Updated: May 25, 2017
If you’re thinking of starting a family while building your own business, literally nothing on this planet can fully prepare you for the chaos your life will contain — but reading this article might help a little bit.
Take paternity leave. It doesn’t have to be a long time, and it doesn’t have be taken consecutively, but no matter how busy things are at work, they will be even busier at home. Paternity leave is important — not only to care for and bond with your child, but also to support your partner during this period of transition.
It’s also beneficial for you to take time off to set a good example for the rest of your employees. Even though small businesses are generally exempt from the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires businesses with more than 50 employees to offer a minimum of 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, there are many reasons to encourage your employees to take time off after the birth of a child.
“Becoming a father has made me a more disciplined and focused entrepreneur.”
Including a parental leave policy in your standard benefits package is essential if you want to remain competitive when recruiting talented employees. And considering how time intensive and expensive it is to hire and train new people, it’s often outright more cost effective to have a policy that helps you retain top talent, so your employees don’t quit when their child is born.
Those programs only work, however, if your employees feel like they can actually take advantage of that benefit without feeling guilty. And studies have also shown that encouraging new fathers to take paternity leave is actually one of the most effective ways to improve gender equality in the workplace, because it mitigates the pressure women feel to either turn down maternity leave or leave the workforce entirely.
There is no good time to step away from your business. But if your company can’t run without you for a short time, you should focus on building more sustainable business processes and strategy before doing anything else.
There are also a few things you can do before your take your leave, so you can fully concentrate on your little one and stop worrying whether or not your business is crumbling. For example:
One of the best pieces of advice you can give any two-income household trying to manage work-life-balance after the birth of a child is: stagger your returns to work. The Washington Post recently reported on a growing trend where fathers take some time off from work around the birth of their child and then use the remaining part of their paternity leave after their wives return to their jobs. This not only helps save on childcare costs, it also can help new parents learn how to balance all of their new responsibilities.
Regardless of the amount of time you take for paternity leave, Sam Hodges recommends you gradually transition back to a full workload — experimenting with shorter days or a flexible schedule. Another piece of advice, “Be tight on logistics and keep open communication with your partner. One of my daily tasks early on was bath time duty, so if I wasn’t home by 6pm, I needed to immediately connect with my partner.”
As a business owner, you probably can relate to that unrelenting feeling that you should always be doing more — having more meetings, building more partnerships, doing more outreach. But at some point you need to decide what truly matters.
“Becoming a father has made me a more disciplined and focused entrepreneur,” Sam explains. In a miraculous twist of fate, becoming a father may force you to get better at saying no to distracting projects that don’t move the needle, and you won’t have any choice but to up your time management skills.
When you have a child, your priorities and your time commitments are going to change, and it’s important your management style adapts with it. Many fathers report new found capabilities for empathy and understanding — important qualities in an effective business leader, partner, and parent.
When you start a business out of your garage or use your personal savings to bootstrap a new project, the line between personal and professional is easy to blur. It’s useful to put up some walls between your work life and your home life, but you don’t necessarily have to separate them entirely.
Keeping your entrepreneur hat on when you’re at home may help you think of more efficient ways to put your baby to sleep or help you decide whether cloth or disposable diapers are more cost effective. Conversely, parenthood could inspire your next great business idea, like it did for these three families.
Sharing your passion for your work with your family can also help instill an entrepreneurial spirit in your child. Sam Hodges puts it well, “Intellectual curiosity and a constant desire to learn is critical for any entrepreneur. Who knows what our children will be when they grow up, but if I can instill these values in my child now, that’s an important thing.”
The first few months with a newborn at home means a lot of changes, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Talk with your partner about both of your career and personal ambitions before the baby arrives, and check in regularly with each other after it’s born.
It can also be helpful to find someone outside of your home or office to talk to and to share advice. “I’ve connected with other entrepreneurs at other companies,” Sam says. “Joining an organization can offer you support, too. I recently joined the Young President’s Association, and the issue of work and family is a key topic.”
Sam Hodges is co-founder and U.S. managing director of Funding Circle. He is responsible for overseeing the overall strategic direction and day-to-day operation of the company in the United States.