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WORK & FAMILY
By Jill Hamburg Coplan
APRIL 19, 2000


You Want to Be a Wife, Mother, and a Full-Time Entrepreneur?

Take action now to prevent the crisis that's sure to come otherwise

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This week's letter comes from an entrepreneur who's in business with her husband and finds that the workload is crushing her. She's desperate for time to enjoy life and her family. It's a problem many of you have written about and one I'll explore further in the coming months.


Our dot-com business is right on the edge of exploding. It has consumed our family. The company uses some freelancers, but it's hard to say when we might be able to afford additional help. I start work at 4 a.m., and my husband does baby care all morning. Then I take over from him and go to bed by 9 p.m., which doesn't leave us much time to be together. There are no weekends when you're an entrepreneur. A college student watches our 16-month old a couple of days a week, but I wouldn't feel comfortable using more child care. How can I get enough work done, take care of my child, and have time for my husband?

-- S.E., Lambertsville, Penn.

This is a picture of a life out of control -- a whirlpool of duties draining your spirit. The danger, caution the several experts whom I consulted, is that a major crisis (a heart attack, infidelity, a suffering child) could be brewing, which no one has the perspective to see coming or the strength to stop. Many people wait to examine and repair their lives until the crisis hits. You're wise to take action before such a catalyst forces you to.

TOUGH ON WOMEN. It's extremely difficult to raise young children and start a company at the same time. Both make such huge demands on your time and psyche. Without good, full-time child care, the two are almost irreconcilable. The combination is especially tough on women. Research shows that women entrepreneurs invest far more time in child care and domestic life than male entrepreneurs with similar responsibilities.

If you and your husband want to be the primary caregivers for your children during the week and work the megahours that it takes to launch a dot-com, you have set yourselves up for an almost impossible task -- physically and emotionally. Probably your first step is to ask yourself if that's a realistic goal. Maybe you'll have to ask that college student to work an extra morning or afternoon each week to give you some breathing room -- for a few months, anyway. Toddlers sense when their mothers are in crisis and become even more demanding. Something has to give here. (See our series on the subject: BW Online, 12/02/00, "The New Mommy Track: Chief Executive, Cook, and Bottle Washer" and 12/06/99, "Good News for Entrepreneur Moms: Babies and Companies Grow Up".)

Next, pace yourself. That may be anathema in the dot-com world, but running a business is a marathon -- you can't afford to burn out at the start. The long haul should be enjoyable, says Tom Bay, author of Change Your Attitude: Creating Success One Thought at a Time. Wasn't your original goal to be more fulfilled? Don't relinquish that. And it's also bad business: If you're running on empty hour after hour, you can't do your best work.

Can't imagine how to slow down? Here's one technique (from The Artist's Way at Work: Riding the Dragon, 12 Weeks to Creative Freedom). Assess the amount of "media pollution" in your life -- nonessential e-mail, talk radio, unimportant publications. A surprising amount of time probably goes to such things. For one week, eliminate all that extraneous noise and carve out quiet time for your own thoughts, ideas, and insights. (Driving without the car radio on, for example.) The peace and quiet will help you think through steps to reshape your life.

GET OUT! Next remedy: Leave the lair more often. Make yourself go out where you can make new friends and contacts. "It's likely that personal friendships have fallen away because of the pressures of the business and new child," says Martin Yates, author of several best-selling career guides. So have a girls' night out. If you don't click with old friends anymore, get closer to your peers through a professional association. "You'll be getting stimulation while also contributing to the business," Yates says. Make your husband do the same.

And one night a week, hire a babysitter, and take a mental vacation from the company together. Join a bowling league. Take dancing lessons. Learn something new. Do something physical that requires a different sort of concentration than you use at the computer every day. Have fun.

As for saving time, take an inventory of how you're spending it (a log, where you note your activities every half-hour for one day is a good idea). Do you complicate tasks unnecessarily? Talk with your husband about whether the way you spend your time fits your values. The child-rearing issue is a prime example. Do you want to be a full-time mom or a full-time entrepreneur right now? You'll probably have to make some adjustments in this area -- for your sake and your child's.

You and your husband probably won't resolve the larger philosophical issues overnight. In the meantime, small quality-of-life improvements can give you some breathing room. Here are some tips to make yourself more efficient from Tim Hindle's The Essential Manager:

  • Make your office conducive to efficiency by keeping a clock visible and cleaning up the space at least once a day.

  • Think over your tasks daily. Do only what's urgent. If everything is urgent, redefine. Make sure your husband does this exercise as well.

  • Mentally prepare for each day -- with the phone off the hook. Take a few deep breaths. Think about what you have to do. Set aside some quiet time for medium- and longer-term planning, too.


  • Send your questions to frontierlife@businessweek.com.



    Jill Hamburg Coplan has covered work, family, business, and finance for the past decade as a writer and editor for newspapers, magazines, and wire services. She left Working Woman magazine, where she was senior editor, when her first child was born and now works solo from a home office in Brooklyn, N.Y.


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