The Self-Employed Family Dynamic
This is a post I have wanted to work on for some time. Sometimes when I have an idea for a post, I wait a while to let the words and emotions take form before I start to put fingers to keyboard so that I can get my point across clear. I want to preface this post by saying I am grateful for this life, my family, and everything my husband and I have worked so hard to have, our businesses included. I am not whining, complaining, nor do I feel like my life is any more difficult than someone else’s – these are just my feelings and thoughts and I am hoping that someone else out there will be able to relate to this and know they are not alone. Also, if you are a family looking to start a business soon, I hope this will shed some light on the real, true life, of business owning.
This is the true Self-Employed Family Manual.
One of the biggest misconceptions of starting your own business is the thought that you will be able to make your schedule however you want, you can come and go as you please, have any day off you want, and there is no hierarchy to tell you different because, well, you are the hierarchy. Want to know what I have to say to that? Erase that image from your thoughts immediately, because if you don’t, you are in for some true heartbreak my friend. Owning a business means this: you are in charge 100% of the time, you are the go-to for everyone else helping you run your business, and you are ‘on’ all.the.time. No questions about it, you are building and creating and hoping to make something successful, the only way that is going to happen is if you yourself put the work and time in. Office hours do not apply to you, if you’re in any form of sales you know the customers come in high demand, they have questions and need help and you better be there to answer because every customer is income for your family. It’s Sunday, but you need a fax delivered by Monday morning? You’re at the office and FedEx making sure that happens. You’re the guy/girl in charge and no one else is going to make sure your business functions except for you, so be prepared to have some early mornings that turn into late nights and long work weeks.
So does this affect family and social life? You bet your bottom dollar it does. For our house, Darshan doesn’t work the typical ‘dad hours’ of Monday-Friday 8-5 – he is home much later than that, usually after bedtime. Raj sees him in the morning for a bit, wishes him well, and doesn’t typically see him until the following morning. Of course, Darshan does his best to squeeze in small amounts time here and there, but the truth is it is very hard. Most of Raj’s dad time is spent at the office (sipping Perrier’s so don’t feel too bad for him) and even though D always comes through and does morning school drop off and pick ups when I need him to, it takes days of planning and coordinating to make this happen. It isn’t easy, so as a family we have had to learn how to handle and cope with this over the last few years. I fully admit this is one of the most difficult challenges we face as a family who is self-employed; and it hasn’t always been easy on us, our marriage, or our family dynamic. It has taken a ton of patience and understanding from all ends and it has taken us some time to learn how to make the best of it that we can.
How we have learned to cope:
With complicated and very often unpredictable scheduling, we have all learned how to make some sacrifices around here in order to make the dream work, and mostly to guarantee that Raj, most importantly, never feels robbed of family time. Our weekdays tend to take the most effort so in order for Raj to have some dad time, Darshan has taken the lead in school drop offs and uses morning time for QT with Raj. Typically he takes his time getting ready to have some Raji time, will try to take as many calls and pre-day planning at home before he has to head out, and some mornings even takes the breakfast duty with Raj. Luckily for us his office doesn’t technically open until 11am, and even though the business phone starts ringing at 7am, he can at least handle a little bit of the work load at home. If not once per week, at least every other week Darshan also does a school pick up and evening with Raj where I am either at a work event or able to then focus on my own stuff. He takes Raj back to the office with him, takes him on work errands, takes him out to dinner, then does the bedtime routine with him. Would it be a dream come true for me to have this more than once every other week? Of course. But in the end I feel thankful that Raj has at least one of us here to do it with him at all times, take the positive with the negative. Sundays are also golden days for us. Since the customer appointments are low on Sundays, over the last year Darshan has taken a smaller role in Sunday office days and now dedicates them to family days. Yes he still gets phone calls and yes we will from time to time still pop in for 5 minutes to drop stuff off, but he is with us and he is present and that is all we ask. That is key. Going forward and with the growth of employees and now that the business is older and higher functioning – we hope D will be able to slow Saturdays down eventually, so cross your fingers with us we can make this a reality here soon!
Early on, one of the biggest things I had to do as the wife of a business owner was learn how to check my feelings. It can be hard when my husband doesn’t answer my phone call right away, isn’t home in time for a date night, or has to change plans last minute for a business emergency, and not take that personal. I struggled very early on with feelings of resentment, pain, and anger and questioned often if his business came before me. I knew this wasn’t the case, I knew everything he was doing and building was actually for me, for our family, and for our future, but I am human and it hurts to sometimes feel neglected. This caused a huge strain on our marriage very early on, and since I am the type of person who shuts down instead of works things out, I just became angry.
It wasn’t until I quit my previous job three years ago and started going into the office a while after to help manage and work there when I saw first hand everything that was going on. I saw how much Darshan had on his plate, I witnessed with my own eyes how he was running all day and how much personal sacrifice he made, and I knew just by seeing how selfless he was in this business, our business, that he wanted to be successful, how much it took of him. I realized why there were times he couldn’t answer the phone, I realized really quickly how much he was in demand, and I came to an understanding just how spread thin he was and how much he gave of himself. His days were complicated, unpredictable, and I witnessed so often that often his day was derailed from matters out of his control and it opened my eyes to see he never cancelled because he didn’t care. He was stuck in a very tough position and I saw how much it pained him to disappoint me every single time.
Spending the time I did working at the business with him and learning everything he did to run it helped me to heal from all of the hurt feelings it had caused over the years. It allowed me to see and understand that his lack of presence was never personal, but in actuality a very selfless sacrifice he was making. I always felt like I was alone in feeling alone, and after months of working with him, learning how to communicate these feelings to him, and together navigating how to be honest with each other, what I had also learned was how lonely he was. It was eye opening to the both of us and together it made us stronger to learn how to confront, communicate, and learn how to handle these feelings and frustrations.
How we have learned to cope:
Today we are light-years ahead of the hurt and frustrated feelings we felt in the past. We have learned how to make week day coffee dates, lunch dates, and schedule even the tinniest bit of time to connect. I no longer work at the office any more as I have my own business to run at home, but when I am craving some attention and feeling like I need some D time I tag along with him for a few hours and help him get work done. He calls and checks in on me randomly throughout the day, and overall because I know the business, I now know what his day entails and it has helped me to learn patience with him instead of the anger and frustration that I used to feel.
When we first started our business, I don’t think we saw friends more than twice per year. Any weekend we had open we wanted to be super selfish and spend it as a family and not share the time with anyone else. We became terrible friends, probably didn’t show others the support we would have wanted to, and didn’t take the time to nurture relationships we had with others and it was something we didn’t love about our dynamic.
Over the last year we have really tried to change that up a bit. One huge realization in making sure to do this more was just seeing and feeling the support we had from our friends, even after we had shut them out. They didn’t go anywhere. They cheered us on, jumped at every opportunity to continue to send the invites out to us, and since most of them were also busy chasing and building careers, when we were with them we realized how much more we needed them. They refueled us, made us feel whole, and were instant stress relievers. We wanted to do what we could to nurture those relationships and just felt so thankful they stood by us over the years.
How we have learned to cope:
Darshan and I made a pact together that creating a social life again was a necessity. We needed to feed and nurture the relationships we have always had, and since they never let us down, we needed to do what we could to not let them down. We started making more regular and consistent plans with them, allowed ourselves to not feel guilty leaving Raj with a babysitter once every so often, and if needed Darshan and I rotated a night out with the guys or girls. What we do now when we make plans with our friends on the weekend is plan ahead, block out a weeknight where Darshan clears his schedule and we dedicate a night to doing a traditional family dinner and having an evening with Raj, just the 3 of us. Planning and creating this time eases the guilt of being gone a day out of the weekend, and what we have learned is that as parents, and as a family, this makes mommy and daddy more healthy and happy and that is the key in finding balance.
To simplify it, for those of you still reading, remember this: Whether you are a business owner, wanting to start a business, or already own a business but now there is a new baby/spouse/kids involved, my hope is that this can help you to find solace in the fact that you are not alone. If your husband is working two jobs, a doctor, or whether you both work opposite schedules to have childcare solutions – we are all just here trying to find the work, family, and social balance. Give yourself grace, give your partner support and understanding, and remember that in the end you share the same goals and want what is best and will be of the best value for your family. I used to drown myself in comparisons to other families and their dynamics and always made myself feel so left out of the wives clubs who’s husbands came home at 5pm every day. I spent a lot of time resenting Darshan for our family dynamic being so different than everyone else’s in our playgroups – the moms who had bath, dinner, and bedtime help. What I failed to see and remember in all of it was the big picture… we all are doing our best and have to do what works for our family. We each have a goal of how we want our future to look, and resentment and anger will only make that goal more difficult and shatters everything we have put into our business and family. Comparing, contrasting, and all of those ugly things will only derail you from the beauty that is creating your own family dynamic.
So does the U Family sometimes eat dinner at 9, let Raj stay up way past his bedtime to give Daddy goodnight kisses, and sometimes let Raj skip preschool to have a family day on a Wednesday? Yes. But guess what… we are not the norm, and that is my favorite thing about us.
Also, our kid is pretty darn healthy and happy, so what more could we ask for in life.