Mixing business and parenting

Owning a small business while raising kids requires patience, passion, and boundaries 

By Suzanne Rent

Our Children recently spoke with several moms who are entrepreneurs about owning their own businesses, how they balance it with parenting, and what advice they’d give to other moms who want to work on their own.

Anita Kirkbride is the owner of Twirp Communications, a speaker, trainer, and social media consultant. She has two young daughters.

Colleen O’Dea is a blogger, graphic designer, and owner of Curtains Are Open and Drawbridge Creative. She has three children. 

Mary Ann Marriott aka Doctor Debt helps individuals create healthy finances and coaches entrepreneurs on ways to increase their income. She has two teenage children. 

Eryn Steele, Sarah Arnold, and Melinda Cameron are partners in Halifax Learning. Sarah is the founder, Eryn is the general manager, and Melinda is the program director. Sarah and Melinda each have one daughter, and Eryn has a young son. 

Laura Poirier is the owner of Nova First Aid, which offers first-aid programs. She has two daughters.

What were the early challenges?

Mary Ann: Well, money. I gave up a job and my salary to do it. [start my own business]. There are issues with your spouse when you do that. They are supportive, but not always that supportive when the money drops.

Sarah: Time management and sanity management. Making sure you’re going to bed at the end of the night and feeling as “you” as you can. How do I make sure I am doing the best job I can to realize the potential of the business and how am I going to make sure my children have everything they need, too? 

How do you balance the business and home life, especially when you’re working from home?

Colleen: Balance is tough. To be honest, in November I hired someone to clean my house and it was such a shock for me to do that. I couldn’t do it all. Something always gives. We eat a lot of take-out. It’s tough to fit it all in. 

Mary Ann: Separate your workspace. For me it was upstairs. I can go up and close the door. My husband was home, but when you hear your child crying, it’s really difficult not to come down those stairs. Also trusting in your partner. 

How does being an entrepreneur change your parenting style?

Eryn: Creativity. Reading through emails at work or reading through things at work as story time. Then you’re spending quality time with your child and then you’re getting some work done.

Colleen: Working from home I can be anywhere. If they have a field trip, yeah, I can go on a field trip. It meant working on a Saturday or Sunday or late at night but I found as a single mom, I managed to get to absolutely everything. There is no me time at the end of the day. But I wouldn’t have that if I was working [outside the home].

Mary Ann: I found I would take my kids to things I did for work. I went to a tea event and I took my daughter with me. You can’t always do that if you’re working.

Sarah: My daughter is nine now, but she’s been coming to the centre. She’s very much part of the fabric now. 

How do you all explain to your kids that you have to work right now, especially if you’re working from home?

Anita: I am pretty blunt with my kids. My [daughter] asks me all the time why I can’t put my phone down, why are you always on the computer while we are watching TV? I say to her, well, “you know how you want a new laptop, I have to work.” This is what pays the bills. I am really blunt. They know when I am on my computer, I am working. 

Melinda: My daughter is three right now and it was unnerving when she started to imitate me. She’d get on her laptop, picked up the phone, and was talking to someone. That made me really think about that. It’s tough not to mix your work time with your kid time.

Eryn: My son is so little, but he will grow up not knowing anything different. As he gets older, the fact that I am happy and enjoying taking pride in what I do, I am hoping that will make him happier and a prideful person as well. 

Have you all have learned to set boundaries?

Sarah: In my position, with the ages of our kids, it gives us a chance to learn from each other. That’s been a really important part of having a partnership like this. We don’t have to learn the hard way for all the hard decisions we have to make. 

Anita: When I started it was really difficult. I was probably working 24/7. But I realized I was using it to escape from my life. Now I take most evenings and weekends off. Now I am in a totally different place. I can’t say I set my mind that way. I just don’t need to escape my life anymore. 

Mary Ann: I think for me it was to not do extra stuff. I tend to volunteer. It was in the last year or so that I made some progress with that. When I was working from home I had a business line, so people weren’t calling my cellphone.

Laura: I have a very nine-to-five job. Most of my work is with companies and organizations. So if I am actually teaching that’s it. I do work Saturdays teaching first aid, but I take Sundays off.

Is it hard to manage relationship time when you have a business?

Melinda: For my husband it was the same thing as with my daughter. He’d say, “Melinda, you have to look at me when we’re talking. You can’t just be looking at your phone all the time.” I was turning into the person who was zoning out. It’s making that time.

Laura: I have a learning disability and ADHD, so if I am looking at my phone I don’t hear someone talking to me. I get my children and my husband to hold my arm, and I put my hand on theirs. And that means I am not ready for you yet, but I know you are there, so I am going to finish what I am doing. Once I am ready, I put it down and I am looking at you. 

For the parents reading this, and they’ve been thinking about starting their own business, what is one piece of advice you would give them?

Colleen: You’re stronger than you think. Sometimes you just have to do it. 

Anita: I like the Wayne Gretzky, quote, “You miss 100 per cent of the chances you don’t take.” So, if you think you’re not going to do it, you’re always going to wonder. If you do it and you fail, oh well, you learned. 

Mary Ann: I would say just do it whether it goes exactly as planned or not. What you take away from that will be so valuable to the rest of your life. It’s worth every tear and every smile.