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(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About Building A High-Growth Startup As A New Mom

Callie Christensen

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It is an amazing time to be a female, mom, entrepreneur.

The founder of The Wing, a women-centric coworking space, Audrey Gelman, was recently celebrated on the cover of Inc Magazine’s female founders’ issue. She is the first visibly pregnant CEO to appear on the cover of a business magazine, marking a new milestone in history—and showing (literally) that you can build a business and start a family at the same time.

Seeing Gelman on the cover resonated because my co-founder, Kelly, and I are both moms. We started our company, Slumberkins, when we were both on maternity leave. And then even after having those initial first babies and starting our company, we each had another baby after that. 

From the very beginning, our entrepreneurial lives and our family lives have been intertwined—flying for work with our kids, navigating important meetings with just as important after-school activities, and even successfully closing our seed round, raising $2.8 million, while making sure everyone is still happy at home.

Being an entrepreneur and a mother was never a career path presented to me, or my co-founder Kelly, when we were children. We were always told that if you wanted to have kids, then you only had a few options: teacher, nurse, stay-at-home mom, etc. Yet, women all over the world today are proving that having a family doesn’t mean putting your own aspirations in the back seat. It just means learning how to effectively manage the exciting, overwhelming, new stages of being both a founder and being a mother.

If you feel inspired to pursue your entrepreneurial passions and start a family at the same time, then here is (almost) everything you need to know about what you’re getting yourself into. 

1. Since you won’t have work-life balance, you have to be the one to set clear boundaries with your time.

Entrepreneurs don’t have work-life balance. Then again, neither do moms.

When you have a company to tend to, and kids to take care of, nobody is going to set boundaries for you. Kelly and I used to always joke that we built Slumberkins between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. because those were school drop-off and pick-up times. In a sense, those responsibilities helped us mentally separate between when we were in Slumberkins mode, and when we were in family mode.

The challenge, of course, becomes balancing those two worlds at night. Early on, I had this realization that when my children are given an iPhone or tablet to play on as a distraction, they’re playing games. So if they see me working on my phone, they aren’t aware of the difference—the fact that I’m not playing a game, I’m working. In their eyes, “Mommy is just sitting over there ignoring us.” 

This is something I have to constantly remind myself of. I’ll intentionally put my phone upside-down so I don’t see any notifications. Or I’ll leave my phone on my entryway table between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. when I put my kids to bed. 

This way, the time I get with my kids is quality time.

2. Find ways to manage your stress (as often as possible).

Being an entrepreneur is stressful. So is being a mom. 

You are going to have to find ways to manage your stress. The emotional mental load a mom carries is a lot. You are always wondering if you’re doing the right thing, if your kids are getting what they need, if there’s something else you could (or should) be doing. Compound that stress with the life of being a founder and you have a recipe for burnout.

But here’s the thing: stress is almost always the result of not feeling supported and heard.

You have to be willing to ask for help. 

This was a really hard one for me to get comfortable with, because I am someone who likes to do everything myself. I feel really good when I have a sense of independence. But at a certain point, I had to realize that burnout was in my future, and I needed to raise my hand and say, “I can’t do all of this. I need some help.” Otherwise, my family and my business was going to suffer.

The key here is to constantly have conversations with your partner and let them know, “I have too much going on over here. I need you to pick that up, or do more here.” You can’t keep your stress bottled up. The weight you’re carrying, and the responsibilities you are juggling, have to be talked about and processed through. 

Because the moment you stop being honest with yourself, and with the people around you, is the beginning of the end.

3. Be prepared to face a good amount of mom-shaming.

It’s hard to truly know what goes into being a mom until you’re a mom.

The exact same thing could be said about being a founder.

When Kelly and I were preparing to appear on Shark Tank in 2017, people in our lives often said things like, “I can’t wait for things to slow down for you two so you can take some time with your families.” Meanwhile, we were the ones up with the kids in the morning, taking them to school, staying up with them at night, taking them to their after-school activities, etc. It was just assumed that while we were in the early stages of building Slumberkins, we were ignoring our responsibilities at home—when that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

We were just talking with one of our investors about this, and he acknowledged the same thing just from his perspective of being a dad. When he has to travel and his wife is home with the kids, nobody thinks twice. But the moment his wife has to travel, he gets calls from family friends asking if he needs someone to come over and cook for the kids, help out around the house, etc. It’s this false societal belief that all those responsibilities fall solely on the shoulders of Mom.

As a result, being a mom-entrepreneur means having no shame about the uniqueness of your situation. Kelly and I have had many flights with babies in our arms, showing up to important meetings with our kids strapped to our backs and saying, “Hey, we’re a kids brand, we’re moms, and in order for us to be here we had to bring our kids. This is how it goes.” 

Now, are you always going to get it right? Of course not. I have had my fair share of moments where I’ve had to make choices I didn’t want to make. When we were filming Shark Tank, we were down there for three days and in the middle of the trip, my son had his first solo karate graduation performance. I debated, “Do I need to book a flight just for that performance and then fly right back?” Ultimately, I made the choice not to, and I felt guilty for the longest time. 

As moms, we create our own layers of mom-shame. 

But we can’t be everything to everyone. And as mom-entrepreneurs, while we might not be able to spend the most time with our kids, we can do our absolute best to make the time we do spend quality time.

I am the co-founder and co-CEO at Slumberkins, an educational children’s brand working to empower parents to teach positive social-emotional life skills to their children. As a mother and educator, I'm on a mission to use my educational background to create an intentional children's product line. Slumberkins are easily implemented into everyday family routines to support social-emotional learning, providing digestible therapeutic techniques for parents to use, and normalize conversations about big feelings.

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