I’ve Interviewed 200+ Parents About Building Businesses & Raising Kids.
Here are the top 6 things they tell me.
When I was in my twenties, I brazenly thought that pregnancy would be a breeze—the real problem I was focused on was finding a partner. In school and society for so many years, we'd been taught not to have sex, and that any procreation activities would instantly result in pregnancy. By the time I decided to have kids in my thirties, I figured that I'd get pregnant according to plan, and all of the skills and tools I'd used to succeed in life so far would translate readily into managing this next chapter of my life.
Goodness, I was in for a wakeup call. I got pregnancy and parenthood so wrong.
Pregnancy was nothing like I expected, and my Type A organizational skills were useless when it came to managing morning sickness or colicky babies. Shortly after giving birth to my first child, I felt overwhelmed, abandoned, and ashamed. I believed that if I just hustled hard enough, and I pushed through, then I would succeed as a working mom even though other people didn't before. I had no clue how much this was a failure of society—all I’d gleaned was that to have it all, you had to be well organized, work hard, and push through. But when my kid was six months old, my overwhelm was so big that I reached out to fellow parents and asked them to share their advice and secrets with me.
Since then, over the past four years, I've interviewed 200+ parents about building businesses & raising kids. Our discussions go in depth, from fertility struggles, to wondering if having kids is the right choice for you, to the ways in which society is broken when it comes to raising our future generations.
Eventually, I turned these private interviews into a public show called the Startup Parent Podcast—which has now surpassed 1 million downloads and is rated in the top 1% of podcasts globally. After interviewing hundreds of moms (and many dads), here's what they consistently tell me about parenting while navigating business and leadership at the same time:
1: IT’S LONELY
What people don’t tell you about running a business—or even any high-powered leadership track—is that it’s really freaking lonely. In our executive leadership incubator, we consistently hear from people that leadership is incredibly challenging and tough. Being in a position of making decisions that affect other people's lives is deeply stressful.
Plus, if you have kids, your life doesn't always look like your colleagues. After your day job, you go home to another 90+ hours of your second shift. Parenting young children is overwhelming, and any extra time you used to have—for catching up on email, sorting through your todo lists, or getting a workout in—are now gone.
2: PEOPLE CONSTANTLY SHAME YOU FOR DOING THINGS WRONG
The world is full of intense criticism and free-flowing advice for parents. Much of this advice is contradictory, making you feel completely nutty for trying to understand it. Every step of your parenting life is heaped with critique, and nearly everyone thinks they can do parenting better than you.
From the time you get pregnant or the day you bring your child home, people warn you about terrible things that can happen, they offer unsolicited advice, and they readily complain about any kid that isn't perfectly quiet and still.
The same goes for business leadership: the influx of complaints or critiques is loud, while the positive feedback loop is often quieter. The emotional challenge of doing both at the same time asks you to develop a thick skin, and tap into a deeper resource of self-confidence and wisdom that you can lean on.
3: HUSTLE CULTURE MAKES YOU WANT TO BARF
There's a mythical idea of having it all, and achieving the perfect elixir of "balance." It seems like "do more" is the only answer people have, and yet there's no way you can do more. Some days it seems like everyone on the internet is screaming at you to hustle harder.
How on earth can you hustle any more? You literally work from the crack of dawn until the wee hours of the evening, and parents come to me in tears, asking how they can possibly get it all done. My response is this: parents, you are already the definition of hustle. You can't hustle any harder, you literally work 16-18 hours a day, 7 days a week. You're a parent. So instead of pushing harder, your next step is to find what you can do less of. This is not comfortable for any Type-A overachievers out there: finding what to cut and how to reduce your workload is a tough skill.
→ If you're struggling with overwhelm, I wrote a short book on how to reduce your workload and streamline your business, which you can get for free here - Do Half: Work Better By Doing Less.
4: BUSINESS ADVICE THAT DOESN'T TAKE PARENTING INTO ACCOUNT IS MOSTLY USELESS
What I wasn't prepared for was how much basic business advice would have to be thrown out the window. So much business advice is offered by powerful, white, un-encumbered men (also known as "Ideal Workers") who can work 50+ hours per week, who have wives assistants or fewer responsibilities in their communal acaretaking lives. But for involved dads, for millennial parents, for single parents, or dual-career households, this idea of a one "breadwinner" and one "at-home manager" is not representative of the modern family.
This advice, these historical stacks of business books, they do not work for people with caretaking responsibilities and pregnant bellies and breastfeeding and bottle feeding and single motherhood. They don't work for involved dads, and it doesn't really work for equal co-parents, either. When you add caretaking into the mix and stop relying on a economic safety net of stay-at-home-parents (usually mothers), the world of work and the way we look at economic contributions needs to change.
What people tell me is they wish they'd known how much their work lives would change when they became parents, so they could be better prepared for the transition.
Here's the truth: the work world is not designed for working parents
The world of work as we know it today is not really designed for women, and it's actively biased against parents, especially moms. So many people tell me that they wish they knew more of this before they became a parent. It feels like people either minimize it by saying "It's all worth it" or they try to terrify you and create a panic response. People come to me bewildered, then confused, and then angry as they start to see how the world around them is not designed for working parents.
5: WE’D BE BETTER PREPARED FOR MOTHERHOOD IF PEOPLE TOLD THE FULL TRUTH.
One of the biggest challenges of becoming a working mom—and a working dad, and a working parent—is confronting the myths, cultural tropes, and falsehoods about what it's really like to be a working parent. I’ve come to see the lies of motherhood as a trap, and these lies are woven together to keep parents (mothers especially) underpaid and stuck.
When we unconsciously subscribe to these myths without challenging them, women end up competing with each other to uphold these standards by striving to do it all (sending thank-you notes, looking cute, losing the weight, home for dinner, intensive parenting, plus a top job, then making it look easy to others, not admitting the tough parts).
When we all do this, even just a little, the effect is huge: we set up the next set of new parents for total failure, and we don’t make the broader cultural changes we need to make. The media messages about pregnancy and parenting (“it’s all worth it",” “you’ll want to be just a mother,” “pregnancy is glowy and natural,”), in conjunction with our own complicity in hiding the truth, ends up perpetuating these myths about what parenting is supposed to be like. This sets us all up for failure, because when working parents thrive, workplaces get better for everyone—and there's research to back this up.
6: GOING IT ALONE IS IMPOSSIBLE — GET AS MUCH HELP AS YOU CAN
I see new moms everywhere fighting to keep their jobs while staying afloat the first year of their kids' lives. Our culture rewards and prizes people who are able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and "make it work," and so, as a result, we leave moms very isolated and alone during the first year of a child's life when they so desperately need support and community. Our culture prizes individualism and independence at the cost of communal health.
Parenting doesn't work well in this environment. Parents need community, support, and interdependence. Parenting taught me the value of community across all levels of my life: the support I need specifically within the home, the people my kid needs to be connected to, the local parenting groups to share stories, the local people to stay in touch with my own identity, the virtual communities of other business parents, and the business forums that are talking about a future of work that includes people with caretaking responsibilities.
What parents—and leaders—tell me time and time again is how much they wish they'd asked for help earlier, and more often. If I could give new parents advice (only if you want it!), I’d tell you that when someone volunteers to help you, say yes. Accept any offers of help (as long as it's actually helpful), and hire sooner, as soon as you can, to get support in your life and business.
Your life and your business won't work if you run yourself to the ground. “Being resilient doesn’t mean you do things on your own. It means you leverage the community and the power of the people around you,” says Jess Sims, one of my favorite Peloton instructors. Parents—mothers in particular—need more support and community.
We need other people.
So, to wrap it up:
Parenting can be intensely lonely, especially if you’re a founder or a business leader. Find your people, and keep joining groups until you find them.
People will shame you for everything under the sun when it comes to parenting. Ignore what most people say except the people you trust the most. There are thousands of ways to parent.
Hustle culture is all over the place, especially in business. As a parent, you’re already hustling and working from 6am until 10pm. Hustle culture advice doesn’t work for parents. Instead, you need a rest culture.
Most business advice is based on an outdated model of work. The old models were breadwinner husbands with wives at home. Business advice that doesn’t take parenting into account is mostly useless.
Most of the cultural stories around motherhood are myths. We’d be better prepared for motherhood if people told the full truth.
You can do it all if you work hard enough. Going it alone is impossible. Get as much help as you can.
— Sarah Peck
CEO & Founder
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A FUTURE OF WORK TO BELIEVE IN
At Startup Parent, we believe that parenting shouldn’t be at odds with work—and the insights from your parenting journey propels you as a leader that this world needs. We disrupt the myths of parenting to tell true stories of motherhood, fatherhood, and parenting today.
The Startup Parent Podcast is an award-winning podcast ranked in the top 1% of podcasts globally. Join us as we interview parents about what the future of work, life, and leadership look like. Click here to add the show to your player.
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