Friday, August 11, 2017

Parenting while owning a home business

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Sam and I have worked from home throughout our marriage: first telecommuting, and then owning our own online business of DVD sales. I wrote out our story in Working from home, Part 1 and Working from home, Part 2, if you want the background.

As we approached starting a family, we realized we wanted to continue to prioritize working together, but we knew it would take some sacrifices and shuffling to make working from home jibe with parenting small children.

Here are the pros and cons so far as we coparent and homeschool a ten-year-old, six-year-old, and two-year-old while running a family business for our income. This is from our experience and might not reflect your own if you already run a business or choose to begin one, but I hope it gives you some perspective on what it can be like.

Our Marriage

We started working from home by accident, but once we got going, we loved it. We had nine years together as a married couple before Mikko came along (well, he beat our anniversary by one day), and that was nine years of seeing each other nearly all day, every day. When we tell some people that, they groan or shudder, but we still really like the person we married! Now that we have kids and live in a(n increasingly) small(er) space, we've made the choice to separate more during the day so one or the other of us can have dedicated work time. We also rented a small and inexpensive work loft for storage and office space. So Sam and I don't see each other quite as much as before — but I'm guessing a whole lot more than most couples where one or both partners work outside the home. I totally understand why other couples would choose the work they do and know that not being together as much is a necessary evil in those cases, but I really do enjoy seeing Sam as much as possible and think it's helped keep our partnership strong.


When we were thinking of having kids, Sam and I knew we each wanted two things: to continue pursuing income and our passions, and to raise our kids. Having a family business has allowed us to divide those goals so we each get a share of both of them. We purposely chose this business in particular (after trying and discarding several others over the years) because it gave us the most income for the least amount of stress, leaving us time to share the parenting.

One Income

Speaking of income, what we earn has been what a single-income family would make, even though both of us have been working. This is often my "fault," if we can call it that — Sam lets me spend time doing things like writing blog posts, working on novels, and starting websites while he takes on more than his share of the DVD business. That we earn what a single-income family would make is in many ways not a big deal: Plenty of SAHM or SAHD families manage the same reality. However, sometimes we make the mistake of comparing ourselves (our car, our apartment, our travel budget) with dual-income earners we know, and then we wonder why we've chosen to be (more or less) poor. But then we remind ourselves we're trading money for time and doing what we have chosen to prioritize: raising a family together.


We've now been home educating our kids for — well, ten years, I suppose, though officially our state mandates formal schooling from age 8, so two years by that measure. As homeschoolers who lean toward unschooling. Having a family business is granting us the flexibility to take part in our children's learning, and we enjoy being so close to them as they grow and explore. You can see some of our many adventures in these posts: A day in the life of an unschooling, work-at-home family, Homeschooling in the everyday, Child-led homeschooling adventures, and How to kill your child's love of learning.

Including the Kids

I know this idea might not come across as culturally popular given the let-children-be-children vibe of the modern era, but we appreciate including our kids in the running of our business. Since the kids were preschool age, they've been able to help us put labels on DVDs (which gives inadvertent lessons in reading, counting, and dexterity) and perform other small tasks. Once our kids are mature enough to work steadily, we can even legally pay them wages, which they can put away into a savings account for future education or use as their spending money (hopefully, both!). We don't force our children to work for us — we merely present it as a matter-of-fact part of our lives as a family and invite them to participate as they wish.


One of the cons of running a home business is finding space for the business in the home, particularly if your business requires a lot of stuff. As a retail business, we have 10 boxes or more a day coming through our door, and I've often been overwhelmed by the clutter in our two-bedroom home. If you're choosing a business, think wisely about your space constraints. Moving most of the boxes and packing supplies into the work loft and other storage areas, as well as opening a remote mailbox location, has been a great solution for us so far, though it has its downsides as well (increased cost and decreased convenience).

Time Management

One of the biggest perks of working for yourself is that you can work whenever you want. It's also one of the biggest downsides. When we tell people we work from home, we often hear, "I don't have the discipline for that!" My standard response has been, "Were we supposed to have discipline? Oh, that's what we're doing wrong." Some people can be very regimented about having specific starting and stopping times for their business hours. Those people are not us. Sometimes we goof off and work too little, and sometimes we think we'll do "just one more teensy thing," and then it's six hours later and everyone's cranky because we all forgot to eat or play or look up from the screens in front of us. It's also a common scenario for family members and friends to take advantage of your flexibility by assuming you can take vacations to visit or be visited whenever they want — and it's a temptation to give in. So, either you have to be very disciplined to be your own boss, or you have to learn to live with and work around the fact that you are not that disciplined.

Work Environment

One piece of advice I hear from every work-at-home guru is "Don't work in your pajamas! Have some self-respect and put on nice clothes every day! Even shoes!" I want to proudly be the lone voice saying, Wear pajamas if you want. That's one of the perks of working from home, dang it. If you meet with clients or work out of the home in some other fashion, of course you'll have to set your own standards. But I have some very comfy lounge pants, and that's my work uniform. It doesn't make me less productive, and only the UPS deliverer ever sees the slovenly me.


The downside of the work environment being at home can be all the calls to do something else even if it's the time you've set aside for work: play with the kids, start a load of laundry, sort through the closet, turn on the TV…. I sometimes have to leave the house for a bit to write somewhere else, and as I said, we rented a small work space that's mostly procrastination-free. (No internet!)

Green Impacts

Working from home is very eco-friendly. Every year the city tax form I have to fill out asks me to list every worker's commuting miles. Every year I'd gleefully been able to state that we have none. With our office, four miles away, we now have a bit to report. But it's still a greener option than many job situations, and we don't have to consume as much in office clothing (see above), staff donuts, or endless paperwork.


If you're the boss, there's no one taking care of you. Many entrepreneurs have fluctuating incomes (we certainly do), which can be stressful when a family's livelihood is at stake. We went through very lean times before we had kids. We were willing as adults to live on Ramen for months, but I felt conflicted about bringing my children into so much uncertainty. However, we continue to have problems at times meeting our bills and, as with many retail businesses, often count on the holiday buying season to save our bacon for the year as a whole. There's a definite element of risk involved in living without a salary. Sam and I have to buy private health insurance on the state exchange for our family, and there's currently been a great deal of political uncertainty surrounding our coverage. We also have to fund our own retirement accounts, and we get no paid maternity or paternity leave, no paid vacations, no paid sick days, and no worker's comp or unemployment coverage should anything go amiss. We try to save to afford our own safety nets, but things are always a little iffy in this lifestyle. I do our very complicated taxes, and I represented us (successfully) in a state audit of our excise return. We'd love to be able to afford expert help in areas like that, but for now we're making do.

Social Stigma

This isn't a huge one, but we have felt some prejudice from friends and family members over our choice to start our own business(es), generally when we weren't doing well. You have to be strong in your own motives to pursue a business, and willing to stick with it through the months or potentially years it takes to become solvent, let alone successful, or — conversely – willing to know when it's time to try a different path.

Quality of Time

Just because we can choose when and how much to work doesn't mean we always make the best choices. I sometimes (always) find it very hard to balance being a parent and homemaker with being a businesswoman. It's the same balance that any working parent faces, but with an added sense that as a WAHM, I should be able to pull it off if anyone can, since I'm home all the time.


That leads into the next point, that just because we work from home doesn't mean that we wouldn't like or need help with childcare. For a couple years when we had just the one kid, we sent Mikko to preschool to give us two half-days a week to concentrate on our work. When we pulled him out of school due to separation anxiety issues, among other things, we had to reevaluate how we divide childcare duties among the two of us. Particularly when our children were babies, I needed to keep them close for breastfeeding purposes, so over time, we've evolved to have Sam do most of the for-profit work. I either remove the children elsewhere, or Sam takes himself away when he needs to concentrate.

For most families with an entrepreneur, it's a common scenario for only one parent to work from home with no other parent around during work hours, in which case childcare (whether that's occasional babysitting, in-home care from a nanny or mother's helper, swaps with other parents, daycare or preschool, mainstream schooling for older kids, or other options) might be a necessity, not a luxury. Some parent-proprietors can squeeze work into naptimes and evenings, but a lot of businesses need extra commitments of time that call out for help managing the two sides of a work-at-home parent's life. Some communities have coworking spaces designed for parents, where members trade off working and communal childcare. (You could look into starting one near you if there isn't one!) Another idea is to find an indoor playspace with wifi or other necessities and work while the children scamper independently, or sign the kids up for community-center or homeschool-co-op classes that give you an hour here and there to get some work in. I'll be the first to admit it's a challenge, and the challenge morphs with different ages and the addition of siblings. On the one hand, older kids are more able to self-entertain; on the other hand, there are fewer fun places to take a ten-year-old that also welcome a two-year-old. In the end, there are some tasks Sam and I can do with kids underfoot, but there are others that demand quiet and uninterrupted concentration, and that can be difficult to come by.

DIY Life

In general, Sam and I love living life on our own terms. Having worked from home for 19 years, and for ourselves for 14, we can't imagine going back to working for someone else (though, if it became a necessity for our family, of course we would). The very uncertainty that keeps many people from starting their own family businesses is what keeps us in this life. It feels as if we've deschooled our own job and career expectations and now know that working can be what you make it, and that you can find a way to work that enhances your family life. It's a challenge to make and continually refine a work and childrearing balance that honors the needs of every member of our family, but we're happy with what we've come up with so far.

In the end, we're glad we were semi-forced into working from home and then finding our own sources of income. I know the financial risks and the difficulties of juggling parenting with working don't appeal to everyone. If you're thinking of starting a home-based business, research it thoroughly and go into it with your eyes open … and then, enjoy the adventure. It will change you in ways you never imagined.

Have you ever considered starting your own business, or do you work for yourself already? What appeals to you most and what most unnerves you about the thought of being your own boss?

This article has been edited and updated from a version that appeared on Natural Parents Network.


Inder-ific said...

Thanks for updating us about this! I am always so curious to hear about other people's lives, truly, I love to hear about different families and different lifestyles. I work full time out of the home (as a lawyer) and my husband is a SAHD, my two kids are in school (preschool and public elementary) but it's nice that they don't have to do afterschool care or summer camps because they have a parent at home! I have to remind myself that many of my seemingly affluent coworkers and friends have two parents working, so obviously they have more income, but they have additional costs and stresses too, not that they don't have lovely families and lives as well. So, most of my cousins have done entrepreneurial careers, and I am soooo intrigued and impressed by that. As someone who greatly values stability, I can appreciate how difficult the instability must be at times - having a boss is somewhat of a relief, really! But there is also a lot of freedom in that lifestyle!

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