Every April when "Take Your Child to Work Day" rolls around, I think of Lisa Hammond, founder of "Femail Creations," a catalog company selling products made by women for women. She was a young mother of two when she started her business 20 years ago. And she managed to build keep her sanity while building her business, raising two little ones, and creating a strong, happy marriage -- all at the same time!
I know Lisa because we have the same publisher and over the years she has told me some great stories about her multi-tasking life as a Mompreneur. She's learned a few things that can help all of us juggle our commitments to work and family.
Lisa encourages women to be creative: "Find what works for you and your family," she says. "It may not be traditional or even conventional, but that's OK. Don't be bound by what your parents did or what other people are doing -- explore and experiment to figure out what works for you."
Lisa explains: "In my case, what was important to me was having dinner together as a family every night -- no matter what. It didn't matter if it was served on good china; it didn't even matter who cooked it. But it did matter that we ate together.
"In the first year of my business, I was working out of our home, so it was easy to have meals together every night. My kids were five and eleven, so they were in school much of the day. My husband ran his own construction business so he was gone all day, too. In the evening, everyone was at home and we sat down at the kitchen table to share dinner together.
(Photo: Harlie Brooke Designs)
"My second year in business, I needed more space so I moved my business out of the house. I moved our kitchen table, too! I figured out that it took too much time for me to leave work, come home, have dinner, and then go back to the office to finish working. It was much more efficient for my husband to bring the kids and the food to me.
"I would stop working and have dinner with my family and then do some more work after our meal was over. I created space at the office so my kids could stay and do their homework in the evening. There was a rock-climbing place across the street and sometimes they would go over there and play when their homework was done. We spent our evenings together as a family -- but we did it in my office, not at home. That's what worked for us.
"Did we have gourmet meals every night? No. I would make a pot of soup or chili - and that was on a good day! But more often we had takeout Chinese food, Mexican food, or even pizza. But you know what? We had fun! We enjoyed our meals together every time and focused on the quality of our time with one another. Who cares if the food of homemade or not? It really doesn't matter.
"We had an unconventional family life in those early years while I was building my business and raising my kids, but those were great years. Sometimes I'd put the kids to work helping me pack boxes. We were a family that played together and worked together. We had both quality time and quantity time!"
I asked Lisa what else she did to build a healthy family while she built her business.
"My husband moved is office to where I had my office so we could spend more time together. For us, the couple that works together stays together. And with shared office space, we were able to provide even more cohesion for our kids. My husband and I have always agreed: Family is #1 and work is #2."
I asked Lisa how her business is today, now that the kids are grown:
"I don't have to juggle so many different responsibilities, that's for sure. But I think back on those early years as some of the happiest years of my life. In fact, I still have my kitchen table at work -- I moved it into the break room. Today that's where my employees and I sit and have a cup of coffee or lunch. It makes me happy to have my old kitchen table at work."
I asked Lisa what advice she has for single Mompreneurs who don't have husbands to bring them food and help out with the kids.
"If you don't have a spouse, it's essential that you build a good support system for yourself - friends, extended family members, neighbors, other single moms. Build your tribe. Everybody needs a tribe -- whether you call it a clan, a club, a posse, a support group, or a gaggle of girlfriends. You need a tribe even if you're married -- but you need one even more if you're single.
"I always encourage women to be creative, be innovative, and figure out what works for you. Above all, cut yourself some slack! Don't try to be Supermom. Give up perfectionism -- it'll kill you. Don't worry about a clean house or home-cooked meals. Your kids don't want Martha Stewart at home -- they want their mom to takes time to eat meals with her kids - they want a mom who listens and enjoys time with her kids -- and a mom who doesn't sweat the small stuff."
Lisa Hammond and BJ Gallagher are co-authors of two books: "Oil for Your Lamp: Women Taking Care of Themselves" and "Oh, Thanks Goodness, It's Not Just Me! Woman to Woman, Heart to Heart."
Follow BJ Gallagher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BJ_Gallagher