I recently started an advice column series in my blog—addressing some of the most common questions and struggles that business owners face when it comes to leading and marketing their business well. I’m having a lot of fun with this form of writing, but I also want to bring a twist into the typical advice column genre.
Rather than always being the one with the advice, I also want to seek out advice from other people I respect. I don’t ever want to assume I have all the answers. So, for my first “Reverse-Advice Column”, I’m reaching out to a few women that I know and love and respect to ask them to contribute to my advice column. I’m asking a question that feels a bit vulnerable, but is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last several months.
Jonathan and I are having more and more conversations about parenthood. We’re in the reeaallllly early stages of trying to get pregnant. As in—we’re not trying yet. We’re not even in the stage of not trying-but-also-not-trying-not-to-get-pregnant. We are in the thinking-about-thinking-about-getting-pregnant stage. (Please note: to my mother, my mother-in-law, my grandparents, and my book club: There is not a baby on the way, and this is not an announcement!)
Every aspect of pregnancy and parenthood feels so vulnerable. Even the decision to start trying is often not talked about, certainly not in a public way. While our journey will be deeply personal, I’m really craving some candid conversations with women I admire who have been where I am headed. I want to hear the honest truth, but also have some hope that this crazy process of becoming a parent is worth it.
Specifically, I’m really curious about how to maintain and keep growing a business while also being fully present in raising a kid well. As a self-employed person, I don’t have maternity leave. I’m trying to set my business up now in a way that will help support and sustain being a mom, a business owner, and a person.
I understand that becoming a parent isn’t something you can ever totally prepare for. From what I can tell, motherhood is excruciatingly beautiful and unimaginably hard, and totally worth it. No two experiences are the same, and there isn’t one right way to do things. And yet—I’d love to hear your perspective. What advice do you wish you had heard before you became a parent? What things have you done, or not done, that have helped you be the best mom you could be and the best business owner you could be? Are there any habits or practices you wish you would have started doing before you became pregnant? Any words of wisdom for a couple somewhere on the brink of maybe-sometime-soon starting to try to get pregnant?
Below are the responses I received from many generous, amazing moms. I organized the advice into different categories.
On Maternity Leave:
It's probably not realistic for you to get anything meaningful done in the first month or more, depending on how fussy the baby is. Enjoy that time, be present. It goes so fast. -Kimberly
Plan ahead! Work as much ahead of time as possible (but also expect to have weeks of extreme fatigue, so don’t over-promise) and batch frozen meals before baby comes. -Morgan
Figure it how to take at least 2-3mo off, just so you can heal, recover, and get comfortable as a parent. -Jessica
Save money now so you can take time off. You don't know what will happen or how you'll recover. Put together people to outsource to and/or go on hiatus (maybe do things earlier?) entirely for a while. -Sarah
Take a maternity leave. 3 months minimum. Don’t try to work full time and do full-time childcare. Outsource what you can. Accept help and support. Prioritize your mental health over everything else. -Jen
On Balance & Work Flow:
I never wanted my job to take precedence over my kids—owning my own business gives me that flexibility, and far outweighs the benefits of having maternity leave. I never wanted to be in a position where I had to ask my boss for permission to go on my child’s field trips or to stay home when my kids are sick. Women are already put at an unfair advantage when it comes to raising kids and having a career. Being my own boss sets me up to be the mom I want to be and have a fulfilling career. It was very important for me to have the right support staff to help me run my business. They all know that my family will always come first, and they help me maintain that balance. -Sandi
Practice setting clear boundaries with clients now, before you get pregnant. It’s always harder to say no after there’s been a consistent pattern of saying yes. Before I had my daughter, there were a lot of things I’d let slide, like a client being disrespectful or expecting me to work late. Once my daughter was born, I knew I couldn’t continue in that pattern. Not only did I need that extra margin to be a good mom, but I realized how much my daughter will grow up watching the way I let other people treat me. It was hard to shift expectations, but I’m proud of how I show up in my business now. -Jess
I only work 25-30hrs max a week. I drop my child off now for preschool at 8:30 and pick him up at 3:30 every day. I start my workday at 9 am and try to end it at 2 pm - and exercise between 2-3 pm and then I go pick him up and move into mom mode. I think it's easier to have one parent who doesn't work until 5 pm or later because school ends in the afternoon.
I love working! I've grown my business also to have a team so it's not solely on me - so that I can take my kid to the dr, or attend anything at school, or be the parent who stays home when he's sick. -Jessica
Your daily hours will get choppy. Condense your workday into five-hour chunks. -Kathleen
You will never be more tired in your life. Ever. Sometimes you will need to choose sleep over work to protect your health. You need to be okay with that. You're not going to do good work if you can't function at a basic level. Set your expectations early on - you can't plan for the unexpected. Don't make big promises to clients. Under promise and over deliver. Buffer your deadlines so that you have more time than you think you need. -Kimberly
Think about hiring an assist (virtual or in person) and train them in the little stuff. I have mine doing mailings, emails, social media, calendar, etc...balance is difficult with family and a small business. There will be times that you feel like you are out of balance, that is part if being a business owner but you can lessen that with delegation and prioritization. -Lisa
What does success mean to you? Constant growth is impossible and exhausting. Balance and peace is usually found through sacrifice. Find a support structure so you can achieve the success you want. And be gentle on yourself! -Megan
Do not try to be a perfect mom and a perfect business owner … at the same time. Give yourself lots of grace! -Kimberly
You deal with so much guilt because you are busy a lot of the time and that takes away from your kids and you then can’t grow a massive amount either. To get around this I have an intense four hours that are my most productive each day, if it’s not working I step away and come back to it later on when I’m feeling more productive. You can make it work but please don’t put massive expectations on yourself, be open to help, take help, pay for it, whatever you need to do but make sure you’re not trying to do every single bit of it yourself. -Ciara
My initial thoughts are have open discussions with your husband about what childcare realistically looks like for your situation. And when you do find out a baby is on the way, get childcare lined up early. Plus a backup. No matter if you own a business or work in another capacity, that element is huge. It's easy to point out the things we don't have (paid maternity for example), but I suggest creating your own benefits that are amazing such as the hours you work or a yoga lunch break which you may not be able to get. Lastly, take care of yourself. It sound like you are doing a great job thinking about how to care for your business and future family - remember to give yourself some love now and in the future! -Debi
Have a support system in place (paid or not). Having someone else clean once a week, getting groceries and meals (or meal boxes) delivered, moms helpers or babysitters, etc. -Sarah
I cannot stress enough that having someone to come help out even a few days a week will make life easier. Hire help for the yard. Hire someone for laundry or house cleaning if possible. -Stephanie
Practice asking for help now. It can feel really vulnerable to ask for someone to help watch your baby if your nanny is sick or to realize you really can’t do it all on your own. Even though I always struggle to send that text asking for help, I have learned to trust that my friends really want to show up for us, and if they can’t help, I can trust them to be honest. -Jess
Start a practice of caring for your body before you’re pregnant. Your body goes through a lot of changes, and it’s not realistic to drastically change your health or workout routine once you’re pregnant. Specifically, do exercises that strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and your trans-abdominal muscles. And then, when you are in the postpartum stage, be really patient with yourself. It can take a while to recover, but just remember how amazing your body is! -Carrie
Have a sense of agency with your own body. Rather than seeing childbirth as something hard and awful that your body goes through, see yourself as strong and capable of this miricle. Do what you can now to go into parenthood as strong and as fit as possible. All aspects of your pregnancy, the baby’s health, and postpartum recovery will be made better if you are healthy. -Sandi
Do what is best for your family based on the best information you can gather. I wrecked myself up for months to nurse and avoid formula, but I can tell you I would have been a much more peaceful person had I let my husband take over more feedings. I had this idea in my head and this worry about judgment, but really when both options are good for baby, find the option that is good for baby AND you. -Morgan
Having a child amplifies things in your marriage—the good things get better, and the hard things get harder. Build a practice of recognizing the good things, and talking through the hard stuff as it comes up. If you have good communication now, it will make the transition to parenthood a lot smoother. -Noreen
One piece of advice I have is to discuss with your husband what both of your parenting expectations are. My husband is a wonderful father but the first few months were really rough for me as I navigated through my freelance and he started a new corporate job. A lot of the parenting responsibilities fell onto me by default, not necessarily because I am a woman but I think because he thought his schedule was more rigid compared to the flexibility offered in my schedule. It was a turning point when we got a nanny and I had to make it clear that getting a nanny was just as much for him as it was for me because both of us needed the time to work. -Tini
I have two kids who are teens now, work full-time and homeschool them and am divorced. My best piece of advice would be to have some in-depth conversations with your husband now before you are pregnant around expectations and responsibilities for both of you regarding care for your future children and housework. If I had to do it over, I would have sat down and even written out clear expectations that created boundaries so not everything ended up on my shoulders in the long run. Ultimately there was no way to save my marriage but it could have saved me years of exhaustion, resentment and anger if I’d pushed to have those conversations. -Julie
Take care of your romantic relationship. After the first 6 months (or whatever you're comfortable with), get a monthly sitter and have a little date. Even if it's just an hour-long walk in the park. Take time to be a couple and remember why you're together. We did this pretty regularly (at least quarterly when the kids were really little, then monthly as they got older). We just celebrated 25 years. -Kimberly
It’s all too easy to tell yourself the story that kids are a burden—that parenthood is so hard. And I’m not denying that it’s not challenging. But that mindset is a choice. It’s so common to hear people talk about different stages of raising a kid with this sense of dread—"oh babies are so hard. Get ready to not sleep," "the terrible twos" etc. My daughter is 12 now, and people are telling me how hard the teenage years are, with a note of sympathy in their voice. I refuse to jump on that bandwagon. I choose to celebrate each stage my kids go through. I want to be excited about where my kids are at. I make a conscious effort to be fully present in each beautiful, mundane, unexpected, hard, and good moment that comes with getting to raise these humans. -Sandi
I want to end with one last piece of advice that my 88-year-old neighbor, Carolyn told me. I was over at her house for tea a few months ago, telling her that Jonathan and I were talking about the thinking about trying. I was honest about the things that had us feeling hesitant, ambivalent even, about parenthood. She thought for a moment, and then said this:
“You know, Allie. I think it’s so good that you’re thinking through this. I have two daughters—one has two kids of her own. Her life is rich and beautiful, and my grandchildren are wonderful. My other daughter and son-in-law chose not to have a family. They were both invested in their career, and not having kids gives them the freedom and flexibility to pursue other things. Her life is rich and beautiful too. Your life is going to be rich and beautiful, no matter what happens. You can’t mess it up. If there is someone who God wants to be in this world, raised by you and Jonathan, then trust that it will happen, in the timing that it is meant to happen. And if that doesn’t happen, or you choose not to pursue that, your life will be just as rich and beautiful.”