If you’re a working mom, I am sure that — like me — you’ve often wished you could clone yourself. For me, the first iteration would be a traditionally “perfect” mom who bakes cookies, is an active member of the school board and can always be there for her children. The second would be a high-achieving, successful entrepreneur. Unfortunately, human cloning isn’t an option yet and like 56% of other working parents in America, I needed to learn to balance my career and parenthood.
The opportunity to build my company came along a little too soon, when both my children were aged under three. In an ideal world, they would have been older before I started working again. But opportunities don’t often come gift wrapped and I realized it was worth “grabbing it with both hands” and working out the details as I went. I had to make some tough decisions regarding what is truly important and what I could stop doing.
The 80-20 rule or “Pareto principle” is a well-known business principle stating that 20% of what you do should have 80% of the impact. For example, 80% of your revenues come from 20% of your customer list and in knowing this, you can make better decisions regarding where to spend your time. I think that the same rule applies to raising a family.
I noticed that my children don’t really care if a birthday cake is home-made, but they do care about the icing and the candy on top. So now I buy a cheap cake from the supermarket and spend my time on the icing (which might be bought too). The “metaphorical icing” applies to most things in life. So I say: let the 80/20 rule be your guide and savior. Embrace the fact that 80% of the things society says you “should do,” don’t actually make much of a difference. Here’s how I break it down:
Society says: “You should spend all of your time with your children.”
I say: “Spend quality time with your children, and fudge on everything else.”
Read to your children at bed time. Bathe them when they are little. Play a board game every now and then. Eat dinner together. Enjoy a family movie night. Savor the most important moments in their lives.
Don’t feel bad not being able to watch them play in the park. Don’t wait until they go to sleep to clean and get organized. Don’t feel like you always have to be the one to drive them to activities. Yes, you may miss some of the everyday moments of growing up, the tradeoff is that you’ll have time to focus on other things that also matter to your family: your business.
In order to make this tradeoff, I asked for help. I planned and co-ordinated with other moms to arrange play dates and carpooling to give me maximum windows of time focusing on work, but to still be available for the children when they really needed me. And now that my business has taken off, I rely on the help of our beloved babysitter.
Society says: “Good mothers help out on the PTA and at the school fair.”
I say: “This mother makes a living so she can spend it at the school fair and pay her school fees.”
Being a working mom can quickly become an endless guilt trip, whether it’s to attend long parent committee meetings or plan the next school fair. Pitch in when and where you can, but don’t overextend yourself.
When I first started working on my company, I had a mantra written on a card (which I kept close) that I used to read myself every time I felt guilty. It said: “The children are happy and healthy and I am working to create the best possible future for them. If my children blame me for being a bad mother in the future, I’ll know I did the best I could.”
It was surprising how often that card helped me stop guilt in its tracks. It helped me realize that guilt is a pointless energy-sapping emotion. Generally if you are happy, the children are happy too. Plus, working hard and being entrepreneurial makes you a great role model for them.
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Whenever you’re feeling guilty for missing something, put that guilt into context. So you couldn’t make a cake from scratch for the bake sale. You’re supporting your family in a different way — be proud!
Society says: “CEOs should be working around the clock.”
I say: “I need my sleep, too.”
The 80/20 rule applies to my work hours, as well. I value my creativity, positivity and energy. Lack of sleep squashes those things. I’m all for a nap or a lay-in if I need it. Listen to your body first and foremost. An exhausted, grumpy mom or manager is never a good thing.
There are a lot of expectations on working moms and creating a ‘new normal’ requires defending. I recently had to push back on a well-meaning board adviser who implied that I should be working 60 hours per week if I want to be a good CEO. I say: I’m a good CEO if my business is thriving, my employees are happy and my family knows that I will always make time for them.
So while cloning may not be an option in the foreseeable future, for the time being I’m staying focused on my priorities: family and business. There will be plenty of time for other stuff later.
Sarah Perry is the CEO of SnapComms, an award-winning internal communications software company, and the mother of two children.