Last week my startup was accepted to a New York City-based accelerator. I jumped at the opportunity, both because of the doors it could open and the generous funding it would provide. But I was aware of the challenges, as my previous startup was part of an accelerator in London not long ago.
At that time, I believed the U.K.-based accelerator was exactly what our company needed. We had chosen London as the first city to launch our app, and reasoned that this program would offer us instant office space, networking, and mentorship. It was the perfect way to test our product–an urban discovery app–at the source, as well as understand the mind-set of potential users.
There was only one problem: I live in Tel Aviv, thousands of miles away from London and am a mom to two young kids. In my heart, I knew we had to do the program. There was no way we could create the right product without spending a significant amount of time onsite.
But what about my family? The most obvious choice would be for me to “commute” to London, traveling back and forth, every couple of weeks. But this would be expensive, tiring, and difficult, not to mention creating separation scenarios with my kids on a regular basis.
Another thought was for our whole family to pack up and go to London together. But the expense and logistics of doing this were daunting. It simply didn’t make sense to uproot the kids from school for only a couple of months. So I chose the “easiest” option, which was also the toughest decision of my life. I chose to go to London for the full two months on my own.
I have to admit, one part of me was excited. To have time to myself in a world-class city was a luxury I hadn’t experienced since my first daughter was born. I was so conditioned to planning trips through a child-friendly lens, I believed I would hardly know what to do with the extra hours I would have spent caring for the children.
Furthermore, I was in a privileged position of having a husband who was not only supportive of my move but was also domestic. I had no worries that the house would fall apart in my absence. And my kids–while still young–were not babies. They no longer needed me by their side every moment.
Then guilt started to creep in. My internal doubts were magnified when I told other moms what I was planning. “How could you do that? I could never spend such a long time away from my kids,” was a common response. I wondered if I was crazy or selfish for even considering such a thing. Would it hurt my children? Would it make me a terrible mom? Then again, would a man even have this dilemma?
I imagine other female (and male) entrepreneurs who are parents have faced similar conflicts. Y Combinator, for example, the most selective American accelerator program, requires founders to be onsite in Silicon Valley for three months. They also encourage founding teams to live together, to foster the kinds of spontaneous collaborations and brainstorming common among college dorm mates. But how does this model work unless everyone who participates is single and childless? Does every innovator need to fit the same mold?
One day a woman in my coworking space approached me. “You’re so brave!” she said. “I overheard you making plans to stay in London. I also need to spend a few months abroad for my business, but I’m not sure how it will affect my kids.”
That’s when it hit me that one person’s courageous is another person’s crazy. Rather than lead a stable, more comfortable life, I had already made unusual choices, starting with my decision to found a startup at this point in my life. I was not your typical parent with a stable job, set salary, and defined schedule. This choice to go to London wasn’t really all that different.
Rather, it was part of the many sacrifices I would make as a founder. One of the biggest issues in the startup world is the glorification of struggle–the idea that a founder needs to do anything humanly possible to make his or her company succeed. Someone even coined a name for it: “struggle porn.” But the stereotypical struggle is a twentysomething guy sleeping on his friend’s couch, eating ramen noodles long enough to raise money from Silicon Valley investors. It’s not a mom of two, faced with the dilemma of spending months away from her children to increase her chances of success.
In the end, despite the fact that I hadn’t lived with a roommate in more than a decade, I began to search for a flat share in London and moved in. There were many difficult days when the mommy guilt crept in. While I kept in regular contact with my family, sometimes I’d get home too late from a pitch competition or networking party to video chat with the kids. I missed a few of my daughter’s performances, several holidays, and spent my birthday on my own. Sometimes it felt like I was living two parallel lives, and wondered if I could be both a great parent and a great entrepreneur. But staying in London helped me recharge personally. And in that time, I created awesome connections and advanced the company immensely. My kids were none the worse for wear when we reunited several months later.
While I don’t regret the decision I made, it’s not for everyone. I wish there were more structures in place to help women, parents, and nontraditional startup founders find more balance in their lives–things like online accelerators, mama founder groups, and coworking spaces with childcare. I wish the startup world put less emphasis on struggle and more on mental health and support. I definitely could have used it in my toughest days abroad, and I could certainly use the support today. But I believe that the happier and more fulfilled I am as a human being and a professional, the better parent I will ultimately be.
Jenny Drezin is a serial entrepreneur and currently, the founder of Dzomo, an AI powered platform generating images for marketers and content creators.