In 2007 I wrote a post about what it was like raising a family and starting a company at the same time. Back then my second son, Quinn, had just been born, and I was starting Standout Jobs. I distinctly remember having fundraising conversations with investors while pacing outside the Children’s Hospital where my son spent a week sick. It was a crazy experience.
Jeff Ward (an entrepreneur with a couple kids himself) recently posted a summary of 20 inspirational articles for startup parents and was kind enough to include mine. On Twitter, Jeff then suggested I write an update to my original post. Interesting idea…
Thinking about it, I decided to share with you what a typical week looks like for me. Too much detail? Maybe, but it’s a reflection of the hectic and occasionally absurd life that I lead. And I think many parents will share a very similar story.
For starters, I have two boys, aged 7 (Sam) and 4 (Quinn). Sam is in Grade 2, Quinn goes to daycare. I’ve been married 10 years (11 in June!)
6:20am – Wake up. Current alarm is set to Wagner: The Ride of the Valkyrie. My wife (Jess) usually stays in bed (she deserves it). Shower and get ready.
6:40am – Start working. Usually I spend this time replying to emails, catching up on a bit of reading and writing blog posts.
7:20am – Wake up Sam. He’s gotta be in school by 8am, so we have to hustle. Quinn occasionally wakes up, but he doesn’t have to be at daycare as early, so it’s not as important.
7:30am – After wrestling Sam out of bed, we get him dressed and start feeding him breakfast. I have to make sure he’s got all his gear for school too (books, lunch, materials for extra curricular activities, etc.) My wife is usually up at this point.
7:50am – Get Sam out the door (which is more complicated in the winter, because there’s more gear) and drive him to school. By now, Quinn is usually awake, and hopefully in a good enough mood that he’s eating breakfast and getting organized.
8am – Drop Sam off at school and get back to the house for the 2nd shift.
8:05am – 8:40am – Get Quinn organized. He can turn on a dime mood-wise, so there’s a bit of eggshell walking going on. If all goes well, we get him out the door to daycare.
8:45am – Drop Quinn off at daycare. Get home and start my “real workday.”
This routine is generally pretty smooth, but any number of things can throw it off. And it ebbs and flows from fairly relaxed to pretty panicked and rushed; back and forth a few times every single day.
The Work Day
These days I’ve been working at home. I’m not a huge fan of it – I end up feeling isolated, and stuck in mid-context between home life and work life. Staring at toys strewn all over the floor doesn’t help. And the fridge is right there…
But it’s hard to justify going out to an office and wasting that time back and forth, especially if I’m picking the kids up in the afternoon and get stuck rushing home in traffic. That’s a level of stress I don’t need.
I usually get started at 9am. I’ve learned to avoid scheduling early meetings; there’s a lot of “risk” in my morning routine that can throw things off, and if I’m late on my first meeting of the day it can make the rest of the day very chaotic. A bad morning makes the whole day harder scheduling-wise but also motivation-wise. Once you’re thrown off and unfocused it’s hard to get back into the groove.
I eat lunch and work at the same time. There’s no point taking a lunch break, unless I’m going out to a meeting. Lately I’ve made a conscious effort to schedule more lunch meetings so I get out of the house and remember that the rest of the world exists.
The main part of my work day ends at 4:30pm or 5:30pm depending on whether or not I’m picking up the kids. My wife works part-time, and when she works it’s often late (7 or 8pm), so I’m on the afternoon kid shift. I’ll assume for this schedule, that I am picking up the kids…
Afternoon Kid Shift
4:30pm – Pick up Sam and head home to do his homework. He has a surprising amount of homework for a kid in Grade 2. Typically some of it’s already done, but I have to review it. Homework usually takes 30-45 minutes. Lately he’s had more projects as well, presentations that he has to prepare for, which also take more time.
The context shift here is hard. I’m usually racing to the last minute before I have to rush out to pick up Sam. If I’m late picking him up, and we don’t have time to do his homework that means we have to do it later in the day when Sam’s more tired and Quinn’s around. That’s definitely playing with fire. So I do my best to be on time and shift from “work mode” to “parent mode” in an instant.
5:20pm – Pick up Quinn.
In total, the boys spend 8.5 hours per day at school and daycare respectively. That’s 42.5 hours total per week.
5:30pm – 6pm – Now it’s time to prepare dinner. If my wife is working I’m in charge of making dinner. Lately we’ve been planning meals for the entire week so it’s easier to know what I’m making. I simultaneously make Sam’s lunch for the next day.
The kids will play (read: fight) or watch TV (read: zone out) and eat some snacks.
The Night Shift
6pm – 6:30pm – Dinner. We try and have dinner as a family. It’s an important time of the day. If my wife is working late, then I have dinner with the boys. I won’t lie though, I occasionally let them eat in front of the television. It gives me time to clean up, take a break, and catch up on emails/work stuff.
6:30pm – 7:30pm – Play time. We usually have anywhere from 30-60 minutes at this point to play with the kids. If my wife is home, we get to play with them together. Lately we’ve been playing games (Cadoo, chess, Connect 4), doing the robot dance, wrestling or playing LEGO. If the kids are playing really well together, we’ll let them play on their own as well; it’s important for them to spend time together (they don’t get a lot!) and discover how to enjoy themselves without parental supervision or guidance. If they’re constantly coming to us to entertain them it’s exhausting and just doesn’t scale. Plus, we have to do some cleaning (dishes, etc.)
What’s sad is that the sum total of play time with the kids is typically 1 hour per day. Maybe 1.5 hours if we’ve really sped through other things. That’s a total of ~5 hours/week of play time (excluding weekends). It’s shockingly low, but that’s the reality of things. And this time is at the end of a long, hard day for everyone, so you can’t guarantee that it’ll be fun. Every week there are going to be spats between the kids, challenges, time-outs, voices raised, side talks, stern reminders and more. It’s not as if we finish dinner and then everything is super rosy and perfect. Play time takes work.
7:30pm – 8:30pm – By this point we start the nighttime routine. We try and get them to clean up a bit (with middling success on most days). Then it’s showers (if we’re doing them), teeth brushing, bathroom time, picking clothes, and picking stories. Jess typically does story time with the boys.
I won’t lie, throughout the afternoon and evening with the kids, I’m checking email and occasionally responding to things as well. I find it very hard to completely disconnect from what’s going on, but I try my best to keep this to a minimum.
The After-the-Kids-are-in-Bed Shift
8:30pm – 11:00pm – By this time I’m usually back at work. If I’ve got the energy for it (and I’m drinking more coffee) this can be a very productive time for me. There are fewer overall distractions so I can focus and get stuff done.
I work most nights, but occasionally take a night off. Friday is almost always off. Jess and I like to watch TV once in awhile, and sometimes I just can’t bring myself to open the computer up again. I’ll zombify in front of TV or play a game on the iPad.
11pm – 12am – I’m usually in bed by this time. It’s rare that we’re up past midnight. The time at this stage isn’t productive for me, and I’ve got a guaranteed early morning the next day.
Weekends are completely different. Aside from Sunday night (when I’m working that 8:30-11pm time period), the weekend is almost exclusively dedicated to the kids. Currently Sam has swimming classes, but we don’t have a ton of scheduled extracurricular activities. So we have to plan things to do. Luckily Jess is a master at this and runs a website called I Spy Montreal, dedicated to helping parents find things to do with their kids on the weekend. Weekends are pretty busy. The kids will have friends over, or go to their friends’ houses. We’ll get out of the house as much as possible and do different things. We also have chores – groceries, cleaning, and other preparation for the week.
The kids stay up a bit later, the parents drink a bit more wine, and we do our best to have fun. Unfortunately, the kids don’t sleep in very much – during the week it can be nearly impossible to get them out of bed, but on the weekend they spring to life. Every Friday and Saturday night, I secretly imagine myself being able to sleep in until 11am (like the good old days), but it never happens. Of course, I probably couldn’t even sleep in that long if I wanted…
- Time spent working: ~11 hours/day + ~2.5 hours on Sunday (57.5 hours/week)
- Time spent w/ kids during the week: ~5 hours/day excluding weekends (25 hours/week)
- Time spent w/ kids on weekends: ~24 hours total (excluding sleep time)
- Time the kids spend in school or daycare: 8.5 hours/day (42.5 hours/week each)
So in an average week I’m spending 57.5 hours working and 49 hours with the kids.
The time spent with the kids on the weekend should be lower, because Jess sometimes takes them to do things, or they’re with friends, or playing on their own. And I haven’t split the time up per child, but we try our best to spend some individual time with each one.
What you realize is that the kids spend more time being shepherded by other people than they do by their parents. If you take summer vacation and other time off school into account, this is no longer true, but the time they spend out of the home is hugely significant.
Conclusions & Challenges
1. Context shifting is hard. Switching from work mode to parent mode is extremely difficult. The two bleed into one another, but you have to make a conscious effort to keep them separate. You have to be present. In anything you’re doing, you have to be there and focused. I’d like to think I do a good job of this, but I definitely struggle; it’s a constant battle.
And it’s more than just an issue of context shifting. You can’t bring your shit from work into your personal life. Or you have to mitigate it as much as possible. If work is stressing you out and that reflects on how you act with the kids they’ll be confused and upset. And you’ll ruin what little time you have with them.
2. Time spent with your partner is definitely sacrificed. The time you spend with your partner will take a nosedive when you have kids; compound that with starting a company or working in a startup and you might forget the other person’s name! (OK, I’ve never done that…) You have to make time, it’s as simple as that. By any means necessary. Take a specific night off. Get a good babysitter you can trust and rely on for regular or at least semi-regular nights out of the house.
We rely on my parents a lot. They’re great at taking the kids for weekends, and it provides Jess and I with much needed breaks.
3. Time spent for yourself is practically non-existent. As a priority, you end up at the bottom of your list. That’s why you have to love your work and be passionate about it – your time spent working is a big part of your “me” time at this stage. But you also have to be completely honest with your partner when you need time for yourself. Everyone needs a break from everything at some point in time. This is definitely a challenge for Jess and I. You end up feeling guilty when you want to “take time off” because of the constant responsibilities. And you know that your time off is more work for the other person. You have to to really communicate about these issues on a constant basis.
4. Recognize unproductive time. Sitting in front of your computer staring at it doesn’t mean you’re working. If you’re fried, you’re fried. If you need a break, you need a break. Browsing the web mindlessly doesn’t count as productive work, and you have to recognize it as such. It’s better to walk away cold turkey and do something else than to whittle away the hours “working”.
5. Believe in yourself. You can’t be a good parent and a good entrepreneur without being pretty damn confident. If you’re not confident in yourself you’ll crumble too often. Even if you’re supremely confident (bordering on the obscene) you’ll still crumble, but you’ll do so less often and it will be less disastrous. I can’t really tell you how to believe in yourself, but you have to figure that out. Julien Smith can probably help.
6. Laugh. Laugh as much as you can. About anything. You’ll feel better. Jess and I laugh about the absurdity of our lives. You have to be able to laugh at yourself. We laugh about the kids (in a good way!) because they’re hysterical. Sometimes laughing turns into crying, but most of the time it’s just genuine laughter.
Jeff Atwood (Co-Founder of Stack Exchange) just quit his “startup baby” to focus on his real babies. That’s a hardcore decision. But I get it. Jeff wrote:
Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange have been wildly successful, but I finally realized that success at the cost of my children is not success. It is failure.
And he’s completely right. Kids don’t need millions of dollars (if that’s how you measure success). They need love, support and guidance. They need your time. Of course, so does everything else.
Parents want the most for their kids. I want to make sure they’re taken care of forever, but more importantly I want to inject into them the skills and mindset to succeed on their own. I want them to be happy. And happy ain’t easy. It takes a lot of work, every single day, for the rest of our lives.