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No matter how much progress women entrepreneurs make, balancing work and family remains a major challenge. In this age of technology and telecommuting, has anything really changed for women?
Mona Scott, 34, is the mother of 4-year-old Justin and co-owner and president of 7-year-old Violator Management, a million-dollar-plus New York City multimedia management company that handles urban recording artists such as Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott and LL Cool J. "My job demands I be available 24/7/365. There are no weekends off or holiday breaks," says Scott. "Vacation means I get away but still must be reachable if something arises. If Busta calls and needs me at 3:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, I have to be there for him."
To balance such a demanding business with her role as a single mother, Scott relies on support from her extended family-mother, sisters, nephews and nieces. Early on, she asked her son's paternal grandmother, who was working in the child-care industry, to quit her job and help with Justin full time. When Scott's day starts about 7:30 a.m. at the gym, Justin's grandmother is getting him ready for school. Scott returns home to spend time with her son over breakfast before heading to the office for a workday that rarely ends before 11 p.m.
Live by the motto "If I don't take care of myself, I won't be able to take care of another."
Scott relies on technology, especially her cell phone and two-way pager, to remain "in the loop." "If I stay home, that day is spent on the phone and computer. I would definitely characterize myself as an e-mail and instant message junkie." But staying connected isn't just a matter of technology: Scott's son visits her at the office and accompanies her on business trips, grandmother in tow.
Child care is only one facet of care-giving that women entrepreneurs face, however. Elder care is just as big a responsibility for a growing number of women. According to the Administration on Aging, there will be 70 million seniors in the United States by 2030. That's more than twice the number in 1999.
Caring for elders often presents even more challenges than caring for children. Julie Cook Downing, author of Caregiver's Comfort, a self-published journal, resource and record book for care-givers, points out that while children are maturing and becoming more independent, needing progressively less care, seniors are regressing and becoming more dependent, which means an increased need for care.
"In my experience, care-giving for the aging parent is most often left for the daughter in the family to handle," says Lorraine Luciani, 51, co-owner of a geriatric care management firm in Hallandale, Florida. "Caring for an aging parent is a big responsibility. Add in running your own business, and the stress multiplies."
Whether you're dealing with child-care issues or elder-care concerns, much of the same advice applies. Luciani, who co-owns Elder Care Directions with Vickie Luciano, 39, offers this advice:
1. Call a "family meeting" to discuss ways you can share the responsibilities of care-giving.
2. Don't try to be "superwoman" and handle everything alone. Join a care-givers' support group in your community or online.
3. Take advantage of technology. Stay accessible via cell phones, pagers, e-mail and fax capabilities.
4. Watch for burnout. Live by the motto "If I don't take care of myself, I won't be able to take care of another."
"Prioritize situations and try not to let the 'guilty blues' get you," says Luciano. "Do the best you can and deal with everything one day at a time."
Aliza Pilar Sherman is an Internet pioneer, e-entrepreneur, speaker and author of the book Power Tools for Women in Business: 10 Ways to Succeed in Life and Work(Entrepreneur Press).