Griffin “Griff” Kubik is holding a dog leash, his 3-year-old fingers wrapped around the vinyl cord as a terrier sniffs the grass near his feet. It might not look like it to passersby in the park, but the duo are on the clock: They’re on a photo shoot, the dog is about to be in Chicago Parent magazine, and Griff is playing unofficial dog wrangler. Nearby, Griff’s parents are setting up the next shot.
“Hold tight to the leash, Griff,” calls his mother. He’s used to taking instruction. His parents are cofounders of TK Photography, which, with more than 1,200 sessions a year, is one of Chicago’s biggest family photography companies. Dad (Thomas) is the principal photographer; Mom (Tiana) is the management whiz. They have a team of three other photographers, as well as cullers, editors and admin support. And through it all, Griff has been a constant presence: The business is one endless Take Your Kid to Work Day. “We’re not taking Griff along because we can’t find a babysitter,” Thomas says after the shoot. “We want him involved, and being entrepreneurs means we have the flexibility to spend that time together.”
The Kubiks are part of a growing class of business owners who refuse to choose between full-time parenting and work, instead merging the two worlds into one big family operation. But that brings a fresh series of hurdles in addition to the usual startup stresses: making sure the business and the kids are getting enough attention, explaining the kids’ presence to clients and staff and finding some kind of work-life balance when work and life are intertwined. But like the Kubiks, many think the benefits outweigh the extra challenges — and they’re getting creative about finding solutions.
For Kelly Schneider, split shifts are the answer. Based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., she spends most of the day with her 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children, and the bulk of her afternoons and evenings running a company called At Home Tutoring. But when those shifts overlap, it means bringing the kids to a client meeting or taking a call while they’re playing in the background. “Most people are understanding,” she says. “But if I have to do a Skype tutoring session for a full hour, that’s really stressful. I’ll set the kids up with a TV show and explain to them that if they can’t be quiet for an hour, I’m going to lose this job. One started saying, ‘Mom’s going to lose the house if we’re not good.’”
Even with the added stress, Schneider says entrepreneurship has kept her sane amid the chaos of parenting. And while she’s eager to grow beyond her current stable of 10 tutors, she wants to be thoughtful about expansions. “I’ve been growing in a way that I don’t have to sacrifice my whole week,” she says. “There are things I could have done to grow faster, but then I’d have had to dedicate every waking minute to the business. And I don’t want that.”
Neither do most parents. When Margaret Hardigan launched a local Chicago group for work-from-home moms last year, nearly 500 members signed up in the first nine months. “People want to be present parents but also do something with that magical degree they spent all that time getting,” says Hardigan, who runs a marketing and events agency while home with her two kids.“Having your own business gives you the flexibility to do both — but it’s also really, really difficult.”
The group, RocketMamas, hosts monthly incubator meetings for business owners and weekly working dates at local play spaces, so parents can pound their laptops while kids run amok in the background. RocketMamas’ online forum has become a safe place to troubleshoot problems particular to this realm: How do you organize your home office amid the kid clutter? (Threaten to throw away any toys that wind up in your space.) Does anyone want to set up a childcare swap next week? (Oh, yes.) What activities keep your kids entertained for more than 10 minutes? (Washable markers!) “If you want to be running a successful company, you have to have some structure in place,” Hardigan says. “That starts with building a village of like-minded parents who understand.”
Connections like these can also grow beyond networking. “Our circle of friends changed,” Tiana Kubik says. “We’re now naturally closer to other families trying to do this, too — but that’s been a huge source of support.” It has also given them enough confidence to go through it all again: The Kubiks are expecting their second child this month. “With Griff, there was no maternity leave,” Tiana says. “I was answering emails on my phone from my hospital bed. But now we’ve built a team — I won’t be doing nothing, but I won’t have to be on the front lines the entire time.”