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When Kids and Home Offices Collide

Probably the biggest reason parents set up home offices is to find a better balance between their work and family lives, but is that really possible with children running around the house?

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In 2001, an estimated 12.6 million American households contained at least one parent of dependent children who was generating income at home, up from 10.7 million in 1999. In a new book, The Entrepreneurial Parent: How to Earn Your Living From Home and Still Enjoy Your Family, Your Life and Your Work (Tarcher/Putnam), homebased business experts Paul and Sarah Edwards have teamed up with Lisa Roberts, founder of en-parent.com, an online career resource and community of entrepreneurial parents, to report on the emerging workforce trend of entrepreneurs, free agents and telecommuters who are also in the throes of parenting children 18 years old or younger. The book is based on a detailed survey of more than 700 entrepreneurial parents across America, who share their advice, their stories and their challenges.

The project was the collaborative brainchild of Lisa Roberts, a homebased working mother of four young children, and Sarah Edwards, who years ago was "working as a parent involvement specialist for the Headstart program, so it was particularly odd that I never saw my child." Upon starting her own homebased business with husband Paul, Sarah made it a point to structure her day around the time her son came home from school. "I didn't schedule clients at that time," says Sarah, "so we could have half an hour together at least. In our business, it wouldn't have worked to have Paul on the floor in the next room playing with our son while I was working."

The book draws a crucial distinction between "segregators" and "integrators." According to Paul Edwards, "segregators" are entrepreneurial parents who draw clear distinctions between their home office and their family life, following the dictates of many home-business books (not this one) that tell them this is the only way entrepreneurial parenting can be done. The "segregator" approach is best expressed by a friend of mine who tells her children not to disturb her in the office "unless someone's bleeding."

Integrators, on the other hand, mix and match their parenting and work activities. "These are people who attend their kids' soccer game while working on their laptops, or change diapers while leaving voice-mail messages for colleagues," says Paul. "Integrators combine work and parenting in both time and space; while segregators seek to confine their work to rooms that aren't used for any other purpose, integrators may work in every room of the house." Clearly, integrators have to be careful when claiming the home office deduction on their tax returns, making sure that at least one room in the house looks like a full-time office.

The Edwards' say that of the 700 parents surveyed for their book, 55 percent described themselves as primarily integrators, and only 33 percent described themselves as segregators. "Clearly, this isn't an either/or world," says Sarah.

Other results of the survey:

  • It helps to be married--81 percent of respondents were, and 62 percent of respondents were covered under their spouse's health insurance plans;
  • It helps to have a small family--only 7 percent of respondents had four or more children, and 17 percent had three children (one respondent, who reported having 9 children, is also reportedly able to bend metal bars with her bare hands and leap tall buildings in a single bound);
  • It helps to have school-age children--25 percent of respondents had children in elementary school (ages 6 to 10), 20 percent had pre-schoolers (ages 0 to 5), and 18 percent had young teens (ages 11 to 15);
  • It helps to work only part-time--58 percent of respondents worked 20 hours a week or less.

Of course, being a successful entrepreneurial parent has a lot to do with the ages and temperaments of your children. But, says Sarah, "it also has a lot to do with your own personality, whether you like to be distracted, and how well you work with distractions."

One more thing: Since its founding in 1998, en-parent.com, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, has provided guidance and support to thousands of entrepreneurial parents nationwide. For those who need additional support, there is the National Association of Entrepreneurial Parents (NAEP), a branch of en-parent.com. For a one-time fee of $50, NAEP members receive a "profile page" on en-parent.com for their business, special discounts for NAEP resource materials, a copy of Lisa Roberts' other book How to Raise a Family and a Career Under One Roof: A Parent's Guide to Home Business (Bookhaven Press), participation in the NAEP's listservs and chatrooms (where members can talk to each other in real time), and the NAEP membership directory, among other things.

Cliff Ennico is host of the PBS television series MoneyHunt and a leading expert on managing growing companies. His advice for small businesses regularly appears on the "Protecting Your Business" channel on the Small Business Television Network at www.sbtv.com. E-mail him at cennico@legalcareer.com.

Written By

Cliff Ennico is a syndicated columnist and author of several books on small business, including Small Business Survival Guide and The eBay Business Answer Book. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.