Entrepreneurs: 3 Tips For Balancing Work and Life As A Parent This Year
Juggling parenthood and a career is a constant work in progress. Some days everything seems to work well, and on others, you can’t believe you managed to make it through the day. While no one ever gets it completely right, here are some tried-and-true tips from three professionals that might help you find the balance you’re striving for this year:
Tip 1: Be Flexible — Yet Focused
Matt Murphy (pictured above), Global Vice President of Renren Inc., the online social network in China, says that his flexible hours as a venture investor help support his wife's shared passions for entrepreneurship, while staying more connected to their kids. He's discovered ways to integrate quality family time into his day without impacting productivity, whether that's by making a playground run in the morning or reading bedtime stories before logging back online at night.
What's a typical day like for you now compared to when you were at E*TRADE or co-founding Lemon?
It's completely different. When I was at E*TRADE, Chegg and Lemon, I only had to worry about building great marketing campaigns and having fun with my wife and friends. Fast forward to today—I have two young toddlers who are two and four. My priorities have evolved. Time management has become very important to me. I try to set clear priorities and ensure that every moment of the day is being used to its fullest. When I'm in the office, I'm incredibly focused on achieving my priorities and when I'm home, I'm 100% focused on my family. The hard thing now is finding time to exercise and keeping in touch with friends.
How have you prioritized parenting?
Both my wife and I are working parents. We take a lot of pride in our jobs as well as raising our children. We are highly flexible and hyper-realistic to ensure we’re doing our best to stay on top of all the craziness that life throws our way. Parenting and professional lives are like a pendulum in their importance. Some days, work takes priority because you are focused on a deadline. Other days, family life is the most important thing. The key is to reflect back and ensure that you are not weighing importance too often to one side.
Do you have suggestions for how to share the workload at home with your spouse?
Over-communicate clearly with your spouse so that you each know where the other person stands on what's important for that day. You are a team and communication helps to ensure your team is performing to the best of its ability.
Tip 2: Figure Out What You Want and Ask For It
Laura Landau is a work-life balance guru and advocate who spent 16 years working at Microsoft in marketing, communication and leadership coaching roles before becoming the author of "Life Balance Playbook." While at Microsoft she negotiated a schedule that most parents don't realize is possible at a tech corporation. Laura wanted to be the one taking her kids to their team practices. She took a stand for her personal family values. "Maybe we can't have it all, but we can determine our own trade-offs," she writes in her book.
What's a typical day like for you now compared to when you were at Microsoft?
Since I started my own business, nearly everything I do is proactive. I get a fraction of the emails that I used to and my meetings have a clear purpose. It’s frees up time and lets me control my schedule entirely. I sometimes miss being part of a team, but have worked to create connections to meet my extrovert social needs.
How have you prioritized parenting?
While on my first maternity leave, I negotiated a 75% schedule on my return. By “buying” this time off with the related pay cut, I was able to carve out time during the week when my primary role was “mom.” (And yes, I did work less than 40 hours a week most of the time.) I was willing to make the career trajectory tradeoff this required and never regretted it. This is not the answer for everyone, but was a great scenario for me.
Do you have suggestions for working moms who want to negotiate flexibility with their managers?
Avoid complaining about work-life balance. Figure out what you want and ask for it. You are responsible for your work-life balance, not your manager. Working too much? Stop. Not enough time with your kids? Schedule it and make it happen. I know this is not easy. It will require hard choices and tradeoffs.
Tip 3: Emphasize Happiness
Parenting coach and neuropsychologist, Dr. Natasha Khazanov, has seen thousands of people in talk therapy over the last 20 years. She believes that parents “engineer” their kids not only by providing their DNA, but also by creating experiences that will shape their children’s mind and adult life. "This is also often the root of why people throw tantrums when they don't get their way, not just at 5, but also 25, 35, and 65," notes Dr. Khazanov.
What do you wish you knew when your son was still a child?
I wish I had known that the most powerful factor in parenting is modeling. I wish I had known that the brain takes about 25 years to mature, and that parenting strategies should be adjusted to the stage of the brain development.
The booming fields of psychology and neuroscience have so much to offer to modern parents who are interested in the child’s developing mind. For example, Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell published a great book on using self-understanding to parent more skillfully, titled “Parenting From the Inside Out,” in 2003. It is abundantly clear to me, too, that unless we, as parents, can model how to be emotionally intelligent, our kids may not thrive.
And yet, every parent I know who's successful and has a good paying job lives with guilt and worry about hurting their child and not putting in enough time.
It's crucial for infants and their mothers to have the time and closeness essential to create the right environment for an infant, and later for a child, to thrive. I hope we will see more changes in our parental leave policies, so new families can take more time to promote healthy attachments and coping skills if they chose to do so.
What do you wish you could've done differently for your son?
I wish I had known that happiness is the key to success, not the other way around.
I also wish I had known that one’s IQ is not as important as emotional intelligence for your overall success.
I would encourage my son to find his path to joy, instead of telling him what his little heart should desire. When you make decisions about what your kids should want or do, you may also train them to focus on outside benchmarks to define success, rather than ask the most important question there is: What does MY heart desire?
What are some suggestions you have for new parents?
I like this saying from Frederick Douglas: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken [adults].”
Sometimes good intentions create what I refer to as “incidental” trauma. We can hurt our children unwillingly and unknowingly when we are not attuned to their needs. Dan Siegel talks about the 4 S’s of an effective parent as one who will make a child feel: Safe, Secure, Seen, and Soothed. In order to do so though, the parent must feel safe, secure, seen, and soothed themselves…
To help good parents be great, I created a SMARTT™ parenting model. SMARTT is an acronym for a self-assuring checklist. It stands for Safe, Mindful, Attuned, Resilient, Trusting, and Tenacious. My core premise: SMARTT parents = SMARTT kids.
You can learn how to be a more effective parent too, and still maintain a successful professional career. You can be SMARTT about it, and maintain the emotional bandwidth you need to stick with parenting while balancing your career.”
Lisa Abdilova is a guest writer for Microsoft Ventures and Founder/CEO of Well Connected Now, which personally matches professionals to mentors, coaches, and therapists.