Spending the pandemic juggling lockdown parenting and running a business is tough – but turns out there are some pretty vivid parallels and lessons to be learned.
Parenting in lockdown has been tough. Don’t get out the violins, I’m aware that many have had it much worse than I have (see Emma’s story), but speaking from personal experience trying to look after two kids under five and run a business is up there with one the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
My wife and I are a pretty good team and I’m very lucky to be supported by some brilliant colleagues at Thinking Hat – but like millions of others lockdown has left me feeling burnt out, mentally exhausted and desperate for a pint down the pub – which I have no doubt would solve everything!
It’s not been all bad. Our first lockdown was great – living with my wife’s parents in Northumberland (England’s better Cornwall).
Looking back it was magical and a very different experience to lockdowns 2 and 3… when we were back on our own, juggling kids, working and living for 7pm – aka bedtime.
But despite the tears, tantrums, naughty steps and soiled nappies (and don’t get me started on the kids), it’s been a learning experience. Even though I’ve not been able to put as many hours into the business as I would have liked – lockdown parenting has taught me some important life lessons which I hope will make me a better leader… although that remains to be seen.
Five things I’ve Learned from Lockdown Parenting
1. Patience is king
As a parent of two kids under the age of five you have to have the patience of a Zen monk. It’s not always easy and frankly just trying to get out of the house can send me into a breakdown… but eventually you get a little better at tolerating the delays, false starts and screaming. I’m not great at it, but if I compare me now to me four years ago, pre-kids, it takes quite a lot to push my buttons these days.
I think from a business perspective that’s not a bad trait to have – yes it’s important to be ambitious and to have drive and determination… but you also need to have patience. Not every step in business is a step forward, often you need to step back first, learn and go again. In the end you’ll get to where you want to be, whether that goal is building a global empire or just getting your kids out of the house into the car.
2. It’s not all about me
I think it’s fair to say that many entrepreneurs and business owners have an ego. You have to have self belief if you are going to build a business, drive it forward and expect others to follow you. I definitely fall into that camp – but parenting in lockdown has definitely made me reassess my place in the grand scheme of things.
It’s quite difficult to have a massive ego when you are scraping poo out of your fingernails or walking around in a jacket covered in vomit. The days when I put myself first are well and truly gone, but that isn’t a bad thing. When I started the company, my motives were more selfish, but you can’t build a team like that. You have to put others first, invest in people and ultimately make sure they feel motivated, engaged and happy. You never know, when you are old they might look after you.
3. There are so many hours in the day
Lockdown basically cut my working day in half and I’ve spent the past month or so trying to cram everything into a few short hours. I’ve just about managed it which means before I was either not working hard enough or just wasn’t as productive.
I think the truth is like most people I’m just more productive when I’m on deadline and need to get the job done. When you’ve got that timer ticking down you have to make quick decisions and keep all the plates spinning – take the deadline away and it’s easy to get lost in a trail of thought that ultimately isn’t helpful.
Since the kids have been back at nursery I still find I’m working at that frantic pace to try and get everything done. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but it’s certainly working for me right now.
4. Try to present a united front
“No Rory, you can’t watch another episode of Paw Patrol!”
“Elliot, don’t eat that coin!”
“Stop hitting the TV – it’s not an iPad!!!”
As a parent you have to lay down the law on a pretty regular basis. The problem is that usually one parent caves in (typically me) and decides to reward bad behaviour with a sweety.
At Thinking Hat we have a pretty unique set up in that there are three MDs/Founders. We work very closely together on every aspect of the business – from HR and accountancy to business growth and team development. We don’t always agree, behind closed doors we sometimes even argue and fall out – it really is like a marriage.
But like parents it’s so important for business owners to thrash things out and ultimately reach a compromise, present a united front and see it through. That goes for whether you are trying to get your kids to eat more broccoli or trying to figure out when it’ll be safe to return to the office.
5. Routine is so important!
If nothing else, parenting in lockdown has taught me the importance of having a routine… and sticking to it. For example, in our little world Friday means “Movie Night”. We have a little build up over the week, I might sneak in a few trailers here and there, and when movie night finally rolls around there is geunine excitment and anticipation – even if it’s just to watch the Polar Express for the 1000th time.
As an adult it’s weird to go from doing what you want when you want, to imposing a routine on your life (unless you are training for a marathon I guess). I was definitely a slow adopter, but it’s amazing how having a structure can really give you a sense of purpose and a feeling that you’re moving forward in the right direction.
Back to the business, like everyone else we have our own internal weekly and monthly meetings. But what is crystal clear to me now is why it’s so important to make sure these meetings happen.
Of course, everyone has client pressures and deadlines and reasons why they might not be able to make a Monday/Friday catch up. But where possible these meetings should always go ahead. Cancel one meeting and before you know it the routine collapses, internal communication goes down the pan and things get structureless pretty quickly.
Final thought: it hurts, but one day they won’t need you
The Thinking Hat team have been bloody fantastic and have been a huge support to me during this tricky time. Everyone has really stepped up their game – clients are happy, we are winning new projects and 2021 is already looking like our best year ever… and I’ve hardly been involved (yet!).
But in all honesty that makes me really proud. When your company is made up of great people who can crack on without you, that’s the sign of a great business, it’s the sign that your business is growing up. I just hope I don’t grow up to be an embarrassing business dad… but as far as my kids are concerned that ship has sailed.