The decision to be a working mom isn’t easy, and the decision to launch a business while raising a family might be even more agonizing. Be introspective about your needs and what’s best for your family. It’s a complicated equation of mixed emotions and uncertain outcomes, shaky forecasts, and optimistic projections, deeply personal choices, filled with judgment, guilt, and innuendo.
That said, more than 75% of moms are working moms, and more than one-third of all employed women are working mothers. Their days are a finely choreographed dance of who needs to be where, accomplish what, the activities that move projects, goals, and relationships forward, and letting go of everything else. And that was pre-COVID.
Moms are still working, still taking care of families, and still taking care of us (as nurses and teachers), but what used to be a choice hardly feels like one anymore.
More than 2 million women have dropped out of the US labor force this year, as the pandemic continues to exacerbate inequalities in America’s economy.
It’s never been more complicated to be a working mom, but if you’re determined to make it work, these tips are the tough-love truth — what working moms with big dreams need to know about what it takes to raise a family while building a business.
While I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s, I lived in Denver while reporting to San Francisco. So once a month or so, I would fly to SFO, hail a cab to our office in the Embarcadero, and meet with my team for the better part of a week.
I almost always stayed at the Park Hyatt (now a Regency, but just four minutes from the Ferry Building) but occasionally picked something more boutique to mix up my routine. I always squeezed in a coffee or two at Peet’s (this was before it was available west of California). I scheduled walks along the waterfront and through Fisherman’s Wharf, or checked out a new neighborhood — what an incredible walking city!
And if I was lucky, I’d share a meal at Kokkari, or my favorite Thai place, or at a buzzworthy new spot that the expense account afforded. Plus, I’d squeeze in an attraction or a little shopping. I bookended the trips with personal time in the city, Napa, or up or down the coast.
I felt very glamorous with my khaki trench, cute boots, and local blowout — my San Francisco wardrobe was much more stylish than anything I wore at home.
One day, I was leaving high tea at The Ritz (I know! What was my life? And the views were to die for, which reminds me if you ever find yourself with a free afternoon there, definitely, I mean you absolutely must, tour the staircases throughout the city, which are unexpectedly delightful and inspiring in every way, especially the ones next to the Presidio. See every photo in this post for inspiration).
Anywho, I saw this mom with a toddler in a school uniform and a baby on her hip. The mom was tres chic, briefcase, said baby, impossibly high heels, holding the little boy’s hand, urging him across the street. I remember looking at her and whispering; I’m going to be her someday.
Of course, now that I’m a mom of three, I realize that she was probably the nanny, but nevertheless, for five years or so, she was it — my ideal mom.
We had twins first. For those of you who don’t know, it’s likely a baby explosion. One day, you are you, your husband is your husband, the next day, two tiny little bombs explode, and the aftereffects disorient everything you thought you knew about life for at least 18 months.
There are very few posed pictures in cutesy outfits or images of me looking glamorous from that time because the truth was we were reeling; days and nights were a blur of production, survival, and exhaustion.
But I couldn’t let go of that image and knew if I had just one more, a singleton (that’s what those of us in the twin biz call one baby at a time), everything would be just like I imagined: snuggle parties, matching mommy and me outfits, calm, cozy photo-perfect moments, with a side of mom boss.
Guess what? Even with one, it didn’t turn out like I imagined because spoiler alert: when you have two toddlers still bombing everything in sight, to be pregnant and with a newborn, even though it’s only one, still feels like survival-mode.
I was reminded of all this when I saw they are making another season of Big Little Lies on HBO. Today, I wonder if moms-to-be see that show and imagine that’s what motherhood is?
Glasshouses, meticulous and modern, perched on dramatic ocean vistas, Range Rovers parked in the drive? Latte dates and BFFs who all have the same things, babies at the same age, utter flexibility (I mean, does no one have obligations?), an impossible bankroll, a fantastic wardrobe, oh, and a six-pack-flaunting smoking-hot husband?
Maternity leaves are, of course, not a thing when you are running your empire, right? Wait, is it because you are the boss and you do what you want when you want? Or is it because you forgot to take one?
Anyway, I wasn’t self-employed at that time, I was managing a billion-dollar-account with three-under-three for a cable network, and the pace of life was staggering.
Today, four years later, with three eight-and-under, I have a burgeoning coaching practice, but I’m every mom: Part boss, part ambitionista, part schlumpdinka, but mostly just mom, and often mooooooooooooooooooom!!
Nevertheless, as a founder and a mother, I can say that it’s more challenging, messier, and more rewarding than I ever imagined. I’m constantly filled with self-doubt and wonder about the twists and turns my life has taken.
That said, I think there’s something incredible about pursuing both of these journeys simultaneously. It’s like an exponential personal growth expedition — part entrepreneurial, part parental, both paths demanding me to rise to the occasion again and again.
I don’t know everything, and I haven’t “arrived,” but I will share what I know because hey, it takes a village, and villages are hard to come by these days (see #2). Here’s what else I know, don’t know, and wish someone would have told me.
1. You don’t need to know everything about everything; you just have to trust yourself along the way.
Life doesn’t just happen, all of it at once, in an instant. Thank God.
It unfolds, perhaps sometimes with dizzying rapidity, but we get to figure it out as we go because we can’t know all that it will be. No matter what we imagine, envision, visualize, plan, pray, or hope for, there will be some detours and plot twists you never saw coming.
Just as you get the hang of parenting, a curveball comes your way — a sick kid, a new aversion to sleep, a struggle at school, a pandemic — and the same is true for entrepreneurship. So you land a couple of clients, and they like the results, but you still have to figure out lead generation and SEO and rebuild your website.
All of it has steep learning curves, but the best stuff always does. It’s all so big and defining and intense and intimidating; it’s best to let go of trying to make sense of it all in advance. Instead, try to enjoy the ride, embrace what comes, and see and celebrate yourself for growing into bigger shoes.
Forgive yourself, too, for failing, because you will fail. You’re going to have to reframe failure as learning and make the best choices in any given moment out of love, or you won’t stomach it.
2. Villages are hard to come by, but if you can’t find your people, you might drown.
You are a product of the people in your life. They affect your outlook, your perspective, your enthusiasm for life, your weight, and even your salary. What you think about yourself, what you think about what’s possible, and what you think about the world is heavily influenced by the people in your life.
I think that’s been the hardest part of the pandemic, not having a tribe to turn to. I mean, yes, of course, our people are still there, but as a family of five taking every precaution, we don’t just drop by to visit friends or family or let the kids play at someone’s house. We don’t take vacations or get outside stimuli. We are it, the beginning and the end of every day, and while we are everything to each other, it’s not enough.
How can I explain that dichotomy? But you know what I mean, don’t you? That every moment of every day is one that means the world to you, that you treasure the time and love them with every fiber, but sometimes you just need a minute, a little distance to be a whole person, separate from your family too.
All moms and all entrepreneurs need the creativity and fulfillment of challenging conversations and interesting relationships and support. Not like the hired kind, but the “I got you, I feel you, I know, I’ve been there, let me take this off your plate for a minute, so you can breathe, regroup, and soldier on” the kind where you are in danger of drowning, but you can’t see the threat. Still, they can, and they don’t just throw you a life raft; they sweep you up on a yacht and take you on holiday to Monaco.
Wait, I don’t have that either, but it feels like that sometimes. I remember being inspired and intrigued and motivated by my people, face-to-face.
Rely on them. Ask for help, admit you need them, and try not to get to the point that you find yourself in the middle of the ocean without a shore in sight.
3. Being vulnerable is the way, so surrender already.
That mother or nanny, as the case may be, my dream mom, probably didn’t exist. I’m sure she struggled with something. Perhaps her problems were more high-quality than mine, but no one is perfect. Yet, here we are, living real lives and only revealing the Instagram-worthy side.
The consequence of curating our lives that way is we start to believe the hype that we are all moving through life with a perfect mom bun, lash extensions, tight midriff, no stretch marks, and glossy lives, and so what we really have feels less impressive.
I mean, who wants to feel that their life is insignificant or doesn’t measure up or is less than? But we all do it to each other, and the net-net is that the bar has been raised.
It’s no longer enough to get a holiday card out in time; it has to be the perfect Santa with the ideal backdrop and gorgeous kids or a family (yours!) frolicking on the beach somewhere that must have cost a fortune. Really. For a family of five.
We can’t share a candid moment unless it’s staged just right and edited to include the corner of our kitchen that isn’t a mess, that has the high-dollar small appliances or stunning natural light.
It’s just all so exhausting, and we don’t honestly believe it, so why do we go along? Because to oppose the trend would be to reveal our authentic selves or even our humanity, which feels way too vulnerable. It’s one thing if they judge me or don’t respond to an image. It’s another level of devastation if they reject the authentic me, judge my real parenting, see my imperfections, and inadequacy up close and personal.
But what if you took Brene Brown’s advice and simply showed up as you are? What would happen? I don’t know for sure, but when I let my guard down, the connection with my friends and my parents and my children and my husband deepens.
When I let them in, when I love them more, when I love myself more, everything seems a little less hard and a little less threatening.
And when I have compassion for myself, it extends to my family and friends, and even strangers. And when I go there with my clients, into the realm of unconditional acceptance and hard truths, it almost always leads to a breakthrough. So there’s that.
4. Celebrate the sprints because it’s mostly marathons.
You know that saying about “The days are long, but the years are short”? It’s real. Childhood is impossibly fleeting and, and there are days that I thought we wouldn’t make it. Days when two babies cried for hours, and we hadn’t slept for days, when my boobs ached and leaked, and my body felt weak, and my husband and I wanted to escape.
And, the little things, a first “dada” or two tiny babies crawling toward each other to hold hands, made it all worthwhile. You have to take those little momentary wins for everything they are and more because on balance, you will be in over your head.
Building a business is like that. You just want to give up or give in or take a freaking job to have guaranteed pay. A client then says you changed her life or posts an unexpected tribute on social media, or someone asks you to write for them or guest on their podcast, and suddenly, you feel reenergized — a small sign that what you are building matters.
If you can detach enough to realize that the races you’re in (to your first six-figure or million-dollar year or until your children walk or talk or graduate high school) aren’t races at all. They are marathons made of precious moments, full of life, real life; only then can you shift from sprinting all the time to presence and awareness and gratitude and sustainability — Pace yourself, grasshopper.
5. Moms bring skills that no one else can bring to the table.
I don’t know about you, but two incredible things happened when I became a mom (besides the babies and physical stuff, which was astonishing). One, quite suddenly and unapologetically, I knew my time was far more valuable than I previously realized.
Two, I started showing up as my whole self — fierce, loving, smart, courageous, committed, strategic, aggressive, hopeful, understanding, and more. I wasn’t playing a game or a role, I was a mom and business owner who for the next 20 years or so would be in over her head if I tried to compartmentalize my life, so I had to do me, all of me, or risk losing myself.
And you know what? Moms freaking rock. They bring so much, a staggering amount really, to the table. We need them. We need them nurturing families and running companies and serving on boards and making critical decisions and advising and mentoring and in government and bringing heart and a holistic point of view and representing the interests of women and families. It’s called evolution.
But we also need them because they know how to be successful while balancing competing priorities; they can budget with the best of them, lower costs, achieve revenue goals, and increase profits. They know the nuances of leadership in a way that is incomprehensible until you’re a mom.
I don’t know if I’ve talked you into something or out of it, but if you do decide to go for it, to build a business while raising a family, even though the reality is far messier and more overwhelming than you expect, bravo! I have a sneaking suspicion that if you read this far, you’ve got what it takes.