You can’t be both a parent and an entrepreneur — at least, according to common knowledge. Both pursuits are demanding jobs; you have to choose one over the other, or you’ll fail at both. Maybe you could dedicate the time after you’ve gone and established your business, but before? You would need to choose.
From a glance, the argument makes sense. After all, any parent can confirm that raising a child is a full-time job. Sure, the task might not have nine-to-five hours, but it demands the same level of commitment and care. When you’re a parent, you need to be there for all the little moments that define a childhood: for the ball games, dance recitals and the nights when you do nothing but stay home watch movies. You can’t afford to be absent, not when you’re the person they turn to for advice and lean on for support.
But for entrepreneurs, “showing up” can be easier said than done. The task of building a business often demands 15-hour days and weekend work, and doesn’t easily allow for family time. Trying to balance work and home life can leave entrepreneurs feeling like they might break the metaphorical scale.
Here’s the issue — that choice they think they have to make is a false one.
I’ve spent over three decades as an entrepreneur and two decades as a parent, so I’ve lived that balancing act firsthand. What I’ve found is this: if you build your business around the philosophy that your family comes first, you can be successful at both. That isn’t to say that the task won’t be difficult, or that you won’t struggle at times to be present, but it is possible to be both a high-achieving entrepreneur and a loving parent — if, that is, you put in the work.
Before you can even consider balancing entrepreneurship with parenthood, you need to gauge whether you have the energy reserves you’ll need to build a business in the first place.
Common knowledge is right in one regard: it does take 12 to 16-hour workdays to build a business. According to a recent study conducted by the Alternative Board, a third of surveyed business owners reported working more than 50 hours every week. Physical exhaustion will weigh on you frequently, but the mental drain will be even more taxing. You will inevitably be denied, betrayed and refused. You will have weeks where you struggle to make payroll and wonder if you’re two bad weeks from going under. You will, at some point, want to quit — and all of that is okay. If you have the inner strength and thick skin you need to weather the negativity that comes with being an entrepreneur, you can overcome the stress and find professional success.
For parents, though, there’s another layer.
Entrepreneurs with families can’t just push through the stress — they need to set it aside entirely and focus on being present with their children. This can be difficult; after a long day at work, you might not feel like you have the energy to cheer at Little League baseball game or watch a school play. However, these small moments of “showing up” are critical to maintaining a strong relationship; they should never be brushed off or ignored. Successful parent-entrepreneurs need to have the energy to be present in their working and home lives; otherwise, one will inevitably slip.
If you structure your organization properly, you should have the time you need to place your family first. Too many entrepreneurs make the mistake of cementing themselves as an integral pillar in the business and cast themselves as the fixer for every problem. They have no time to spend with their family because they’re so busy putting out fires that they should trust their staff to handle.
Ultimately, a founder should be able to step away from the business and trust in the people they’ve appointed to run it. You don’t build companies with brick and mortar; you build them with people. While there should be systems in place that will prompt you to intervene if a bad actor attempts to deviate from the company’s objective, your primary role should be a supportive one. If you hire the best people you can and give them the care and support they need to succeed, they will surpass all of your expectations. If the business has a strong structure and an engaged, trusted staff, you should have the freedom you need to pursue other business interests and — more importantly — spend time with your family.
Something will inevitably come up at work if you allow it. There will always be a reason to stay at the office, fix another problem, get ahead on your to-do list — and accidentally put aside spending time with your children until tomorrow. Entrepreneurs need to know when to separate themselves from their work or push their work responsibilities until after they’ve spent time with their kids.
Part of the solution comes down to scheduling. You need to have your children’s schedules down to a tee and adjust your timetable to accommodate their needs. Your daughter’s choir recital or your son’s baseball game won’t wait until after you’ve finished outlining a presentation — but you can arrange your schedule so that you can complete the task before or after those events. Then, try not to bring work with you when you arrive. Avoid taking calls or checking your email during these events and instead, focus on being there for your child. Be present. In doing so, you’ll reassure your child that you’re there to support them and can put aside your hard work to recognize theirs.
Try not to overlook more casual nights, either! Children thrive on routine; they want to know that you’ll be there to share dinner or wave them off to school after breakfast. Showing up for scheduled events might be important, but it’s equally crucial to connect and share time during quiet evenings and weekends. True, you may need to retreat to your office and finish up a few tasks after the kids have gone to bed — but is that too high a price to pay for keeping both your at-home and at-work lives healthy? From my experience, I don’t think so.
Entrepreneurs can be phenomenal parents, but only if they adopt a family-first mentality and organize their working lives to accommodate their children’s needs. You need to treat your kids like the priority they are — otherwise, they may feel like they’re the second choice to your career.