Motherhood Is Excellent Preparation For Launching A Startup

By Dr. Marika Lindholm

Are you a mom who has dreamt about starting her own business? When I launched my startup, ESME.com, an online platform for single moms, the learning curve was steep. My experience as a sociology professor didn’t prepare me for tasks such as drawing up a business plan, building a website, or hiring employees. However, an entirely different aspect of my life did prepare me for such tasks: my experience raising five children. It turns out many of the skills I gained as a mom were ideally suited to the demands of a startup. So if you’re thinking about taking the plunge, consider the following ways in which motherhood is an excellent training ground for launching a new business. 

You are never truly prepared, and mistakes are inevitable. 

No matter how many times you read What to Expect When You’re Expecting, you can never fully prepare to be in charge of a new human being. Because all babies are unique, moms have to figure out a lot on their own. Startups are the same: Books by entrepreneurs and “helpful” essays on Medium might make some good points, but they won’t adequately prepare you for the journey. Ultimately, you figure out a business model — as you did parenting techniques — that is yours and yours alone. The ingenuity you’ve applied to raising a child will serve you well because the nature of startups, like children, is that they morph over time.

Problem solving, creativity, and the ability to change gears are essential to raising healthy companies and healthy children. For example, our children don’t always want to stick with the program, whether it’s getting a toddler to leave the playground or your soccer star begging to quit the team. We moms need to stay calm and move on to Plan B. Similarly, it’s no cause for alarm when a business initiative proves less successful than you’d hoped. Use your ability to adapt and try something else. Also, even when you apply all your finely honed skills, mistakes are guaranteed, just like when parenting.

I’ve learned that when I feel like a “bad mom,” it’s usually an important learning moment that forces me to dig deep to shift strategies or perspective. And, unfortunately, a strategy that worked with one child can backfire with another. We don’t often apply terms such as “crisis management” and “strategic planning” to raising children, but it’s exactly those skills that moms apply and hone every single day that are invaluable when starting your own company. 

Decisions and unsolicited advice are endless. 

As mothers, we make hundreds of decisions every day — especially when our children are particularly young. Startups impose similar decision-making demands. After all, this is your baby, and every choice can feel like the difference between success and failure. And because all children and startups are different, a good deal of guessing and hoping goes into our decision-making as we forge our way forward. It doesn’t help that we receive so much unsolicited advice. During the early years of my website and when my children were much younger, I was constantly bombarded with well-intentioned criticism and “helpful” suggestions.

I’m not sure why so many folks feel at liberty to tell new moms and female entrepreneurs that they are doing things wrong but, in both cases, we have to sort through and ignore information to make decisions that are right for us. Nodding and smiling at unwanted baby advice is good practice for deflection skills you will need as you grow your startup. Many tough decisions need to be made, so it’s important to shut out input that makes you second-guess yourself or decreases your confidence. Parenting and startups are challenging enough without the input of those who ought to mind their own business.  

Priorities and alliances shift.

I was one of the first in my social circle to have a baby, and, sadly, I drifted apart from my childless friends because I was totally immersed in motherhood. I turned into a baby-talking, sleep-deprived robot who wasn’t as fun to be around. Similarly, when you jump into startup mode, every brain cell and spare moment is dedicated to succeeding, leaving the only friends who “get it” are other entrepreneurs. Just as you shifted to find mom friends in playgroups, your best bet is to find a tribe of mompreneurs. Another reality is that whether your identity shift is because of becoming a mother or boss lady, you can’t always be your best self because both roles are all-encompassing and exhausting.

Before having children, you might have vowed never to yell, use TV as a babysitter, or eat fast food. The sad truth is you may end up doing all these things as a mom—even all at once! Similarly, as an employee, you may have noted things you’d never do if you were the boss, but before you know it, you are forced to make unpopular decisions just for a business to survive. The shift in priorities and alliances is most intense in the early years of motherhood and entrepreneurship. Keep working to broaden your network and build new alliances, but it’s essential to align with a tribe that understands your priorities. In fact, your sanity and success may depend on it! 

There are no gold stars along the way. 

Ever have a kid turn to you and say, “Wow, Mom, that was some first-class parenting”? Didn’t think so. Likewise, there’s no one handing out gold stars or glowing reports as you fight for the survival of your startup. Both children and young companies require your constant attention, yet even after you’ve done everything to yield a particular outcome, there are no guarantees. Learn to find gratification in the small stuff, such as a child remembering to say “thank you” or your business living to see another day. Just think about how many startups go belly-up — and how many kids move back home in their 20s and still expect you to do their laundry! It’s about enjoying the journey through setbacks and unexpected hurdles. Of course, aiming for future success is motivating but not if it robs you of the moment. With your children and your startup goals, take pride in what is — not what you hope will be — because the future can be as elusive as earning a gold star. 

It’s life changing and personal.

Having children and launching a startup will make you grow and change in ways you never thought possible. I was a relatively conflict-averse and shy person until I had kids, and then mama bear was unleashed! You know that feeling when your child is being treated unfairly by a teacher or a coach — the racing heart and surge of blood to your face? It’s the same with your business. When folks critique what you’ve thrown all your heart and money into, it’s personal. Stay away from those who want to see you fail, and fight for your right to succeed. Just like motherhood, the startup journey is a rollercoaster ride that’s complex, fulfilling, and individually yours. Appreciate where it’s taken you, and remember that parenting with a full heart, creativity, and bravery equips moms with special tools to start and sustain a business. So go out there and slay, Mama! 

DR. MARIKA LINDHOLM founded ESME.com to ignite a social movement of solo moms. A trained sociologist, Lindholm taught courses on inequality, diversity, and gender at Northwestern University for over a decade. After a divorce left her parenting two children on her own, she realized solo moms lacked much-needed resources, support, and connection. She built her social platform, Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere, out of this combination of academic and personal experience. In addition to publishing numerous scholarly articles, Lindholm has been a regular contributor to ‘Psychology Today’, ‘Working Mother’, ‘Mind Body Green’, and ‘Talk Space’. She has published essays and fiction in the ‘Daily News’, ‘Elephant Journal’, ‘The Hill’, ‘Ms.’, ‘Silent Voices’, and the ‘Southern Indiana Review’. Keep up with her at https://esme.com/.

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