Mothers are often the ones bombarded with advice on achieving work-life balance, but it can be just as difficult for men to juggle fatherhood and their professional lives, especially when running a business.
"Pre-children, I was a workaholic; I would dedicate every spare moment to our business," said Mitesh Popat, CEO of gift startup PlantOGram. But since becoming a father, his priorities have shifted, and he's searched for more balance.
Entrepreneurial fathers shared six important lessons they've learned by playing both roles.
1. Communication is key.
Most business owners know the value of good communication at work. But communicating clearly with your family is just as important. Trying to fit doctor appointments, teacher conferences and soccer games around a busy work schedule becomes much easier when everyone is on the same page.
"Co-parenting is constant work," said Todd Spodek, a managing partner at Spodek Law Group who has a 5-year-old and 3-year-old at home. "You need to be fully integrated [with your partner]."
Ronald Recardo, a managing partner at Catalyst Consulting Group, added that it's important to listen to your spouse's concerns as if they are your own.
Popat said that in addition to keeping things running smoothly, communication is an essential part of connecting with his children.
"The best advice that I could give dads that are also busy working is take ... five minutes to acknowledge your child, talk to them, listen to them," Popat said. "We were all at that age when we just wanted to be heard."
2. Quality time matters.
It's easy to prioritize the big events, like birthdays or graduations. But sometimes, the little moments are even more important for nurturing relationships with children.
"I set aside specific times during the week … where I spend quality time with my 14-year-old son," said Recardo. The activity, he explained, doesn't matter nearly as much as the focus and attention he offers his child during their moments together.
Popat focuses on little moments with his 7-year-old and 4-year-old by making them breakfast each morning.
"We sit, eat, and talk about what our day is going to be like and our plans when I get home," he said.
3. You can't do everything yourself.
One thing that fathers who juggle home and family have in common is their willingness to outsource and delegate.
"We have a housekeeper that helps us keep everything in order," said Isaac Rami, the CEO and founder of makeup brand Karity, who has two children at home. "Spending money on things that save time helps reduce stress and increase happiness."
Help with child care also allows these business owners to find more balance, especially if both parents work. Popat's retired in-laws lend a hand with the kids, while Spodek said he and his wife rely on "a small army of babysitters."
Delegating at work is equally important, because trying to do everything is a quick road to burnout.
"One of the largest breakthroughs I've ever had was when I started delegating for several parts of my business," said Jason Fisher, the owner of BestLifeRates.org, a national insurance and marketing firm. "I've allowed others to step in on sales, I've hired developers and writers, and I've taken on business partners too. All of it together has allowed me to … scale my business, all while still having time for my wife and kids."
"I used to be super involved in everything, but with time you learn to trust key employees in your company," said Rami. "It not only helps me grow but helps the employee grow as well."
4. You must be willing to adjust.
The demands of a business can change depending on the week or month, and so can the demands of family. Balancing the two often requires playing around until you find a system that works for everyone.
Sometimes, that may mean finding new parts of the week to spend at home.
"At one point, I would rush home to see the children before bed, but ultimately my schedule didn't allow it," said Spodek. "I now carve out time for the children in the [morning], and I spend all weekend with them."
Other times it may mean adjusting your work schedule, as Fisher does by getting up before his children to get in a couple hours of work before breakfast and school drop-off.
"Being a small business owner definitely means more time goes into the business than a typical 9-to-5," he said. "But a lot of those hours go in early in the morning [or] late at night."
Finding that overall balance can also mean taking a step back to assess what is and is not working.
"When I notice that I'm not juggling very well … it's time to take a step back and unplug for a while to spend real quality time with my family," said Rami. "If that means shutting down on Thursday night and dedicating three whole days to only my family, I do it."
5. Responsibilities should be shared.
When you get caught up in the demands of running a business, it's easy to rely on your spouse or partner to take care of things at home. But these fathers have all learned that parenting is both partners' responsibility because everyone’s time is valuable.
"My activities and goals are not the only things that are important," said Recardo, whose wife stays at home full time. To him, running a business isn’t an excuse for not contributing to family life. "This is a shared responsibility."
"Having children ... made me realize the amount of time I was away was not only hurting my relationships with my kids, but also my wife, who was taking on the extra responsibility of being with the kids during the day and working at night," said Fisher. Now, they are both more careful to divide up the responsibilities at home, which he says has strengthened their family.
6. Family gives meaning to work.
None of these fathers said they had achieved a perfect 50-50 split between work and family. But they all found their best balance when they remembered that family gives meaning to work, rather than the other way around.
"You can delegate answering certain business emails and returning some business phone calls; you can't delegate precious moments like your presence at your children's baseball game or starting off your day conversing with your children over breakfast," said Popat.
Recardo noted that many of his professional peers are men who prioritized work at the expense of family, something he decided early in his career to avoid.
"I remember when I was in my 30s, I had all the trappings of success – an expensive house, boat, sports car – and realized there was more to life than just getting a new toy," Recardo said. "I reprioritized what was really important to me and made a conscious effort to limit the hours I worked."
Sometimes it is inevitable that work will take away from family time. But when it really counts, "it's always family first," said Fisher. "There are no exceptions."