By Dawn Starks
Advice—based on one woman’s experience—for female entrepreneurs who are considering motherhood.
They say women can’t have it all. We can’t be successful businesswomen and be good moms; we have to choose. We are not fair to our children if we work outside the home. We are not fair to our employer if we put our families first. Isn’t that how the rhetoric goes? Do we women have to choose?
My opinion on this has changed over the years that I have been a mom. With the benefit of perspective, I would say that women can do it all—just not necessarily all at the same time, and not without thoughtful planning and the willingness to accept help.
Part of the problem is that, frequently, career women think of their work as their “baby.” That was certainly my frame of mind. I started my firm in 1999, and like most business owners, I ate, slept, and breathed work. It was the first thing on my mind in the morning, and the last thing on my mind before I fell asleep. It was, in short, The Most Important Thing.
Having children wasn’t really even on my radar during those early years. My husband, Greg, and I married in 1998, and it was not a priority to have children. Growing up, I suppose I always figured I would have kids, but once I finished school and went into the work world, it was all-encompassing and exciting enough to occupy all my waking hours.
An offhand, very direct question by my physician changed all that. “Are you and your husband going to have children?” she asked abruptly, and out of left field, at my physical in early 2007. I replied that, honestly, we had given it exactly zero thought. “Well if you do plan to, you better get moving—you are getting old,” she asserted. Wow. Talk about a brick to the head. (As an aside, I know she sounds rude, but I dearly loved that doctor and her direct ways.)
So started a few months of discussion, and many hours of soul searching. Did I even want to be a mom? What would become of my business? How would I even juggle all that? By that time, my business was well-established; I had built a team of trusted employees; I was even enjoying life more with a four-day work week. Gone were the days of working “eight days a week,” as I liked to refer to it. I had arrived, to some degree. Greg and I decided that, despite our older age, we’d give it a shot and let fate decide. Unlike some couples, we didn’t go into this “project” with a burning desire to be parents. We weren’t completely sure it was right for us, but we thought if it happened, it would be rewarding and the right path.
Likewise, if it didn’t happen, we liked our life, and continuing on that path would be right.
Our daughter, Rowan, was born in July of 2008. For those of you paying attention, I don’t mess around. If I have a new idea, I flesh it out, examine it, obsess over it, decide to do it, and then get right down to it—why wait? Having a child was no different, and my older age provided the right atmosphere for avoiding procrastination.
I complied and cut my work week to three days from four. But I did not go down gently; I whined and cried and told her my business was my first baby—this was not an easy thing to ask of me.
The last weeks of my pregnancy were really the crisis point for my career. While the majority of the pregnancy was normal and quite manageable, my blood pressure became a real problem near the end. My midwife, another straight shooter, got right in my face and told me I needed to cut back on work, or she would put me on bed rest. That would have been a fate worse than death for me, so I complied and cut my work week to three days from four. But I did not go down gently; I whined and cried and told her my business was my first baby—this was not an easy thing to ask of me.
Mothers will not find it surprising that the moment my daughter was born, I experienced an immediate flip of priorities. My maternity leave was challenging on two fronts—having a new baby is a total game changer, physically, emotionally and spiritually. But the second challenge came in the form of the economic meltdown that occurred in the second half of 2008. Talk about stress!
The eight years since my daughter was born have been interesting for me, to say the least. Juggling work and motherhood is not for wimps. I still love my business—I love the people I work with, I love my clients, and I love the work that I do. But being a mother has been life-changing. I can honestly say that if my life were different, perhaps if I were an employee instead of an entrepreneur, I would quit work and be a stay-at-home mom. But that is not my situation, and I cannot fathom abandoning my “first baby.”
Can we women do it all, have it all, be it all? I think we can, but it is massively challenging. It is also, in my opinion, impossible to “do it all, have it all, be it all,” all at the same time.
I am sure that women everywhere experience these dilemmas every day, and that is why I am interested in the conversation. Can we women do it all, have it all, be it all? I think we can, but it is massively challenging. It is also, in my opinion, impossible to “do it all, have it all, be it all,” all at the same time. For women entrepreneurs that are considering motherhood, and even for women employees who are considering motherhood, I would offer some advice.
The most important piece of the puzzle for me has been my spouse. When we discussed the possibility of starting a family, we both agreed that it would be ideal for him to be the stay-at-home parent. Due to other things going on in our lives, this has not been a perfect arrangement, and during the early years, members of our family were very helpful in providing care for our daughter so that I could work (still just three days per week—I decided that was an awesome balance), and Greg could oversee the building of our house. Whatever the situation, I feel that working mothers need to have a good support system—reliable childcare, supportive family, and, most of all, a supportive spouse.
A second piece of advice is that you have to be organized. Organization is a goal, really, rather than an actual state of being. I can and do make lists and can keep myself mostly straight, but I can also simply walk out of the house without my carefully packed lunch. But spending time to think through the coming days has become very important for me. I need to be able to see what is coming up, so I can prepare myself.
Lastly, don’t forget YOU. It is easy, far too easy, to give all of yourself – to your clients/customers, to your staff, to your spouse, and especially to your children. But letting the well run dry is not a happy place to be. Ask me how I know. This has been the biggest struggle for me in the past few years, and I do not have it all worked out yet. What I do know is that it requires constant vigilance to make sure that I have the time I need to be in my own headspace so I can refill the well.
My initial ideas about being SuperWoman have certainly changed during my life. I would never suggest that women shouldn’t strive to have it all, do it all, and be it all. Strive away, but be prepared to adapt and change as you go along, and recognize that having most of it, doing most of it, and being most of it is often completely enough.
Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner and financial advisor at Starks Financial Group. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC.
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