4 Things Business Taught Me About Parenting--and Vice Versa

As working moms, we’re often encouraged to draw an iron curtain between our work and family lives. But I’ve learned that the more I lean into the tension these two worlds create, the better I am as a mother and a business owner. Over the years, I’ve found there are lessons I can draw from my experience as a journalist and entrepreneur and apply to my family life and vice versa. 

Here are four business lessons that have helped me with parenting: 

  1. Decide what you’re willing (and able) to compromise. Through the years I’ve gotten good at coming up with compromises when client relations get tense. They want more work for no more pay? I may offer a special rate for an additional contract or extension. A vendor and I are deadlocked over a fee? We split the difference. My daughter is in a screaming meltdown over having to wear her uniform to preschool? I suggest she wears the standard-issue jumper with her favorite T-shirt underneath. Everyone wins.

  2. The leader sets the tone. I spent the first few years of my career working for newspapers, organizations known for tyrannical editors – and colossal collapse. When pre-dinner meltdowns are eminent at my house, I brace my own feelings, force a calm and upbeat demeanor, and lead by example.

  3. You get what you give. When dealing with clients, I always try to give a little extra – throw in a little last-minute edit for no fee, or accommodate a delayed check when I know a trusted publication is in a pinch. Somehow, some way, these little things come back to me: useful introductions, extra assignments, or simply a warmer client relationship. Being flexible and generous is how I like to be treated, how I want to treat others, and I find that it always, always comes back around. The same rule works with kids. Without fail, there are days when all I want to do is rush the kids through our evening routine and park them into bed. But then I think about how quickly things can change, and I try to enjoy them goofing off in the bath, or the smart questions my 3-year-old asks about Harry Potter, or the sweet way my 5-year-old asks me to snuggle when I tuck her in. When I slow down and indulge in what they really need from me, the favor is returned a zillion- fold.

  4. Don’t jump to conclusions. When a vendor sends me an email that reads–at first glance–as incompetent or rude, I check my impulse to respond with a screed. Instead, I ask questions and seek clarity. I am nearly always met with one or two results: a) The person scrambles to clear up a mess up, or b) confusion is cleared and I am met with a response that makes me like the person more than I did before. When I am at the end of my rope and swear my children’s torture of each other means they’re sociopathic sadists (is that redundant?), I try to slow down the scene with a phrase like: “I know you love your brother and wouldn’t want to hurt him.” Without fail one or the other will express the most tender, heart-wrenching empathy. Shortly after, I’ll find my 3-year-old nonchalantly zipping his sister’s jumper, or my 5-year-old “fixing” her little brother’s busted plastic chopsticks with tape. And I am reassured that not only do these children have consciences, they are the sweetest souls in the universe. 

(Keep reading for parenting lessons I’ve applied in business.)

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Tagged in: Emma Johnson