My son, Steven, is grown, the child of divorced entrepreneurs. He watched us pursue projects, start businesses, end businesses, celebrate successes and mourn failures. We both moved a lot. For stability, I lived in one apartment through his grammar school years then bought a house for his middle and high school years. We both remained in the city. I always say, I was a single woman, but not a single parent. Dad was very active and present, with his different style of parenting, hence the divorce. Nothing about my son’s life looked “stable” according to the traditional models for child rearing in America, but the end result was pretty amazing!
He learned from us, what many fail to realize. Life is a journey. There’s very little fear. Most people just want to be happy. All you need is love.
My child’s role in my company
I’ve had one “formal” job in my life. I needed it when my son started grammar school. It was the most efficient way to get the healthcare for his school vaccinations. I stayed on the job for years, bought a car and a house but spent a great deal of time depressed, paying bills, tired and on the phone with friends trying to navigate office politics. Often frustrated, I snapped at Steven. We ate loads of fast food; I didn’t have time to cook like the people on TV.
Finally, understanding what a Monday morning heart attack looks like, I sat him down and said, “I can’t continue with this job. I am dreadfully unhappy. I need to go back to entrepreneurship. I need your help and support.” He was 14. I said, “You have to get really good grades. You can never get in trouble at school. And you have to be on the Advisory Board of my new business. Worse case scenario, I can cover half your college and you can get scholarships or something.” He said, OK.
He took his role very seriously and I did too. I got an SBA loan, quit my job and started my microbusiness out of a storefront in my community. We started having dinner together. I would tell him about my crazy days as an entrepreneur and he would tell me of his crazy high school days. I ran out of money a lot. He would say: “But you have your own business, why aren’t we rich?” I would explain how I made money, where it came from and where it went. Whenever my business encountered young people, I would ask him, “Why did those kids do that? How can I fix it?” And he had meaningful answers.
During summers and school breaks, he wanted to work at the shop. He took pride in his suggestions to improve business, he answered the phones, and he cleaned up the offices. He knew exactly how much money stayed in the family from his efforts, too.
Between his Dad and me, money was always uneven, but Steven knew we would scrape together what he needed for school. He didn’t ask for extras because he knew neither of us had extra cash. He understood my business and his Dad’s. But what we both had, was time. We were always in control of our time, and we were always available for his activities.
The buck stopped with Mom
The buck always stops with the business owner. My son got the chance to see me lead a team meeting, but he also saw me get cursed out by unhappy customers. The first time, he was pretty traumatized, but he watched me handle it. He watched me completely diffuse situations and then resolve them. A lot. Whether it was I, personally or someone from my team, I apologized and looked for the solution.
After one guy’s bellowing at me, I talked to my son later on and said, “Look, don’t stress out. I’m not going to fire me today. I’m never going to fire me, so we just have to figure out what that guy is mad about and then resolve it. Because customers are right, the jerk.” Steven laughed. Then I said: “Could you tell what he was mad about?” We turned the entire experience into a lesson. I told him that guy probably had a job he hated, and this incident got on his last nerve. He just wants to be happy, too. I don’t know him well enough to be the cause of all of that anger.
From then on, every time we were in a store or at an event, Steven leaped to solve the problems. He would ask for directions or assistance. It was his turn to rectify situations. When situations came up at school, he scheduled his own meeting with teachers. He would dispute low grades and schedule tutoring. He took his commitment to good grades seriously. He graduated High School on the Dean’s List.
From boy to man
When he went away to college, he called to thank me. He said, he was able to walk into the room of young men in his dorm and start “glad-handing.” I taught him that as a child. We used to have handshake drills when he was nine because I told him good business started with a good handshake, eye contact and an engaging question.
College was almost effortless. He got full-ride offers from some universities, but we selected a school that gave him a scholarship for half. I struggled to pay my agreed-upon half on time. He wasn’t stressed because we always made it. While Steven was 1,000 miles away, he negotiated and navigated college like a champ. He finished summa cum laude.
The job search as a recent grad was challenging. A mentor told him he would be more “interesting” if he spoke Chinese. In short, he said: “I’m moving to China.” And he did. Never having left the country, having never spoken a word of Chinese, he got a job teaching English as a second language. He applied the same rules he learned in life. He thrived. He learned to speak, read and write the language as he lived in Daquing and Shanghai for over two years. Now he lives in South Korea. He is twenty-seven and still fearless.
My advice to Moms
So many of my friends are scared to let their kids go to the store alone let alone on school field trips. I don’t think you can raise independent children while requiring them to depend on you for everything.
My advice is this:
- Give your child responsibility that ties to the family business, no matter how simple.
- Make sure your child understands how the business works and makes money.
- Ask your child’s advice if your business involves children in any way.
- Let your child see you work and resolve conflict.
- Tell your child how important his actions are to the success of your business.
Traditional jobs take so much oxygen out of the room. You don’t always have the authority to bring your child into the equation to help them learn adult lessons. But Mompreneurs have the space. Give your child the lessons he needs to be fearless.