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How To Make Self-Employment Work After Starting A Family

Launching a business after becoming a parent isn’t easy, but these three guidelines can help.

How To Make Self-Employment Work After Starting A Family
[Photo: Flickr user DarrelBirkett]

In the fall of 2003, I was at the top of my field as an account director at a fast-growing PR agency, and newly pregnant. But within days of my positive pregnancy test, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Before long, I’d shifted from living the dream into survival mode–trying to be present during my mother’s treatment, traveling for work, and taking care of other family concerns.

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By the time my son was born in June 2004, I decided I need to make a change and spent maternity leave figuring out how to avoid going back to work. When I finally got the call talking about return dates, I quit.

The question suddenly became: Now what?

Starting Off

Successfully striking out on my own fast became a matter of necessity. I wrote out a plan detailing how much money I needed to earn as a freelance consultant. I had no idea how it was all going to come together at the time, but eventually it did.

But while my business is still growing and thriving more than 10 years later, that isn’t the case for many business owners who set up shop soon after becoming parents. It goes without saying that the strain of starting a family and running a business is simply too much for too many people. However, it can be done. And while it’s never easy, it all comes down to establishing a clear plan, setting serious boundaries, and learning to be flexible.

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Be Realistic—Hyper-Speed Is A Thing Of The Past

When you’re a high achiever, you can set yourself up for failure way too quickly. I’ve always had one mode: hyper-speed. As a new parent launching a business for the first time, I had to get real about what I could get done in my early-morning and late-night work sessions. There’s nothing wrong with slowing down so you can actually enjoy time with your kids. That sometimes means you’re not going to reach goals as quickly as you would if you were working full time. Learn to embrace your “new normal.”

Master Boundaries (Even If It Means Missing Something Fun)

It’s no secret that working at home can sometimes blur the line between work time and everything else. When you should be writing a wrap-up report for a client, you might instead find yourself cleaning the kitchen or tempted into doing something way more appealing.

In the first year of running my business, I often found myself irritated with my husband because he wanted to hang out when I needed to work. Now that I was physically home more often, he would come up with all kind of ideas for family outings. I came to realize that it was on me to do a better job of setting boundaries. Being the boss means you can be flexible, but you need to get your partner on board with your day-to-day plans so they can support rather than distract you.

You Can’t Do It All, So Ask For Help

There are no prizes for doing it all yourself. Trust me, I spent months trying to be the model wife, mother, and business owner. There was no promotions, no gold stars, but lots of frustration as I tried to prove I could do it all. The truth is, no one can.

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The sooner you learn how to ask for help from your spouse, extended family, and friends, the better. I was always surprised by how much people wanted to pitch in. If you don’t have that built-in support, you can always pay for it.

After a few months of trying to fit my work responsibilities into any available moment, I found a caregiver on my street to watch my son four hours a day, three times a week. That 12 hours each week was a game-changer for me, giving me dedicated time each week to get things done.

Expect the Unexpected

From babies that refuse to sleep to toddlers with recurring sniffles, things aren’t always going to go according to plan. If you can, plan ahead for sickness and other things that impact your work time and leave you scrambling.

Early on, I discovered that my husband was more than happy to use his paid sick leave to stay home with our son when he could. That saved me more than once on a client deadline or rushing to a meeting. When you do need to reschedule something, most people are more understanding than you probably realize–life happens.

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Opting out of the traditional workplace to stay home with my son has allowed me to craft my own approach to work and given me the best of both worlds. That isn’t to say they’re always serene or stress-free–far from it. But starting your own company as a new parent is doable. It just takes some patience, creativity, and serious commitment to make it happen.

Maggie Patterson is a wife, mom, communications strategist, and full-time business owner based in Ontario, Canada.