From the wife of a serial business owner

Derek and I have been married for almost 17 years, and in this time he’s owned 5 to 12 businesses, depending how you count. There have been some stressful times for both of us, but we’ve found several things that help us manage marriage, parenthood and both of our jobs. Here my top-10 list.

1) Find a time to talk with each other every day, even if it’s only 3 minutes

a. Why? Stay connected with each other and avoid miscommunication that can cause conflict.

b. How? For a long time I would try to talk with Derek at 10 pm when he was too tired for a constructive conversation. We had to consciously find a time that worked better for both of us on a regular basis.  We have a narrow window now between 8:30 and 9 pm when the kids are asleep but Derek is still capable of thought before he falls into a coma. Sometimes we chat for half an hour, sometimes we just discuss logistics for the next day.

2) Find a longer time to spend together every week

a. Why? Same reason as above but for a deeper connection, more challenging conversations, and more fun.

b. How? We have a babysitter every Saturday evening and go out on a date. Derek almost never looks at his phone, we dine together and talk.

3) Find a way to share the chores of the household that works for both of you

a. Why? To share the load and help both spouses be successful in their careers. Also to avoid resentment.

b. How? We assign chores long term whenever possible so there’s no daily debate about whose turn it is. In the beginning, sometimes I had to force myself to wait and NOT touch the dishes. Eventually Derek would unload the dishwasher so I could load it again. It took him some time to adjust, but now he is in the habit and does it quickly without any reminders. For some chores we do scissor-paper-rock to decide who will do it.

4) Introduce your spouse to spouses of other entrepreneurs

a. Why? Entrepreneurs are weird, and spouses of other entrepreneurs can help give some perspective about what “normal” really looks like in this crowd.

b. How? Find a way to network with other business owners that includes spouses. For example after I spoke with some other wives of business owners, I realized that NONE of them filed their taxes on time, they all filed for extensions. After that I didn’t feel so annoyed any more when Derek filed in October.

5) Appreciate your spouse. Out loud.

a. Why? Sometimes when Derek is in the passionate honeymoon phase in love with a new business, I might end up with more chores and less quality time with my husband. Entrepreneurs can work some long and unconventional hours and that puts a strain on a relationship.

b. How? Say thank you for little things, even the daily chores. I thank Derek for taking Colin to daycare in the morning sometimes. He listens to me vent if I’ve had a rough day with the kids, and he notices things like, “hey, that huge pile of laundry is gone.” This only takes a few seconds, but it means so much to me.

6) Make sure your spouse has time for herself (or himself)

a. Why? Everyone needs a break and time to exercise, relax or have a little fun.

b. How? We alternate taking care of the kids in the evening. Monday nights I do dinner, teeth brushing, story time, etc.  with both kids. Derek gets a workout and an uninterrupted shower. Tuesday nights Derek is on dad duty and I get to go straight from work to play hockey. When it comes to evenings and weekends we split parenthood as evenly as possible. This also keeps us both connected with our kids.

7) Talk with each other about what you need

a. Why? So you both get what you need. Direct, honest communication goes a long way.

b. How? Here’s an example; years ago I would pester Derek and ask him not to work on Saturdays. He was tired all the time and I felt like I was doing the lion’s share of housework and parenting. One day he told me “Saturday is my day to do whatever I want while you watch the kids. Sunday is yours. What do you need from me?” I thought about it and told him “I need you to be conscious and fully present when we go out on Saturday nights and I need your help with some chores.” He gave me what I needed, and I stopped trying to change him.

8) Take turns being “the Boss” in parenting

a. Why? Kids respond better to a “united front” from their parents, and parents sometimes disagree.

b. How? If I’m on Mom duty on a Monday night, and Lindsay asks daddy if she can have some candy, he says, “I don’t know, ask your mom. She’s the boss right now.” Years ago I would do what Derek called “parachute parenting.” He’d be telling Lindsay for an hour that she had to put her dishes on the counter before she got her toy from the top of the fridge. I’d walk in the door (parachute in) and she’d ask me for her toy; I’d give it to her, which undermined everything Derek was trying to teach her. Now I ask Derek first when he’s the boss. We do this with babysitters too; they’re in charge, even if we’re home. If Derek and I have a disagreement about a matter of discipline, we try to discuss it away from the kids.

9) Travel wisely

a. Why? Because when you leave that puts a big extra burden on your spouse which can cause stress and resentment.

b. How? When Derek travels, I hire babysitters every single night he’s gone. I can’t delegate the morning drop-off to day care or the mid-night pee in the bed, so I delegate everything I can. Sometimes while the sitter is there I am home doing laundry or working, but having that help gives me leeway so I’m not a “single mom” for a week. Also, I like to put a price on his absence so he can factor that into the cost/benefit equation of a trip.

10) Have fun adventures together

a. Why? To reconnect as a couple and have fun.
b. How? Every couple is different, find what works for you, both big fun and small. I’m writing this now as we’re sitting on a plane on vacation to a cruise in Alaska. Derek was ridiculously busy this past month to get everything running smoothly before we left, but it will be worth it. He’s going to be sleeping for half the vacation, and so will I, but at least we’ll be sleeping together.

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