Weeks, Years
Sometimes a looming deadline or necessary business trip means we have to miss a special event or time with loved ones. It can feel like we're choosing business over family, but, in reality, whether we are building our own business or working for someone else, our time is not always our own.
There will inevitably be performances that we will miss, parent-teacher conferences we will need to reschedule, and family dinners that will happen without us. We can feel very alone and cheated when it happens, but we need to remember that the days we show up versus the ones we miss will balance out over the weeks and months.
If, however, if it adds up over the weeks and months and years to we're missing most family events, then it's likely time to reevaluate whether the company actually needs that much of our time or whether we need that much company time to avoid the rest of our life.