10 Things Being a Single Mom Has Taught Me about Running a Business

tenI started my business when I was married and a new mother. In fact, I started it so that I could stay at home with my two boys. At the time, I had no idea that my part-time venture would turn into what would pay all of our expenses. But, it did. And, I’ve learned a lot along the way.

Being a single mom is like boot camp training for being an entrepreneur. There are some amazing survival skills you learn quickly when there aren’t enough hours in the day and failing isn’t an option.

So, I thought I’d share my top 10 things I’ve learned from juggling two kids by myself. They’ve been the best business trainers I could have ever imagined!

You Need a Morning Routine
Mornings are busy when you’re under the gun to get kids to school on time. Up at 6am, feed the cat, prepare lunches, cook breakfast, check homework, make sure the boys are dressed in outfits that somewhat match, and off to school we go. It’s a lot to do but necessary to prepare for the day ahead. I’ve created a similar morning routine to get ready for the workday, too which even includes packing my own lunch even though I work from home. Without the routine, I’d probably flop on the couch and watch the Today Show for a couple of hours.

You Need a To Do List
Two boys have lots of activities, homework assignments, and other things that I have to keep track of on a daily basis. There’s a lot going on in my business, too. As part of my morning routing, I create a daily list to keep organized. If it’s not written down, it is likely not getting done.

You Better Choose Friends and Clients Wisely
After your child experiments with a four letter word he learned from his new “friend”, you begin to ask questions about who they’re hanging out with. While you can’t control who they pal around with at school, you can “advise” them on their choices. In business, you also need to carefully choose your friends and clients. You don’t have the luxury of having someone in your circle who doesn’t pay, is a negative influence, or wastes your time.

Chores Must be Streamlined and Delegated
As a single mother, I’m always outnumbered by kids. It’s a continuous battle to keep the house clean, the laundry under control, and food in the fridge. I’ve learned to consolidate chores (like doing laundry at the same time I’m making dinner) and to delegate tasks whenever possible. I had a team of housekeepers clean my house the other day because I realized that it made more financial sense to work while they cleaned than for me to take time away from work to clean. Business owners also need to look at all their tasks and figure out ways to make them more streamlined. Time is money for both single moms and business owners!

Distractions Have to Be Minimized
Every night we sit down to eat dinner at the table. We turn off the TV and don’t answer the phone. It’s our time to focus on what we’ve accomplished during the day. I’m guessing the boys will remember these dinners when they grow up and hopefully will appreciate the time we spent together without texting, playing video games, and watching TV. A business owner also needs to tune out sometimes from distractions like social media, email, and phone calls to get actual work accomplished. This interruption-free time should be regularly scheduled.

There Has to Be Time for Play
Raising two boys and being a business owner are both tremendously labor-intensive. If I’m going to avoid burnout, I need time for fun. A nightly walk, watching a movie, riding bikes, playing a game, an impromptu trip to get an ice cream cone. It’s these little pleasures that make it somewhat manageable to keep up the pace.

Sleep Is the Number One Must-Have
My productivity level as a mom and a business owner drops dramatically on the days I’m dealing with lack of sleep. This is why it’s absolutely essential for me to get at least seven hours each night. This may be the most important thing that I do!

You Have to Help Others
I admit it! I think a lot about how much I’m making each month. I run the numbers in my head, check my accounts, and am always concocting new ideas to make more. That’s my entrepreneurial nature and my focus as a single mom who is going it alone. But I want to teach my boys about giving, and I often find that when I shift my focus to helping others in some capacity, I will interestingly have a new opportunity pop up or gain some new insight into improving what I’m doing. Helping others is good for the soul and good for business.

You Have to Keep Your Sense of Humor
There are definitely days when I’m overwhelmed, irritated, and just flat out angry about my situation. When I start feeling like that, my productivity drops off. This simply can’t happen. When I start feeling this way, I’ll pop in my DVD of Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes, and I’ll have a good laugh. It always helps!

Creativity Is a Must
There are lots of hurdles to overcome when you’re running a business or parenting by yourself. You can’t always manage things in conventional ways. Being able to come up with better (often strange to others) ways to get things done can make all the difference. Business and parenting advice needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It’s all about being creative and figuring out what is going to work for you.

You Need to Think Big
No situation is permanent. The days of single parenting two young boys will come to an end, and there will be different challenges ahead. And, my business will not always be in the same place as it is today. So, why not envision how it’s going to be better in the future. Preparing for success instead of stressing about now and worried about future failure is a better approach. I have high hopes for my boys and my business. Why not? If we can tackle today’s challenge, we’ll definitely be able to deal with whatever is coming our way down the road.

Song of the Day:

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Redefining Friendship Post-Divorce

friendsLife is funny. For many years, I had what looked like the right lifestyle with the right house, I had lots of “friends.”  But, life behind the scenes wasn’t so pretty. In fact, it was a daily struggle to keep my partner mentally and physically healthy while trying to take care of two small boys and maintain a business to keep us financially afloat. To add to the fun and excitement, five years ago, I dealt with a series of additional family situations in a matter of months. My grandmother passed away. My dad was diagnosed with cancer and had serious complications after surgery, and then my stepfather died.

Boom!

After years of not sleeping, overworking, not having enough time for my boys, and no time for myself, I had a crystal clear realization that I could no longer keep enabling my partner in the ways that I was. And, I was digging myself an early grave with the amount of stress I was dealing with. That’s when I realized divorce was the only option that I could make if I was going to be able to take care of myself and be a good mother.

So, that’s what I did.

It has now been several years since all of this happened, and fortunately, I’m in a much better place because I’ve been able to refocus on being a caregiver to my children and not having to be constantly on edge about my partner’s stability. For the first time in many, many years, I feel safe.

Not all that surprising, I have far fewer “friends.” I read this is what happens when you get a divorce, and I prepared myself for the drop off of people in my life. And, boy did it happen!

What I’ve learned in all of this is that married and even single friends avoid divorced friends like the plague. The invitations stop. The phone stops ringing. And, before you know it, you’re living on a little island with your kids and no one else.

Strangely, it’s ok. I’m happier now because my life is better. And, I realize that the friendships I’m making now and will make in the future will be those that sprouted when I was healthy and happy.

For those of my friends who have chosen to drop off the radar, I hope that if you should ever go through a major upheaval like I’ve experienced, you have people who hang in there and support you.

My circle of trust is much smaller now, but I’m excited for those new friends I’ll meet. And, I’ll definitely be especially welcoming to those who have dealt with life’s tough challenges because they need friends the most.

Song of the Day:

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Thoughts on Prudential’s “Do What You Love” Ad Campaign

The other day I was taking a break from writing and enjoying a rerun of the Beverly Hills Housewives when a commercial came on that made me scratch my head.

In this 30 second Prudential ad, people on a busy city street are asked what they would do if they were paid to do something they love. The first woman proudly exclaims that she wants to be a writer. Then came a flurry of other responses – an architect, a pie maker, a pilot. The camera pulls back, and you see this big yellow wall where all these people had written their real career aspirations.

The point of the commercial is that you should start saving the money you’re making now in the job you don’t love so that one day you can spend it on what you actually want to do.

As a mom, I’m always encouraging my boys to think big. My job is to help them so that they can grow up to do what they want to do. I sure hope to God that they won’t have to wait until their 65 to do it!

At first, the upbeat, inspirational music and the smiling faces on these people make you think the message of the ad is positive. How wonderful that they’ll one day be able to do something cool like bake pies and have the money to do it.

But, then you think about the real message.  These people would really rather be doing something else. They’re sitting in artificially lit offices, putting up with irritating supervisors, struggling to make ends meet in low paying restaurant or retail jobs. God only knows what else. What a dreary concept for an ad campaign!

I’m all for saving for retirement. And, I get that we all can’t be pie makers and pilots. I also get that Prudential can help you manage your money effectively so that you have enough to get through your golden years.

But, I don’t dig the message that you should be saving now so that hopefully one day you can actually do what you love. Shouldn’t we all be striving to do what we love every day? If you’re not loving what you’re doing, shouldn’t you be working on that now instead of waiting 20 or 30 years to fix the problem?

I feel incredibly blessed that I get to do what that first woman in the commercial said she wanted to do – be a writer. This begs the question. Since I’m already getting paid to write and I love writing, do I really have a reason to ever retire?

I can’t imagine not writing. And, I plan to continue writing long past the age of 65. Retirement isn’t the goal when you’re actually doing what you love to do.  Instead, it’s staying healthy so that you can keep doing it.

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Jilted Gingerbread

simple gingerbread cookie decoratingMy boys had a holiday party they had to go to today. The parents had all been invited to bring cookies, and I readily volunteered to bring two dozen.  Ok, I admit that I always offer to bring homemade baked goods whenever asked. I think I’m a pretty darn good baker, and I don’t mind showboating a bit with what I’m able to whip up in my little kitchen. However, the era of Julie’s homemade cookies might have officially ended today.

Here’s what happened.

Rex, Judd, and I decided that gingerbread boys would be the right choice for their party. C’mon, is there really any cookie more Christmas-like than a gingerbread boy? And, my two little gourmands love gingerbread.

So, we made our dough from scratch. Chilled it in the fridge. We cut out the shapes, baked and decorated them for today’s event.  Yes, gingerbread cookies require a multi-step baking process. For those of you non-bakers, this isn’t the same as slicing up a chub of Pillsbury chocolate chip cookie dough and baking it for 8 minutes.  It’s a little more complex.

Anyway, I proudly placed two dozen “boys” on the cookie table.  I glanced up and down the long buffet table and was somewhat alarmed to see that I was the only one who had made cookies. Everyone else hit the grocery store bakery aisle and had picked up garishly colored sugar cookies. They were all still in their loud, shiny plastic containers with my lone container of homemade goods sticking out like a sore thumb.

Well, I thought. The kids would certainly dig our homemade cookies over these artificially-flavored, hydrogenated palm oil-laden spheres frosted in red dye #5.

How wrong I was. It was an extraordinary smack down, and we lost. The kids did not eat one gingerbread cookie. However, they were stuffing the store-bought alternatives in their mouths like they were laced with crack.

A wave of realization swept over me.

These kids probably have only seen and tasted cookies encased in plastic. They may not even know what the heck a gingerbread boy is let alone appreciate the rather complex taste of gingerbread. Ginger, allspice, nutmeg, molasses. What the heck was I thinking.

Am I the last home baker in Scottsdale? Will gingerbread go the way of the rotary dial phone and 8-track players? Will my kids be deemed nerds because they have a mom who is bringing weird food items to a party?

I have no good answers, but I felt defeated today. I would have been better off spending two minutes at the store picking up cookies than taking the time to make cookies that no one ate. But, there was one ray of brightness at the end of this tough day. I watched Rex and Judd nibbling on gingerbread boys before bed. Maybe, they’ll grow up to be as nerdy as their mother.

Song of the Day: I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times – The Beach Boys



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Did John F. Kennedy Impact My Generation?

jfkWith the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination coming up this Friday, it seems like every news channel is running extended coverage about the 35th President and his legacy. For those who remember that terrible November day back in 1963, it must conjure up lots of memories and feelings.

But, as someone who was born six years after the assassination, JFK has always been an important historic and tragic political character like Lincoln, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, but not necessarily a legendary, mythical leader who shaped my generation.

I often wonder what it must have been like to have experienced the event as a kid or young adult. Clearly, it had a tremendous impact, and you hear over and over again in the media, that the event ended “an age of innocence” in our country. Everyone who remembers the assassination knows exactly where they were when they heard the news.

So, where does that leave us Gen-Xers who were born in the late 1960s to the early 1970s? Our earliest memories were shaped by listening to news about Watergate and the Vietnam War. Our reality growing up was practicing ducking under our desks in case of a nuclear bomb attack. We watched live when the Challenger exploded while sitting in high school math class. And then when we reached adulthood, we were subjected to the Iran Contra hearings, the unfolding of the Monica Lewinsky affair, and then, of course, September 11th.

When President Obama took office, many of us Gen Xers thought his presidency might be a bit like John F. Kennedy’s with a fresh outlook and a young, good looking family. But, political disagreements never quite let that happen. There wasn’t a Rush Limbaugh in 1963 or a Fox News.

I’m sure JFK has plenty of people who didn’t agree with him, too, but they weren’t broadcast on TV and radio 24 hours a day. Part of what made John F. Kennedy so special was the air of mystery that was maintained throughout the time he was president. That’s what I think was lost on November 22, 1963, and everyone who was born after that date never really experienced it.

Gen-Xers have been unfortunately called disenfranchised slackers, and there might be a bit of truth to this in some of us. But, this image might have more to do with the fact that we never experienced a sanitized, made for TV presidency, and we never had the chance to buy into the fantasy of a perfect family. I know I would have bought it hook, line, and sinker, and would be watching the 50th anniversary now to reminisce about when life was a little more gentile.

But, I’m a Gen Xer who can only imagine what life was like back then. I was bred to be a little disillusioned and non-trusting of those who look a little too good to be real. Oh well, I’m still fascinated with the images, and hope that my kids will grow up to be not quite as jaded as I am.

Song of the Day: The Day John Kennedy Died, Lou Reed

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It Just Takes a Mustard Seed

mustard(1)When I was a little girl, my grandma gave me a glass pendant on a silver chain. Inside the pendant was a tiny mustard seed. She told me it was for good luck, and I never really thought much about it for decades. But, I faithfully wore the pendant pretty much every day of my life. I’m not one for costume jewelry, and very much prefer to wear meaningful pieces such as the ol’ mustard seed.

Through the years, I had been asked about it, and I always exclaimed it was for good luck. Sometimes, I would elaborate and say it was Chinese. I really didn’t know what it symbolized, but Chinese sounded pretty good.  How little I knew… Two years ago, someone very special came into my life  who has also filled me in on what the meaning of the mustard seed really is in so many ways.

For those like me who didn’t grow up with religious education, the mustard seed is in a biblical parable in three gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Basically, the message is this… The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches.”

From my limited interpretive skills, I think this means that from a little faith can come great things that are firmly rooted in their beginnings.

Whether you are religious, an atheist, or somewhere in between, isn’t always better to have faith than to not? …To trust that what should happen will happen. That you can rely on others and yourself. That by staying positive and working hard, you’ll get where you need to go.

Thanks to Grandma for sharing with me a tiny seed of faith. It has turned out to be far more than a lucky charm, and instead a  guiding reminder to keep on keeping on.

Song of the Day: Safe and Sound, Capital Cities

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Turning Down the Volume on the Commentary – Theirs and Mine

housewife-study-stay-at-home-momBeing a single mom who is running a business to support two boys has its fair share of daily challenges if you know what I mean.  They’d keep me hopping under the best of circumstances. And, my circumstances are a little less than ideal. I’m not complaining, but the reality is that I’m doing the job of two people (maybe more) each and every day.

Because I am spread so thin right now in my life, not everything gets done up to my standards. And, my brain starts the running commentary about it that isn’t always so productive. Why didn’t that floor get swept? There are three loads of laundry sitting there. Why don’t I have more time like the other mothers to volunteer in the boys’ classrooms. Uggh!

This inner-dialogue is sometimes compounded by the “suggestions” and “ideas” of others on how I can be better and more efficient. Unfortunately, these gentle recommendations are akin to telling a blind person that if they just open their eyes and see, they could get around much better. Sometimes, it’s a real challenge to take a deep breath and say a gracious, “thank you” instead of involuntarily lifting my middle finger. Gosh, that’s not very lady-like, is it?

Anyway, I’m working on creating some strategies to turn down the volume of the “shoulds” that I’m hearing both in my brain and from others. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. When I start beating myself up about what I’m not able to get done, I’m trying to stop for a second, look at the boys, and remember, even for a fleeting second, what I have already done – which is create two very wonderful boys and grow a business. These accomplishments are nothing to sneeze at and, at the end of the day, bigger accomplishments than having a crumb-free floor.
  2. Turn on an episode of Sex and the City, Seinfield, or my new favorite House Hunters International (I’m really enjoying the stories of young couples starting their lives on beaches in Nicaragua and their quest for perfect two-bedroom condos with ocean views).
  3. Chew some bubble gum and get back to writing which takes my mind off of most everything.
  4.  Listen to the advice of others, and then ask them what they did that day. Inevitably, their day is not loaded with giving baths, packing lunch boxes, and cleaning house while also trying to manage 15 different companies’ social media efforts. The desire to flip someone the bird for trying to offer advice is defused when you just understand that they don’t truly get it.
  5. Finally, a good night sleep cures most things. Those crumbs will still be there in the morning as will the people in my life who feel I could be doing better. I’ll deal with both another day.

I feel a bit like a warrior at this point in my life. And, it’s somewhat of a lonely existence navigating through this daily battle, but I’m confident that I’m serving the greater good by helping two boys full of promise become two great men one day.

Song of the Day: Voices Carry, Til Tuesday

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