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Daughter’s dance performance, son’s Tae Kwon Do test, wife’s birthday, anniversary dinner, father’s illness, friend’s time of need—all overlooked and missed. This was Aaron’s first experience with startup culture. He was a brilliant and unassuming computer scientist. He loved his wife and children. But, the startup consumed him. He did not have the time or patience for his busy and harried wife or his young children. He gave the startup every ounce of his energy.
Monica and Sean
Monica and her husband, Sean, were recently married, young, with no children, and working in the same startup. Their boss was a micromanager who expected employees to stay in the office until late at night. Dinner would be brought in, and it was only after having dinner and watching the boss leave, that the rest of the employees could safely leave. Even employees who had little children followed this pattern. However, Monica and Sean were content with spending long hours at work and did not mind it.
A few years down the road after they had two children, Sean decided to found a startup with a connection with whom he had a common friend. The startup’s cofounder had a volatile temper and this became very stressful for Sean. He was the sort to internalize the stress, and this led to him interacting less and less with his children. His wife could see the impact all of this was having on Sean and the children. Monica’s mother was seriously ill, but she could not visit her mother as often as she would have liked. The financial compensation at the startup was less than that at the previous job, so this meant that there was less room in the budget for luxuries such as household help. When Monica and Sean’s teenage daughter became difficult, Monica had to deal with the parenting challenges on her own.
David was a highly driven individual. He founded his company when his daughter was in preschool. As expected, he had no time for his wife or daughter. He had to find competent staff, customers had to be signed up, seed funding, Series A, Series B, and so on had to be chased. Eventually, the combined stress from family life and his startup caused him to lose his temper. At work, he yelled at his colleagues. At home, his wife bore the brunt of his emotions. His daughter was scared of this new side of her father and employees who could not deal with his displays of temper left the company. Meanwhile, his wife entertained the idea of divorce. Caught in the vortex of startup demands, David was helpless.
How to Balance Startup Culture and Family Life
Not all startups reached a successful culmination. But, some of the stories mentioned above had happy or semi-happy endings. Aaron’s startup was acquired by a larger company after four tumultuous and exhausting long years. Aaron’s hard work and sacrifices paid off—monetarily. However, his father who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s passed away at the same time and Aaron was left with regrets about not spending time with his dying father.
Sean’s startup went through tremendous ups and downs and after one year Sean and his partner called it off. Sean joined a larger company and stress came in other forms, such as a longer commute and management politics. But, Sean’s salary went up and Monica was able to take time off to grieve when her mother passed away.
David’s startup had a successful outcome being acquired by a larger company. He then went on to start another company.
Much has been written about balancing startups and family life. Advice has been doled out about how to do that—be organized, make sure you have an amazing spouse who can take on the role of two parents, ask for help from grandparents, and so on. Theoretically, the advice sounds good. However, families of entrepreneurs usually feel neglected. Spouses feel exploited. Children cower in fear of their emotionally volatile parents.
What can we do then? Startups are a necessary component of a vibrant industry. It is where new ideas come about and are tested. Here is what you can do to mitigate the family issues:
Personalities of the people founding and running the startup are of utmost importance.
If people who found and run the startup truly care for the welfare of their employees—genuinely, not superficially—they can set a calm tone and an atmosphere of cooperation within the firm.
The spouse of an employee in a startup may have to take some less than ideal decisions about their careers.
They will have to either focus on the home and kids or take up a non-stressful job to balance out the long hours and mental stress of the other spouse.
Choosing the time/stage in one’s life when to try out one’s hand at a startup is also vital.
When there are no kids involved, working long hours and being under stress may have fewer repercussions than if there are kids involved. When kids are younger, they need more attention. However, there is flexibility around decisions such as sending them to a public or private school. When kids are older and in college, there is less financial flexibility. It may be more difficult to adjust to a reduced income from a startup job.
Seeking family therapy before there are relationship flare-ups may be wise.
It could even be a perk provided by startups to help their employees and their families stay sane.
Picking a good time in one’s life to enter the world of startups, having chats with one’s spouse to make sure he/she is on board for possibly making career sacrifices of their own, working through family finances to see what they can afford and what will fall to the wayside, taking into account the ages and natures of the children and making an informed decision with a support system in place may just be the way to go. Following these tips will help ensure your family’s happiness and the success of your business.
Have any more tips on how to balance family life and startup culture? Let us know down in the comments.
This article originally published on GREY Journal.