There are people in the world who say you can be either a business owner or a parent, but not both. My response is: It’s completely possible to be both, and I can say this confidently because I’m a card-carrying member of the multi-child entrepreneur club.
It's true: My wife and I have five kids (one girl and four boys!), so life in our household gets a bit chaotic. Throw in the fact that we home-school our kids and that I run a thriving eight-year-old business, and you can see that we juggle quite a lot of balls at once. But I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.
How many kids will we have? Well, I guess we’ll stop when we have an ugly one; and if I play the laws of averages, one of them is bound to be a 1-percenter and thus a ticket to my wife's and my happy retirement.
But in all seriousness, how do I make it work? Here are six lessons that we follow at our house. Maybe one or two of these tips will resonate with you.
1. Be prepared to make compromises.
When you’re young and single, you can work 100 hours a week if you want to. You can also take huge risks, because when you are young and single, the only one to suffer the consequences of a bad decision is you. But, once you have a family, you're playing with other people's lives.
Despite that, I believe that having a family made me a better entrepreneur. While entrepreneurship is about taking risks, dreaming big and accomplishing great things, you can't do any of that without doing the work. The pressure of having a family has kept me focused on making sure the projects I pursue result in success, and the risks I take are smart ones.
2. Don’t work from home.
When we first had kids, I worked from home. As I tried to focus on my work, I could hear my wife shushing the kids and telling them "Daddy has to work." I won't do that again: I would feel guilty listening to family life happening just outside my door and feel that I should be involved.
And as if that weren't bad enough, my brain would refuse to tell me where the “off” switch was. The kids would be telling me what they'd learned that day, and I would be mentally working on the business problems that had just unfolded. In short, there'd be too much to handle.
Instead, I've found that I need an outside office with a short commute. That short commute home helps me to turn off my work brain and enter back into family mode.
3. Make sacred time for your kids.
Kids grow up so fast that sometimes I think my wife is feeding our kids steroids. Along the way, I've heard enough unsolicited advice from parents much more experienced than I that I should treasure these young years. Soon I'll be kicking myself for not spending enough quality time with my children when they were younger.
I’m determined not to fall into that mistake. And so, I've become the designated driver who puts our kids to bed every night; and, before lights out, I always make sure we read a book together for at least 20 minutes.
Now, remember: I’ve got five kids. That means that bedtime often takes two hours (sometimes longer!). Yes, this can be hard some nights, especially when I just want to relax with a drink and watch a game. But I’ll guard this time with my kids with my life. The drink and the game will be there when they are grown up, and if I try to read to them when they are 35, it'll just be awkward for everyone.
4. Don’t feel guilty if you have to work late.
Obviously we all want to put family first. But if you have to work late now and then, don’t feel bad about it, because by working, you are putting your family first.
When you become a parent, you’re responsible for supporting them, and this includes financial support. You don’t have to be rich to raise great kids, but you should work hard for them. Until you win the lottery, that, unfortunately, means going to work.
Plus, having kids doesn’t mean you have to abandon your professional goals. In fact, there are many benefits to pursuing them while raising a family. Your kids will learn how to work hard, how to dream and how to act on that dream. Kids often emulate their parents, so teach them how to pursue big goals in a healthy manner.
5. Don’t forget your spouse.
When your relationship with your spouse is strong, your kids benefit. But be warned: When you juggle kids and a business, it might become too easy to assume that your spouse will automatically be there to support you in checking off the items on your to-do list.
In sum, there's more to marriage than just jointly checking off items in a to-do list. Your spouse is more than just a partner. Take the time to nourish your relationship and keep its meaning at a deeper level than ensuring bills are paid, errands are run and household chores are completed.
Having a good marriage is what makes everything worthwhile in business and raising a family. Taking risks in the company, and surviving on four hours sleep a night, is much more worthwhile if you are not doing it alone.
6. Finally, enjoy the perks of being an entrepreneur.
Being self-employed is stressful at times. But with the stress and the risk come some pretty great perks. Take advantage!
When we had just two kids, my wife and I spent a month in Europe exploring Austria, Italy, France and Germany. I could do that because of the freedom I have with my work. A few years later, when we had four kids, we went back to Europe for several weeks.
You don't have to take a huge monthlong trip, however. Why not take a random day off and take your kids to a water park? Or let your kids come to your office for an afternoon?
Being an entrepreneur is awesome. Being a parent is awesome. Being both is more than I could have ever dreamed. Hopefully, you feel that way, too.