Entrepreneur... With Children

Do business ownership and parenthood mix?
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the April 1999 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Today, business owners are having to face up to a cold, hard fact: Entrepreneurship and parenthood don't exist in perfect harmony. With mounting social pressure to develop well-rounded family lives and parents' desire to play stronger roles in their children's development, a whole generation of entrepreneurs is often left feeling worn-out and torn between two babies: their children and their businesses. Harboring feelings of guilt, worry and anger, they're forced to make difficult choices among their many loves, often bringing pain upon themselves, their spouses and their children.

"So many people these days are getting into their own businesses without realizing the impact it's going to have on their children," says Katy Danco, author of From The Other Side of the Bed: A Woman Looks at Life in the Family Business (University Press) and co-founder of The Center For Family Business in Cleveland. "They're finding out the hard way that it's tough being a parent while trying to run a business."

If you're a parent, no doubt you've had the painful experience of telling your child you'd have to miss a soccer game or dance recital because of a personnel problem or a pressing deadline.

You're not alone. Across the country, entrepreneurs with children are battling such angst. What's more, in many cases, their children are also harboring feelings of resentment and neglect, or a sense of entitlement to extra cash and gifts because of the sacrifices they're making for the business, Danco says.

Inevitably, all entrepreneurs make mistakes in this delicate balancing act. Few, however, have gotten a second chance at business--and parenthood--as Kent Vickery, CEO of Cognitive Learning Tools, a management consulting business in Woodside, California, did. When his daughter, Heather, was growing up, Kent owned a carpet manufacturing and distribution company with his wife, Tari, 47. The daily pressures of running a manufacturing business were intense, requiring the couple to put in long hours and travel frequently. And while they did their best, their schedules often left Heather, now 22, feeling isolated and left out.

At the time, Kent and Tari felt focusing their energies on growing their business was the best thing for their family. And while Kent believed he was living up to his parenting responsibilities, now he's not so sure. "I think I talked a great game about [Heather] coming first, but my behavior proved otherwise," admits Kent, 48.

His son, Charles, 12, is having a whole different experience, though. Kent doesn't have the daily pressures of managing employees in his current business. He's also learned to shuffle extra work off to contractors and make room for family time, which means having breakfast with his son before school, picking him up after classes--even coaching Charles' soccer team.

For Kent, the key is flexibility. "With this business, I just scaled my skills differently," he explains. "I went from having to be present in the business every moment to being able to plan my time more predictably."

Finding ways to include your children in your business is paramount, says David Hoffman, 42, a part-time instructor with Baylor University's Fast Track entrepreneurship program; co-owner of Thera-Med Inc., a health-care manufacturing company in Waco, Texas; and father of two. Hoffman's tips: If your schedule isn't flexible, create an office area for your children so you can spend more time together and give older kids small jobs around the office. Celebrate company successes with your kids so they understand the rewards of entrepreneurship, be honest with them when breaking commitments, and don't make promises you can't keep.

Striking a balance between business and family makes the rewards of both much sweeter. Says Kent, "I find myself feeling much better about my own sense of contribution to my business and, more important, to myself and my family."

Contact Sources

The Center For Family Business, P.O. Box 24219, Cleveland, OH 44124, (440) 442-0800

Cognitive Learning Tools, (650) 851-9633, vickery2@stanford.edu

Thera-Med Inc., (800) 327-7845, dhoffman@thera-med.com

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