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Draw The Line

Winning the tug of war between business and family.

For homebased business owners who have been distracted, embarrassed and annoyed by the kids arguing, the cat meowing, the washing machine and dryer buzzers going off, or a toddler throwing a tantrum, take heart. You're not alone.

The surprising thing, however, is that while most at-home entrepreneurs would like to minimize distractions, they are not upset by the daily intrusion of home life into business. In fact, that's one of the attractions of the arrangement.

"I didn't want to do the day-care routine. I wanted my children around," says Jan Melnik, owner of Absolute Advantage, a 14-year-old business consulting and support firm that has worked its way from the basement through a spare bedroom to a cathedral-ceilinged add-on to the Melnik home in Durham, Connecticut. Melnick has patched together a network of helpers who make sure her three young boys are well taken care of when she's busy at work. But that doesn't necessarily mean the children are out of sight.

Her office is as child-beckoning as it is childproof. The children's books, preferred play toys, neon papers, colorful markers and scrap paper fill the lower shelves of her bookcase. Last-generation computers, set to the side of her "real working space," are child-welcoming.

"Often, even when [the children] were of playpen age, they were in the office with me playing with their books or toys," says Melnick, whose company brings in annual sales of $35,000 to $40,000. "And since many of the businesses I serve are also homebased businesses, when clients came to my office, they would come with children. I found that being upfront about the fact that I had children around actually helped my business."

Patricia Schiff Estess is author of Money Advice for Your Successful Remarriage and Kids, Money & Values (both published by Betterway) and president of Working Families Inc., a Manhattan firm specializing in family memoirs.

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