4 ways my kids taught me to be better at business

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 an entrepreneur and apply to my family life.

Yesterday I wrote about the business lessons I apply to parenting. 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.

But I also rely on lessons learned while chasing my two preschoolers around the playground when navigating the professional world.Here are four lessons being a mom has taught me about business:

  1. It’s just a phase. When my son was driving me bonkers with his nighttime waking, I calmed my exhausted mind with the assurance that he would grow out of it. He did. Now, when sales are slow or interview sources are tough to find, I calm my frustrated mind with the assurance that this, too shall pass. And it does.
  2. Say “I’m sorry,” when you need to. Kids need to know that parents are human, just as they must be taught to accept responsibility for their actions. So when I forget my promise to take my kids on a tram ride, I apologize. Similarly, when an editor calls me out on a factual error in my copy, I simply say, “I’m sorry”  — instead of arguing or justifying the error. We all make mistakes. Owning up to them is important in any relationship.
  3. Appreciate the great things while they last. When my daughter was two, she mimicked snapping her fingers by soundlessly opening and closing her hand while making clucking sounds with her tongue. I found this to be so clever and funny and cherished those moments, knowing she would quickly grow out of it (and she did). Mothers know how to appreciate what’s happening in the moment when it comes to our kids. But we sometimes forget to do the same when it comes to our work. Now, when business is roaring, I put extra money aside, and when my calendar is booked with delightful clients, I relish and nurture these relationships.
  4. You’re on – even when you’re off. Kids, of course, hear everything you say and notice everything you do. They absorb your attitudes about annoying neighbors and mimic your bad table manners. Just as I now make a point of sitting up straight so I can then yell at my kids to do the same with a measure of self-respect, I make a point to carefully proofread even casual emails with clients with whom I have a friendly relationship. The way we act says as much about us as the words we speak, and if we want to be treated like a professional, we need to act like one. Little things make big impressions.
Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

3 thoughts on “4 ways my kids taught me to be better at business

  1. Love it, genius, as usual. I’ve been having some bad mommy moments, but I’m inspired to think like the CEO of my kitchen table, thanks girl.

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