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Doing it all: The balancing act of parenting at home while running a business

“I can give some answers! Give me some time to get my kids distracted.”

That’s what Stephanie Desaulniers said when approached about how she balances owning a business with being a mother of two children under 6.

Desaulniers is the owner of a small knitting products company and director of an organization providing work space, guidance, assistance and training for small businesses and startups in Pennsylvania. Although her children are typically in day care while she works away from the home, she and her husband are keeping the kids home as part of their coronavirus social distancing protocol. This means she is balancing at-home parenting with a full-time job.

Desaulniers’ experience is not unusual for parents who own a business, especially when that business is run out of their home. For many, the line between parent and entrepreneur is blurred. And millions of parents who are working from home temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic are familiar with the balancing act between kid-related and work-related priorities.

Managing a small business while parenting has its benefits. Many parents who operate their business at home say they love that they have more time to spend with their children, whether it is a lunch date, a quick play break or sharing breakfast before school.

Children of business owners also have a chance to see their parents modeling good business practices, such as business etiquette, fiscal responsibility, employee management and coordinating a schedule. And many mothers value the opportunity to give their children a front-row seat to watching a confident and competent working mother in action.

Owning a business and raising a family does pose some unique challenges, however. Small businesses tend to require long hours that can interfere with school activities, doctor appointments or even nightly dinners. Successful moms and business owners stress the importance of trusting your staff and building a support network to maintain a balance between job time and family time.

If you can, outsource tasks that sap your energy or always seem to fall to the bottom of the priority list. This will free up time and leave you with the mental and emotional energy for a healthier work-life balance. And speaking of priority lists, remember you are in charge of your own list. You get to define what success looks like for you and your family, and you get to decide what you are willing to sacrifice to succeed.

Parents who run their business from home often find their focus is easily split if they do not set strong boundaries about work and play time. Your clients are paying for your time, and they deserve your undivided attention. Break your daily goals down into bite-sized pieces that can be accomplished throughout the day.

You may not get a whole project done in those times, but it all adds up. If you can leave home, even for part of the day, take advantage of that opportunity. Business owners who do not have an office space can work from coffee shops and libraries. If you cannot leave, close the door, send your kids elsewhere, or even take a call in the closet if you have to. Obviously, it is not reasonable to expect to never be interrupted — this is the case even when you work in an office. With children around, however, interruptions tend to be more frequent and unpredictable. Coach children on those boundaries and enforce them with kindness.

At-home entrepreneurs also advise creativity with time and tools. Parents who work from home tend to learn quickly which of their child care tasks can be coupled with work tasks. Take advantage of a client’s understanding and reschedule a meeting (with plenty of notice, of course) so you can care for an under-the-weather kid. Use a good headset so you can take calls while changing the suddenly dirty diaper. One parent even told us about giving her child a bath while also walking a colleague through a tricky aspect of a job!

Work outside while kids get some fresh air. Get an hour of time in after the kids go to bed or before they get up. Or shift your schedule so you can be available after school or for a little family time before dinner.

One thing almost all parents agree upon — you cannot do this alone. For most, child care is currently disrupted by health concerns related to the coronavirus. Eventually it will be safe for kids to return to camps, day care and schools. If you are privileged to afford a professional nanny or child care, consider it an investment in child-free time that allows you to be the full-time professional you are, whether it’s in an office or at home.

Many parents rely on generous grandparents or neighbors for children who are not in school, and parents of school-aged children use the school day as their time to focus on big projects or meet with clients. If both parents are at home and so are the kids, split time so they each partner gets time to focus on their work, even if it means your workday starts earlier or ends later than your colleagues’.

Finally, remember that kids will be kids and the line between work and family will be blurred. Especially if your children are younger and aren’t capable (or interested) in working independently. If you are splitting time between caregiving and working, they will demand their share of that time. Their days do not fit neatly into hourly meetings and scheduled calls. Raising children while working from home or running your business (or both) will mean sometimes chaos wins the day. Be flexible and forgiving of yourself. And, when all else fails, laugh along with other parents who are on this wild ride with you.