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You ever see (and maybe get a little jealous of) one of those lady startup founders who is not only making their work work but also doing it while perfectly put together? They may also be raising kids, Pinteresting their cute suburban home, Instagramming their family adventures, and indulging in what women’s magazines call “me time” and mens’ magazines probably never mention at all. That could be me, and I’m here to tell you it’s all a huge put on. Very pretty social share-worthy BS, but BS just the same.
Back in the day when I worked at a real job and my daughter was in daycare, taking a break meant going for a stroll in the wooded area next to the office park or lazily sucking down a Cherry Hill Creamery milkshake while I read novels in the backseat of my car. I don’t think I Instagrammed any of it, but I definitely enjoyed it.
Now as CMO of Hello Mamas, the company I cofounded, the closest thing I get to a break is pausing whatever Trello-prompted to-do I’m working so I can clean the urine off the side of the toilet because my little guy has decided it’s time he started peeing like a man.
On one hand, I can give myself a big pat on the back because I’m doubly productive. I am the living embodiment of work-life balance. Or at least I give the impression of having achieved it. I have finally solved the mystery of why my bathroom smelled like a porta-potty, and with five minutes to spare before my next conference call. Two-minutes before I dial in, I sit my son down in front of paints, canvases and brushes, and then I snap a photo. On any given day, it looks like I am winning epically.
On the other hand, someone – anyone – please save me from this life.
Thirty seconds after I set up the paints, my son has applied approximately three microscopic dabs of my expensive acrylics to a ginormous and otherwise untouched canvas and declares he is absolutely done with this activity. I call in and immediately hit mute because he is now crying about the fact I am refusing to give him the fruit snacks we don’t actually have.
Once the meeting is over, he will watch roughly four hours of something called Yōkai Watch while I try to deliver on the sponsorship packages that keep the lights on in between periodic butt wiping, snack serving, and explaining yet again that mama has to work some days… most days…every freakin’ day.
Look, I know I don’t have anyone to blame but myself. Being a SAHM was not in the cards for me financially so being the creative type-A overachiever I am, I decided I was going to work for myself rather than continue working for The Man. Then, because I am also apparently a masochist, I said, “I’ll found a technology-based startup!”
And finally, because I must have deep-seated personal problems and/or some degree of self-hatred I thought, I can handle this while also simultaneously providing my demanding, clingy, and crabby second child with not only the necessities of life, but also a fun and enriching childhood!
Now he’s four and when you’re four you’re still going to be a little unclear on what constitutes an emergency. This is important because I tell him at least once every other day that when I am on a business call he should only interrupt if what he wants to tell to me about is an emergency. The conversation usually goes something like this:
“Okay, kiddo, I’m hopping on a call. Don’t interrupt me unless it’s an emergency, okay? So what’s an emergency?”
“Someone is hurt?”
“Good, good. If you or your sister gets hurt you should definitely tell me. What else?”
“I see fire!”
“That would definitely be an emergency and something I need to know about right away. And what else would be an emergency?”
“If I’m thirsty. If I want to show you the thing I found. If I’m whispering?”
I hear that I’m lucky A LOT. And I kind of am. Lucky enough to not have a commute, to be at every school event, every performance and Parents’ Day. We don’t have to pay for full day summer camp. Back in the baby days I didn’t miss out on first steps or any of the other firsts people obsess over. Now in the school years I don’t have to load my kids onto the bus (which is good because we wouldn’t qualify for one). I can set up after-school science experiments and take my kids to the library. A flexible schedule makes dance lessons and swim lessons and jump rope lessons and all those other lessons kids seem to end up enrolled in possible.
You know what else I hear? I hear, “I don’t know how you do it.”
Which brings me back to that pretty social share-worthy BS that tends to be part of the mommy-owned startup package. At some point we as a society decided that the backstory with the most selling potential is a mama starting a passion project in her spare time because it gave her the flexibility to spend every waking moment being a perfect mother and wife. In this fiction, she can manage a startup after bedtime and without sacrificing much family time. Super adorable and super marketable, right?
Turns out, though, launching complex social software and an app is not something you do for a couple hours after bedtime a few nights a week. It’s a real actual job that some of us end up doing on top of other real actual jobs plus maintaining a household and keeping small humans alive, and frankly it doesn’t leave a lot of time for living the kind of photo-worthy lifestyles us startup moms are supposed to be living.
Here’s how it really works:
We learn to push the chaos and the clutter to one side of the room and take those brand-sponsored lifestyle photos on the other. We wear red lipstick and dark glasses because these things hide a multitude of sins. We spend more weekends working in Starbucks than we do with our families. We learn to survive on very little sleep. To ignore the dishes in the sink and the laundry piles and to smother all the guilt we feel when we tell our kids over and over again, “Mama can’t play right now. Mama has a deadline.”
But when people ask how it’s going, we gush out happy little white lies about how everything is just great! Why? Because that’s a lot more marketable than the real story and when you’re a startup founder and a mom on top of it, marketing is just one more item on your never-ending to-do list.
About the Author:
With her background as an author, editor, and mommy blogger extraordinaire, Christa drives the company’s brand messaging, customer retention program, and overall digital strategy.
She lives in Beverly, MA with her husband, Tedd, her two kiddos, and four horrible, no good, awful cats.