How to Achieve Startup Work-Life Harmony while Having a Family
In life, there are a handful of critical moments in which you feel as if you are jumping off a cliff and unsure if there is any safety net below. This is how I felt when I decided to quit my traditional job to stay home with my newborn baby and two-year-old son. I never predicted that a few months later, to make this transition possible, I would be achieving a startup freelancing company and attempting work-life harmony while having a family — in a very different way than before.
As an English teacher, I thought I had it made, and for a while, I did. I gave 120% to that job and was always looking for new and engaging ways to teach our young minds literature. I was creative: I put on extravagant plays, utilized technology, and graded writing and reading — two subjects I had always loved.
However, after the birth of my first child, something within me changed. I think all mothers can agree that no one can prepare you for life after a baby. And after the birth of my son, teaching didn’t have the same priority as it did before. After a 7-week maternity leave and feeling like I had no other options except to help my husband provide for our family, I returned to the profession I had always loved.
I quickly found out that being a mother and being a teacher were two full-time jobs that both required nurturing, giving and patience. Although I knew women who pulled both off beautifully, this quickly burnt me out and stretched me beyond a capacity I could adequately handle. You can read more about my backstory in a recent post of mine, The Moms Guide to Decluttering Working as an Online Freelancer.
I just wasn’t happy anymore. I wanted to be home with my child. But, like so many families, I knew that we would not be able to sustain ourselves on just one income. So for two years, I sucked it up; I poured as much energy as I could into teaching, and I tried to be the best mother I could be when I was at home — but this was not always possible. I felt guilty, I felt burnt out, I felt exhausted, and at some moments I felt like a failure. But my husband and I plugged away; we did what we had to do; we made ends meet.
And then I became pregnant with my second son, and I found out that being pregnant, when you have a toddler running around, is a tad bit different than being pregnant when you can take a nap once in a while. What would happen after the baby was born and was a milk guzzling little human? I knew that I had to do something that would both benefit myself and my family, but staying at home without bringing any money in was not an option for us.
I didn’t know how I was going to make a change, but I knew I needed to. And so I investigated and found out that we live in an age where there are options for people to start up their own businesses from home. I needed something where I could create my own schedule. I needed a job that adapted and worked around the sicknesses, the appointments, and the milestones. I also had support, if things didn’t work out. I was in a position where I finally felt that I had options. I researched the possibilities and vowed to sacrifice whatever I needed to and make it work. The foundations of a startup were in the making. Then, I decided to leap.
This was almost a year ago.
Due to a relentless persistence and willingness to learn, I now consider myself a successful freelancer with a startup business. Although this still requires true commitment, it also provides flexibility and more work-life harmony while having a family than I’ve ever had in the past.
I certainly don’t have all the answers on how to balance it all for I am learning as I go, but I do feel that I have some experiences and tools that helped me to achieve more harmony than I had before my startup began.
If you have the innate desire to make your own business work while staying home, and you are willing to put in the odd hours by waking up early, staying up late, playing with Play-Doh , going to the playground, teaching the ABCs, communicating with your partner, etc., all in the same day, then balancing a startup while still having time for your family could be in the cards for you.
Don’t get me wrong; I love what I do! But with a freelancing startup business, two young kids, and a husband (I won’t even mention my poor cat Hemingway) it’s still a juggling act. But my startup does not really feel like “work,” and it has provided me the freedom to be home with my children — and for me — that was always the end goal. But no one ever said it was going to be easy.
And to be truthful, I still haven’t figured out 100 percent how to achieve a work-life harmony (and realistically, probably never will) but I keep picking up tricks along the way, and I learn a lot of lessons from my imperfections.
I’m not a guru by any means, but I am a mother, I am a wife, and I do currently run a successful freelancing company that helps pay the bills in a dual-income family.
So if you are thinking or already have taken the plunge to create a startup with your family also in mind, I have a few experiences and tools that achieve some startup work-life harmony while having a family. Here are a few nuggets that have helped me along the way.
Realize that you are your own boss
Whatever startup business you have, whether it be freelancing as a writer, creating your own app, or selling a mommy invention, realize that you become your own boss. This sounds ideal but entails a lot more work than expected.
When I started to gain more and more opportunities in the writing field and had clients seeking me out to do projects for them, I quickly realized that this was no longer a side hustle; this was my business.
And with your own business, there’s no one there to take out your taxes, to provide insurance, or to hand you a beautifully well-designed schedule. For a startup, you are on your own. Because of this, you might be out of your comfort zone and have a lot more to learn than you did when you worked a traditional job that you were familiar with.
How does this epiphany contribute to work-life harmony? Just like when I was becoming bitter about not being able to see my children and husband as much I wanted to, you can become bitter about a startup that you aren’t prepared for. Know what you are getting into, research, and read, read, read. Talk to others who can offer you some perspective, and make realistic goals, before jumping.
Although you will learn a lot along the way, and there is no way to be fully prepared for starting a new business, you should know what you want from your startup. Not knowing this one essential truth will only cause regret and bitterness down the road, which will only interfere with your family.
I cannot reiterate this enough, startup jobs are not for everyone. There are advantages and disadvantages to them just like there are with traditional jobs. But if you are fully committed and are realistic about what you need to take on to be successful, then go for it.
For me, seeing my family more was always the priority. My startup was just a way to fulfill that while still providing for my household. Work-life harmony was the goal from day 1.
Just realize, when you are your own boss, you can take as few or as many projects as you want/need, and it’s up to you which side of the spectrum your startup will be on and how much time that leaves for your family. If you aren’t mindful, the cogwheel will devour you.
If I had a pie chart of how I divide my startup and family life, it would look more like a Venn Diagram, because there is some overlap. When the day is done, I feel like I work just as much as I did before. It’s just different types of work at unique instances, and, yes, I am counting the daycare I provide and cleaning as part of my job.
Although zonked every night, I am content, calm, and not only excited about the project ahead, but also glad I was able to color Mickey Mouse with our new crayons. This works for me, but everyone’s situation remains different.
Find ways to increase productivity while conserving time
When you have two young children, there are many instances when working at home on a startup doesn’t go as planned. I do have designated times throughout the day when it’s known that mommy has to work. But children get sick, fall, blow out diapers, start potty training, throw tantrums, yell, and many times, just need you.
There are moments when I have to accept that I am not going to get done what I wanted to get done, and I feel lucky that I have the freedom to step away from work to tend to those situations above. But because of this, my most productive work happens after the kids go to bed until midnight. Although I also have specific times of the day that I work; I quickly found out that these are not reliable work hours. It’s only at night when I am free from interruptions, and the house is tranquil, that, sometimes the work begins.
I’ve also found that one of the most useful tools that contribute to my productivity is speech recognition software. I don’t use this all of the time because I love the way my thoughts flow when I type on a computer. However, there are moments when this tool prevents me from missing a deadline. I can walk around and dictate while burping a baby, and I don’t feel guilty, because when used once in a while around the kiddos, it’s like an extra story time: double whammy.
I also make sure that my toddler has a preset bin of toys for free play, and my hands are free to hold that baby that needs to be held and to stop that toddler — who sometimes sways from his independent play — to climb the baby gate.
I don’t know how I survived without the Google speech recognition tool SoundWriter that’s a Google Docs add-on. I literally tell my computer my thoughts, and they are typed for me automatically. I do have to revise later. Still, the rough draft gets completed in half of the time, so I boosted productivity.
Your particular startup may not require voice recognition, but I encourage you to research and utilize technology that will boost productivity while you are working, This will give you back more time to spend with your family.
Set designated work times and limit extra sessions while you are with your children
When I first began this startup adventure, I had these lovely images of writing while my two children napped at the same time. I thought I would do a little bit of work while the baby nursed on the boppy and my toddler played cars quietly beside me. I also thought I would have so much time to finish all of the projects I took on — ha, ha, and ha!
It turns out, my toddler wasn’t into napping after the baby came along. Babies get really fidgety on a boppy after a couple of months. And in regards to time, since staying home, I have to remind myself that my day did go somewhere: to diaper changes, making meals, cleaning apple juice, counting to five for timeouts, checking in with my husband. . . You get the idea. I even wrote a recent poem: To the Mother Reading This: Your Work is Not Invisible to remind myself that my domestic duties do matter, even though they are not always seen.
I get my work done by having my husband watch the kids for two hours in the morning. I also work after the kids have gone to sleep, and I have checked in with my husband. Then I utilize pockets of time for maybe a total of one productive hour during the day (usually when the baby’s sleeping, and my toddler engages in a puzzle or his cars and cardboard garages). By using these pockets of time, I get my work done.
And I don’t feel guilty because my son also needs to know that he has to occupy himself a few times each day, (especially during quiet time when he refuses to nap). I am not an endless entertainer, although I do enjoy craft time.
After this hour (that is usually equivalent to 30 minutes of productivity), we do something together. It might be going outside and playing in the pool, completing a craft (told you I loved them), or playing with blocks together. But I shut the laptop, turn off the phone, and my attention and focus immediately goes back to the kids.
If I am running behind, sometimes it’s hard to unplug, but I did not make this change to be on a computer all day around my children. I might have to get up earlier the next day or stay up later, but I have the freedom to do so, and somehow, I manage to get the work done. If you truly desire to run your own startup and engage more with your family, you will find a way!
Be honest about your family situation with clients
A few months in, I had acquired quite a few clients. However, I still felt like I could use a couple more to pay the bills comfortably. At this point, yes, I needed more clients, but I also could be pickier. I decided to be incredibly forthcoming with my situation. I told prospective companies a realistic time that I needed to achieve the work they wanted me to complete before I accepted any contract.
For example, one job I applied for said they needed an article within a week. At that time, with my workload, I couldn’t pack in even one more piece. However, I did know that two weeks would be more than possible. I communicated this before accepting the offer. Now, this client is an ongoing client who accommodates my schedule as needed.
Another client I signed with, originally wanted me to do five articles a week, which I did for a while. But after acquiring higher paying jobs, I negotiated this down to only two articles a week. Because of my hard work and honesty, I was able to pick clients who would accommodate my particular situation. I was always upfront about having two young children and the time that I needed to get the work completed.
I think my straightforwardness became one reason why I was still hired for the majority of these jobs. If you have a family, and especially if you are working from home with young children, you have to be realistic about the length of time you need to get stuff done. And hopefully, you’ll be fortunate enough to find clients respectful of your needs.
Communicate with your partner about dividing duties
Similarly to a traditional job, you have to communicate with your partner about domestic duties to run a healthy household. Be aware; this might take some trial and error.
Our original plan was for my husband to watch my toddler first thing in the morning while I wrote in the back room with our baby. This worked out splendidly for the first couple of months because the baby would either sleep or nurse on the boppy, and I would write like a speed demon. But eventually he stopped sleeping so much, and I found myself completing hardly anything for those first few hours of the day, because I knew providing the baby with attention was more important.
However, I did still have deadlines to meet, and the only logical solution I could come up with was that my husband was going to have to take the baby for a few hours at the beginning of the day. My son could take a bottle. Not only would this give me a “break,” but it would provide my husband with some bonding time with our youngest, and allow me to focus fully on my startup for a couple of hours in the morning.
These two hours helped me get the work done that needed to be done. My work also provided a break from my children. And although I love my family more than anything, I need those two hours of child-free mental stimulation or I might go insane. Luckily, I know this about myself. In this sense, the startup balances my family life.
Although the first couple of days were an awakening experience for my husband (I could still hear them through the door) I knew, just like I had, he would figure it out, and although he has some very different techniques than I, he did.
This flows into my next piece of advice for achieving balance between a startup and family. It applies to parents in general, and that is Accept help!
I know I am incredibly fortunate that my parents live nearby, and I have a husband who is at home for a few hours in the morning.
Something that changed dramatically for me after the birth of my second son was that I knew I needed to accept help — because two kids are a lot more work than one — and I only have two hands.
And yes, there are a lot of pictures on the internet of parents (either hyper-focused or always smiling, yeah right) working at home while their kids are playing quietly or their child happily sits on their lap. Not only is that impossible to maintain, but that’s not why I wanted to stay home.
I didn’t create a startup freelancing business to be on my computer all day while I glance at my children — one of which, would probably be massaging himself with Lysol.
For me, that wasn’t the answer. So although there are a few hours of the day that I utilize for work AND the children, most of my working time happens when the kiddos are not around. Again, at night and in the morning.
But there are occurrences when I have deadlines approaching that have to be done, and I need some extra help. I might need my husband to step in and take the kids for a few more hours, or I might need my parents to watch the children while I get a couple more hours of work done on my own.
I also found that two days of daycare for my toddler resulted in a break that I personally needed to mother properly, finish my weekly projects, and to actually take a nap. Sleep deprivation catches up with you. Find a way to catch some Z’s; your family will thank you.
I have always had difficulties asking for help, but with two children and a startup company, it’s not an option for me anymore. It’s a necessity.
Don’t say yes to everything
I’m still working on this. I love freelancing. I could go sit by the beach and write for days, but I’d miss my husband and kids. It’s exciting when I get an offer that I feel would be an awesome article to write. Or, an invitation arrives from a company that stands for something positive. But I began my startup to be with my children and to have more of a work-life balance than I had before. I still need to be rational.
With many jobs, it’s hard to say no, and this has always been a weakness of mine. I am a passionate person, and I love exciting challenges and producing projects, and sometimes I neglect the needs of myself to fulfill the needs of others.
I have accomplished a lot, and I am proud of this, but at the same time, I also am known for burning myself out. When you have a startup, it’s super easy to get caught up in it all and to say yes to everything. So there are many instances when I have to stop and look at the bigger picture and remind myself of the reason why I decided to do this in the first place.
We need to pay the bills, and my original goal was to find something I enjoyed that would make that possible. Luckily, I did. Now I’m in a position where I could keep on accepting tasks, but that’s not why I did this. There are only so many hours in a day, and my original goal was not to start a full-time startup, it was to make more time for my family and relieve stress for myself.
So this leads me to my final example of steps I’ve taken to achieve a work-life harmony and that is put it all into perspective.
Most likely, if you’re reading this article, you are craving balance. You probably are determined, excited, passionate, and focused on success. But I bet you also want more. Just like so many working parents, it doesn’t matter if you work in or outside the home, you probably want some harmony.
Just like me, you might want it all: an exciting vocation that doesn’t feel like work and more time to spend with the ones you love. But it’s easy to get lost in the moment. It’s easy to put way too much on your plate with your business when you already have a full-time job at home. And so perspective remains vital.
My family had a scare recently. My son who was only a little over a month old at the time had trouble breathing and spent a week in the PICU for severe bronchiolitis. It was the worst week of my life. I don’t want to revisit all of the details, but I will say that the experience, although I wish it on no one, put it all into perspective.
Life’s short, and my family is everything to me. And yes, I need to do what I need to do to provide for them, but I also need to be there for them. And I have a feeling it’s always going to be a juggling act, but I also have realized that the work will still be there. And yes, I need to do my best to get it done and do it well. But I also need to stop, breathe, and treasure the moments my husband and I have with these kids.
And sometimes that means shutting down the computer, packing up a bag, and going to the beach. And sometimes that means staying up a little later after the kids go to bed — to not only meet the deadlines — but to ask my husband about his day. It means pausing once in awhile and being incredibly grateful for what you have.
Understandably, I didn’t get any work done at the hospital when my son was in the PICU. Yes, things were due, and when my son began to get better, and we were told he was going to be okay, I thought I would actually try to write something.
But during that time, it didn’t happen. It wasn’t going to happen. And I had to be honest with clients, and I had to be honest with myself. And I just had to pause. The work could wait. We would get by.
And on the day my son went home from the PICU, I went to the hospital gift shop and bought a bracelet with a Celtic charm that symbolizes the journey through time. ‘It’s a beautiful copper Mandela that flows together and forms a design with many routes and paths. And I bought it to remind me of a moment when so much could have been taken away. It was important to me to have something to look at when I get caught up all the small stuff and to catch myself if I am losing perspective.
I guess what I want you to take away from this is that both startups and family are hard work, but they can also be complementary. Know your goals, know your limits, and know what you truly want before you jump off that cliff. And once you decide what’s the most important for you and your family, then my friend, stick to it. Don’t let it go. Only then is work-life harmony possible with a startup. Only then is when you should jump.