I’m not going to pretend I know a lot about parenting. When my first daughter (Loïs, now 10) was born and the nurse led us out of the hospital I looked at my girlfriend and said “How can they just let us go? Do they know we don’t have a clue how to do this?”
It felt totally weird, and irresponsible, to leave such a small and vulnerable creature in the hands of amateurs like us. I had felt a lot more comfortable around professionals.
Having said that, I have been asked about how I combine being an entrepreneur – a very demanding job – with being a father of two girls. I will happily share what I know with you with the disclaimer that I don’t have any idea what the ‘right’ or ‘correct’ way to raise a child is. This is how I do it and it might very well turn out that I’m raising little psychopaths and will one day serve as an example on how NOT to raise children.
Until then, this is how I do it, and I seem to manage so far.
Don’t Separate Work from Personal Life
That might sound counterintuitive at first, but I think separating them doesn’t make much sense. It is kinda similar to dating two people at the same time. You will have to spend a lot of energy in managing two things while it is much easier to integrate them. That means I have been bringing both my children to my office since, well, since they were born.
When Loïs was born I had an office in my house. She slept next to my desk in a crib, a developer who worked next to me used to walk around with her when I received an important phone call, and when she was awake I would just keep her on my lap.
Don’t Hide Your Passion (both ways)
I love my family and I love my work. There is no reason to be embarrassed and it is unnecessary to ask yourself which one you love more. You simply can’t compare those things. I do believe I am a better and more interesting father because I love what I do as an entrepreneur. I hope my children will have a better life because they see me enjoying mine.
When you are there you are there
One day I was sitting next to a sandbox on a playground while my daughter was playing. At the same time I was using my BlackBerry to reply to some emails. At one point a mother walked by and said ‘You are here for your kids, so give them some attention instead of staring at that stupid thing’. I thought “Where is YOUR husband? I’m the only father here and the reason I’m here is because I can conduct my business via this stupid thing even when I’m not at the office. Besides, all the other women here are reading stupid women’s magazines about losing weight and Jennifer Lopez’s upcoming divorce and not exactly devoting 100% of their attention to their kids.”
Of course I didn’t say that. I just thought it. The point of the story is to enjoy the attention you can give your kids and don’t feel embarrassed if you can’t be there all the time. Just make sure the time spent with them is time well spent. Make sure you laugh, joke and play with them and then it is fine if sometimes you have to interrupt something because you have to make a quick phone call or reply to an email. Kids are more forgiving and self-sufficient than you might think. As long as it is clear that you really will take only 2 minutes and then will be back for another 5 minutes of pillow fighting they will give you the space you need.
Kids don’t have to be entertained all the time
My kids often have a day off and that means I will have to entertain them. At least, that is what I thought. One day I called my mother and told her “I’m desperate. I just don’t know how I’m going to keep them busy the whole day.” My mother then said “Children don’t need to be entertained all the time. They are perfectly happy just sitting in their room for a few hours, surrounded by their toys. In fact, it is very useful and good for them to get really bored every now and then. It will enhance their creativity and make them more independent.”
It felt like an epiphany and changed my life. Suddenly I went from feeling the pressure of entertaining two demanding kids to making sure they always had enough input, but also not too much. Being a little bit bored is fine, playing with the toys you own is fine too, doing something cool like going to the zoo should feel like a little adventure.
Every day can be a ‘bring your kids to work’ day
A few months ago I had to travel to Stockholm for a meeting. I only had to be there on Monday but found out that a ticket from Saturday to Monday evening was about half the price of a return ticket from Monday morning to Monday evening. I checked my calendar and noticed Loïs had a day off from school. I didn’t hesitate and booked two tickets and a hotel room.
Traveling with a young daughter is an amazing experience. She loved to figure out where and when the plane left, which subway to take, who did what in the hotel (she talks to everybody) and which places would be fun to go to in town. On Monday we went over to the company where I had a day-long meeting. When we entered, the CEO came up to me and told me that his daughter had a day off too and he had brought her to the office too. They spent the whole day in the game room together, practiced their English and had lunch together. It was an amazing experience and one I plan to repeat as much as I can.
I often bring my kids to meetings. They are used to hanging around offices, chatting to people, watching a movie or just making a drawing. Sure, sometimes they walk into a meeting and disturb me, but that has never been a problem for me or the people I had meetings with. Mostly it makes things more personal and that can be more of a benefit than the downside of being distracted every now and then.
Personally I think combining entrepreneurship with parenting is awesome. It is easier to combine the two than when you have a regular job, and in the end I think even the kids enjoy it more.
To round off this story I also asked a few other fathers about their tips and tricks when it comes to combining kids with entrepreneurship. This what they said:
Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick for Wired Magazine and author of What Technology Wants
John Battelle, Founder and Executive Chairman Federated Media Publishing
Mathys van Abbe, Founder Mobypicture.com, father of Amelie (6) and Mika (4).
Bill Gross, Founder & CEO Idealab.com
Mårten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus and former CEO of MySQL
Howard Rheingold, Author and technology visionary
Don’t worry if your kid(s) don’t seem to appreciate your efforts to provide them experiences, whether they are trips, or projects, or special days. When they are young they often don’t have the context to process what they experience, and it may not be till they are much older, or even adults, that they can understand something you did for them when they were 10.
Senior Maverick for Wired Magazine and author of What Technology Wants
Here’s what I have learned, having had three kids – each born pretty much when I was starting a company – my son in the middle of Wired, my first daughter when we launched The Industry Standard, and my second daughter during the launch of Federated Media.
In essence, I agree with your sentiments, but with a very big caveat – work can take over your life during startup, and it’s very difficult – and requires extraordinary will – to compartmentalize the two. And while it’s fine to mix them, it’s not OK to let work seep into the time you spend with your family – the kind of time that is focused, pure, and real.
It’s one thing to have a baby, whose needs are pretty clearly understood. It’s quite another to have a few kids of varying ages, who need and deserve focused attention – who don’t feel like they are being scheduled between calls, or who will lose their father’s attention to the smartphone at any given moment. It’s fine to mix the two, but it’s not fine to fail to create spaces where your kids are certain they have your full attention.
Founder and Executive Chairman Federated Media Publishing
Try to be in the moment. When you’re with your kids, be with your kids. Stop checking your email and tweets and fully focus on the moment. They’ll be sound asleep at 9 pm and then you’ll be able to pick up what you were doing. The advantage of being a fatherpreneur is you can plan your own agenda. I’m lucky to be able to often bring the kids to school and pick them up fairly early. I think kids will benefit from having parents who are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs meet many different people and this reflects on their world view and social skills. Many of the entrepreneurs I know are great parents and have great socially interactive kids.
Mathys van Abbe
Founder Mobypicture.com, father of Amelie (6) and Mika (4).
I love my work and I love my family. The 50 people who I work with at Idealab – many of whom have worked with me for more than 10 years, and some for more than 20 years – are like my extended family. The companies I start are also like my “children” and I love them all very much, and all for different reasons.
My work life is not very separate from my family life. I am always thinking about ideas, and talking about ideas, and sharing them with the people at work when I am at work, and sharing them with my family when I am with my family. We talk at the dinner table about ideas and companies all the time, and I hope my kids have picked up on many life lessons from the stories of my day and my week and my travels when I visit companies and conferences.
Founder & CEO Idealab.com
Good topic! I have a sense that many entrepreneurs feel that they don’t spend enough time with their children.
I believe you have to be genuine to yourself. You need to follow your passion, and you mustn’t shield the startup life too much from your family. Your kids deserve to see you as you do your work. They want to share the highs and lows with you.
Of course you must also have sufficient attention span for them. Why would you otherwise have kids?
As the children grow up, you can bring them deeper into your profession if they show an interest. But I don’t think you should expect them to follow in your footsteps. They need to make up their own minds – just as you yourself did. Once that is done, you can then give them guidance and support in whatever path they choose.
That’s the model I am trying to follow. But many times I feel like an absent father, because I work so much and I travel so much. Perhaps we should ask the kids what they prefer.
Contemporary attention research indicates that it can take 15 minutes to a half an hour to get back to concentrated work after a distraction or interruption. As a young freelance writer, working on my first book, I learned to shave that time down to a minute or two when my daughter was born. My wife was responsible for looking after Mamie for three days a week, my mother took over for one day a week, and I was responsible for three days a week.
Every parent of an infant or toddler knows that you have to pay full attention — they can drown in the toilet or stick a fork in a light socket in just a few seconds. So I paid full attention to my daughter when she was awake and I was on duty (which was, of course, as much delight as duty). But as soon as she fell asleep and I put her in her crib or bed (in a room with an open door next to my office), I got right back to my book. I believe I trained myself to jump right back into what I was doing much more quickly than I would have been able to do if it wasn’t necessary.
Author and technology visionary
Fathers and mothers and prospective parents, what do you think? How do you manage your life? Got some other tips that are useful? Let me know in the comments…