While every mother acknowledges the constant balancing/juggling act of kids and home, outside work adds a certain exponential dimension, one that as a single mother of two teenaged boys I can very much attest to.
From a full-time corporate career to various part-time jobs to volunteering for too many causes to list to school president (terrible hours, even worse co-workers), the absolute most challenging position of all is what I call the 'last frontier': entrepreneurship.
When you have a full-time job, you miss out on spending time with your kids. When you have no full-time or even part-time job, you miss out on spending on kids, period. It's impossible to live without one or the other, which is why every parent, myself included, is constantly striving to balance both.
The problem is, entrepreneurship completely changes the goal posts. Here is why parenting and entrepreneurship are incompatible:
Unlimited hours - 24/7
Varying pay (sometimes zero)
Unlimited job description
How to reconcile this incompatibility? How to obtain the ever-elusive work/life balance? It can be done, and it's a variable thing, but as I'm sure any other single, entrepreneurial, teenager-afflicted mom can attest to, it ain't easy.
I started my business when my boys were 13 and 16, ages where one might think there would be a modicum of self-sufficiency. Well, one might be wrong. I can hardly imagine what it must be like for those mothers (and fathers) who work from home with little ones around - even if there is a sitter or nanny.
In the early days of working from home, I would explain to my semi-grown boys that even though you might see me, you must pretend that I am not there. Please do not ask me to cook or drive you somewhere. Of course, if it's something urgent or important, make me aware immediately - rules go out the window. But otherwise, you do your thing and let me do my mine.
Needless to say, this was not an easy mantra to instill. "Work is more important than we are," my kids would say (and still do) to which I would try to explain in vain that sometimes work is important, sometimes you are more important, and that changes minute to minute many times with a closed door.
But why 500 sticky notes saying "Do not open door under penalty of death", "no car, no money, no food" or more simply, "Go away", and countless others will not stop a 16-year-old boy who needs money now to get something to eat (even though the refrigerator is full). For whatever reason, it was (and again, still is) impossible for my boys to resist or remember that if you hear talking it means I am on the phone or worse, Skyping.
The one occasion that sticks out in my mind is the time I was delivering a webinar and had warned my youngest son by resorting to my failed sticky note methodology as well as by sending him a text and email not to disturb me for one hour. In the middle of my presentation, he burst into my office and began speaking. This was in the early years of my business. Sometimes you must 'fake it 'till you make it.' I lost my rhythm, began waving him out of the room, my notes fell scattered on the floor, I advanced the Powerpoint by accident, spilled my glass of water beside me but recovered without the 200 people who were online ever noticing a thing. Or at least, I would like to believe that...
The reality is, being an entrepreneur (whether mother or father or neither) requires continual juggling, reprioritizing, ordering and becoming a skillful multi-tasker. I am glad to say that I have managed to become more skilled and less stressed from juggling two boys, home responsibilities, grocery shopping, an appointment with the managing director at a global financial services institution, delivering global live stream presentations and taking calls or more frequently texting with my kids when they need their mom.
I'm also glad to see that I'm not alone. In fact, over the four-plus years that I have been doing my balancing / juggling act I have encountered many other entrepreneurs with their own sets of war stories and funny anecdotes about barking dogs, screaming kids, conference calls during soccer practice and even late-night baby feedings while on the phone with Asia.
I never said it was easy, and I like to think on the outside I make it look easy, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. Plus it's good to know I'm in good company. I look forward to hearing the comments from my readers on their own experiences of the hard work required when you choose entrepreneurship.