What it’s really like working at a startup while raising kids

by Justine Hofherr
November 21, 2016

While many rumors about startup culture are false, others are pretty accurate. 

Startups often work in survival mode, which means everyone at the company is doing whatever it takes to get a job done and get the business off the ground.

Many tech workers have no problem with this fast-paced environment, but for first-time parents, the startup grind can be a bit more challenging. We caught up with three parents working at Boston tech startups to hear how they maintain work-life balance and whether having a child has changed the way they work.

 

 

Kenny Smith, Director of Sales

How do you balance being a parent with startup hours?

It's tough, but at the same time you need to make a concerted effort to separate your work hours and your family time. For me that means taking full advantage of the weekends. We are big outdoors people so whether we go to the beach as a family in the summer or a hike in the fall, it's important for us to get outside and enjoy time together.

How has being a parent changed the way you work?

It has pushed me to be more efficient and to make sure I am working smart and utilizing my time. A couple days a week, I will also come into the office early (around 7 a.m.) to make sure I get home in time for dinner.

How much time did you take off following the birth of your first child?

Being in sales, which is a very fast paced environment, I didn't take too much time off. The policy at Datadog is very generous, but I personally completely disconnected for about a week or two before slowly easing my way back into things.

What advice would you give to first-time parents working at a startup?

As much as I love my job and what I do, it doesn't come close to the love that I have for my two kids and being able to watch them grow up. Sometimes, I still can't believe my daughter is already four years old! So my biggest piece of advice is to separate these two worlds and give both as much of yourself as you can. During working hours, make the most of your time because you won't have as much free time later to catch up if you're slacking. And when you are home, put your phone and computer away! At least until the kids go to bed.

 

 

 

Rafi Finegold, Vice President of Product & Experience

How do you balance being a parent with startup hours?

I aim to be home around 6:45 p.m. which allows us to have dinner, and allows me to do bedtime with each of my four kids which is really special and important. I'll then work in the evenings or early mornings as needed, when they're sleeping anyhow.

How has being a parent changed the way you work?

I aspire to (and occasionally succeed) at working very efficiently when I'm in the office so that I can be home on time.

How much time did you take off following the birth of your first child?

I believe it was two weeks, which I think is just about right. I've also done three weeks and about 1.5 weeks.

What advice would you give to first-time parents working at a startup?

When you have kids, your time is not yours — it's a shared asset between you and your significant other. When you're not there or show up late, it puts a burden on your significant other.  Have open, honest conversations about what you're trying to achieve at work, what time in-office expectations are, and figure out together how you can define hours and work habits that work for the family.

 

 

 

Ashleigh Jaffe, Director of HR 

How do you balance being a parent with startup hours?

It's not easy and whoever said it would be easy was lying. But being at a startup carries the benefit of a flexible work environment without the presence of corporate red tape. My team understands that I can't make it into the office before the sun rises and I can't stay until the sun sets. The hours that I am in the office are shorter than they were before I became a parent, which motivates me to work smarter and more efficiently. I don't have the time to take long lunch breaks (but let's face it –– I never did anyways) or spend too much time schmoozing with the rest of the team. When I get home and take care of my family responsibilities, I always check on emails and attempt to keep my inbox and task list at a manageable state for the next day.  

How has being a parent changed the way you work?

I work smarter now. Every hour, every minute, every second is precious and I don't like to waste them with distractions or inefficiencies in our processes.

How much time did you take off following the birth of your first child?

I needed to take off a few weeks before the baby was born because walking around — let alone commuting an hour — was next to impossible, so I worked from home during the last few weeks. Then I took 12 weeks maternity, which really was 13 because the last week of the year is a ghost town in our office.

What advice would you give to first-time parents working at a startup?

Make sure your team and your manager understand that your job is still just as important to you as it was before you became a parent, but that allowing flexible work hours/days and understanding that emergencies come up is beyond comforting. I know that my team knows this and sees me working hard while I'm in the office and sees emails fly and projects progress over the weekends too. My work ethic hasn't changed post-baby, just the hours they see me.

 

 

 

Jim Forrest, Director of Design & Product Strategy

How do you balance being a parent with startup hours?

The simple answer is having a great partner. Juliette and I have twin girls – Evie and Sonnet – and the way that we share duties and both understand, and agree, that we need to continue living our lives is vital. We feel it is really important for our girls to see strong parents that know how to prioritize being loving, supportive parents with the reality of us wanting to continue to be active players in doing meaningful work.

How has being a parent changed the way you work?

Once you have kids, especially twins, you are immediately strapped for time so your priorities become laser-focused. Those random coffee chats and beers after work are all more targeted and what you want to focus on becomes really apparent. On the day-to-day I find pockets of time that I never knew existed. For example, I respond to a lot of Slacks and emails after our night feeds since I am awake but am miraculously laser focused. This was unexpected for me but it seems that my unconscious thoughts surface and give me great clarity.

How much time did you take off following the birth of your first child?

I decided to stagger it by taking two weeks immediately in July and then let the flow of family take over for a bit. After that cleared up I took one week per month and am ending the year with three weeks in England to visit my partner’s family and friends.

What advice would you give to first-time parents working at a startup?

Mornings and early evenings really matter! I always start work at 9 and leave by 5:30 p.m. so I can catch Evie and Sonnet at their best. Waking up to their smiles and good spirits sets my day off positively. This also allows me to feed them with my partner and set up a nice routine for everyone involved. Getting home by 6 p.m. allows me to see the girls after they have napped and are full of energy. At the moment, this is when they are the most talkative so we sing, read books and discuss world events together. I also feel it is so important to talk to them. The issue is you inevitably run out of ideas so we do anything from reading the New Yorker to them to me recapping my day by looking at my calendar.

 

 

Photos via companies 

Are you a tech parent? Let us know how you juggle work-life balance

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