I started my New York City staffing agency six years ago, when my daughters were 2, 4, and 6 years old. It made sense to me: Parenting had taught me valuable skills that I felt prepared me to run a business — notably, multitasking, budgeting, organizing, and scheduling. Sure, I’d need to find a way to build strong relationships with clients while continuing to nurture the precious relationships I had at home. No problem, I thought. I’m prepared.
I wasn’t. I didn’t recognize the magnitude of time and energy required to get a business off the ground. It was very much like having another baby — a labor of love, most certainly, but also a monumental responsibility. Somehow, though, I found my way, my balance, even when divorce reared its ugly head. I kept my cool, put policies and processes into place, and turned time management into an art form.
If you’re in a similar place — thinking of starting a company or already in the midst of it — here are some tips that may help you build a thriving business while being a spectacular mom:
1. Be Kind to Yourself
Yes, this is No. 1. Think of it as putting your oxygen mask on first. You need to be whole and strong to nurture your children and your business. This means being understanding about your own human limits rather than feeling guilty when you’re away from your kids, but then also feeling guilty about “neglecting” your business when you’re with them. Don’t let that guilt pattern take hold. Give yourself permission to spend time on your business (it needs a lot in its early days) in addition to caring for and enjoying time with your kids. Remember to get plenty of sleep, eat right, and schedule some me time every day.
2. Come to Grips With the Reality That You Can’t Always Be There for Everyone
Trying to be all things to all people at all times is an exercise in futility. What’s a smarter strategy? Prioritizing and keeping a well-thought-out calendar. Which school or extracurricular events are most important? Which meetings require you, rather than another company representative, to be at the table? Planning ahead can help you avoid most conflicts. When conflicts do happen, just make the best decision you can.
When you’re at work, focus on work. When you’re with your family, focus on family. Each needs your undivided attention and care. How do you explain to your children that sometimes work has to take priority? I tell mine that it doesn’t mean I love them any less; it just means it’s work time. They need to learn the importance of a strong work ethic. When you demonstrate that work is to be taken seriously, you become a role model for their own future professionalism.
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4. Stick to a Routine
Structure is good for children and parents alike. Everyone knows what the expectations are, where they need to be, and how they need to behave to fulfill their role in the family dynamic.
5. Be Creative About Time Management
Maintaining my sanity requires regular workouts, but since workouts can eat up time, I looked into starting an exercise program for moms and kids to work out together at my gym. I get my workout while also spending time with my daughters. Bonus: The kids learn to love working out and make it part of their daily routine.
6. Build a Support Network
This can be professional mentors, other moms, family members, a nanny or babysitter, neighbors, friends — you name it. Just make sure you have a community to lend a hand or sympathetic ear when you need one.
When might you need support? When you get held up in a meeting and can’t make it to pick your child up from school. When you need advice for making your company operations more efficient. When you think your head might explode because you’re being pulled in a hundred directions. A kind voice, a grounding conversation, professional advice, and an extra pair of hands are all part of a healthy single-mom CEO ecosystem.
7. Understand That Your Company Will Experience Ups and Downs
Just like your kids, your business will fall and scrape its knees once in a while. But guess what? Just like your kids, it has the potential to grow stronger from that experience. Don’t let the normal roller coaster of running a business dampen your spirits or conviction.
8. Reflect on the Good Stuff
When you’re under the pressure of being CEO of your business and your home, it’s easy to forget why you wanted to build the company in the first place. Celebrate your achievements, large and small, and remind yourself how great it feels to be your own boss, to build something that is yours (and yours to hand down to your children). You have taken on the challenge of not only supporting your kids but also showing them by example that they can do anything they set their minds to.
Once you’ve mastered these strategies, your life can become calmer and easier. Of course, they’re not foolproof — sometimes I still have to lock myself in the bathroom to talk with clients — but for the most part, they strengthen your potential for building a successful business while raising some pretty incredible kids.
Ariel Schur, LCSW, is CEO and Founder of ABS Staffing Solutions.