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Do We, the Moms, Belong? {On the Existential Threat of a Mompreneur}

Do We, the Moms, Belong? {On the Existential Threat of a Mompreneur}
Being an entrepreneur is about being there, always, for your business, and “doing whatever it takes” to make it succeed.

Being a mom is, too.

There hasn’t been a day since I founded four years ago when I haven’t thought about how to walk that line. Enduring scant looks from other moms on the playground as I sit in the parking lot with my laptop (the kind you can flip inside out as a tablet so the steering wheel doesn’t get in the way) while my son scrambles across the jungle gym with their own. Self-censoring as I met with potential business partners, strategizing about when and how to reveal the realities within which my business must thrive.

Most weeks, it’s a line we mompreneurs can balance gracefully. Some weeks, our businesses demand our all and we rely on spouses, community and yes, Science Max videos on YouTube (it’s educational!) to keep our childrens’ trains on the rails. “We’re getting it done,” we tell ourselves, “finding a new way,” “breaking the mold.”

And then there are the weeks when it is our children who go into crisis, and when truly, only “Mommy” will do. When tears must be dried, medical mysteries must be solved, and for those of us whose children have special needs from food restrictions to learning disabilities, teachers must be taught.

These last few weeks have been that kind of week. Long, slogging, traumatizing weeks of bouncing between a child in crisis and a school team reeling to catch up, trying to understand how to turn their ardent commitment into realizable progress with the few resources available at the end of a long school year.

Through weeks like these, I keep my dual lives like a dirty little secret: not wanting my partners to see my obvious re-deployment, not wanting the school to see that I have other commitments when I want them to feel a sense of urgency for my child as surely as if he were their own.

This, my friends, is hard. It’s exhausting. Nay, it’s even terrifying.

How long will it take for this round of clouds to break – and what will I find waiting in my business when it does? Who will I find in myself? As generations of working moms from all stripes of life have asked since Rosie the Riveter if not before, it threatens to feel like a constant, circular identity crisis.

An existential threat: do we, the moms, belong as entrepreneurs?

And yet, if we do not serve as entrepreneurs, how well are we served as consumers? How can we build compassionate companies around the real-world problems faced by the millions of moms controlling 80% of consumer spending in this country if we don’t find ways to find, to support and to fund one another? How can we build movements that connect families isolated by the challenges they face, if we don’t stretch across that line and build it into a bridge?

Friday morning, I sat for the “n’th” hour this year in a room full of intelligent, compassionate, creative women dedicated to my son’s success at school. I thought about how this wasn’t the “board meeting” I’d planned to be running. I wondered how many more rounds it would be before I could turn the full power of my energies back to building the business I’d designed to create change for families like mine who find themselves on the front-lines of a revolution towards personalized nutrition. Back to caring for my family as a provider not just of tissues but of sustenance you can take to the grocery store and use to buy dinner.

And yet, frankly it hadn’t been a difficult choice. As surely as the CEO is responsible for the bottom line, every parent bears the immutable responsibility to fight for our baby bears when they cry out for our help. Heart-breaking tears over densely-packed math sheets. “Sloppy” handwriting scribbled quickly before throwing the homework on the floor. “Lack of effort” in tasks large and small that require you to take in information with your eyes, and create outputs with your hands. After all, that describes most of the things you do in elementary school.

This was a battle that had to be fought, in a war that must be won.

And then the clouds broke, as the new occupational therapist at my son’s school presented a systematic, compassionate and detailed report giving name at last to the latent visual processing challenges that my husband and I have long tried to run up their flag pole.

A name. A diagnosis. A roadmap to understanding – and more than that, to services that this thoughtful and engaged team of women corralled around the table are eager to provide in order to help.

Walking out of the meeting, my step was stronger, lighter and with a hint of hope. I took a moment to observe that my heart wasn’t breaking, I wasn’t fighting, I wasn’t drowning in the impossible to-do list of an entrepreneur – and I wasn’t alone.

And then I was jolted by a notification on my phone: another freedible member had shared a recipe in the searchable social platform that I’d created to bring families like mine together. Then another: a new life hack to help families with food restrictions find their get-up-and-go. A few days later, reveling in the solid ground of analytics and product design and growth, I would watch our first-ever list of Top 10 Food Allergy Posts take off on Facebook, and win a pitch contest not despite my dual identity as a Mom but (as the judges made a point to explain) because of it and the authenticity that perspective brings to our mission.

A stretch, a thread, and the beginnings of a bridge: the one that I had dreamed and taught myself enough coding to build, and that hundreds of authors and advocates who share my passion had brought to life.

Proof that this road we mompreneurs walk is not circular after all. It leads in one direction: forward.