The pressures of work can strain any relationship. But the grinding toll is even worse when you’re an entrepreneur or high-level executive, working long hours and responsible for your company’s bottom line. “When you own a business, you have to be all in – otherwise, you won’t have a business very long to worry about,” says Meg Cadoux Hirshberg, author of the new For Better or For Work: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and Their Families . Indeed, that intense level of commitment can be “a setup for failure in your personal life unless you go into it with eyes wide open.”
So how can entrepreneurs or hard-charging executives meet their responsibilities at work without ignoring or damaging their relationships with their spouse and children? Cadoux Hirshberg – who has experienced the challenge firsthand as the wife of Stonyfield Farm founder Gary Hirshberg – offers four tips.
- It’s not just about the soccer games. Our society has come to equate good parenting with attending all your kids’ soccer games, says Cadoux Hirshberg – but that’s not the whole story. “When you’re coaching or watching a game from the sidelines, or you’re in an audience with 100 other parents, it’s not the same as unstructured interactions with your kids. Sometimes parents feel if they’re in the same room with their child, they’re ‘enjoying time together,’ when the mother may be scrolling down her Blackberry while the kid’s playing a video game. You have to really make sure you have impromptu moments, seizing the small moments when you can and being present for them.” The same goes for spouses – Meg and Gary “leapt from vacation to vacation” as a way of spending quality time together, but regular quiet moments like a simple walk together after dinner can sometimes have more of an impact.
- Try to involve your family in your work. That doesn’t mean forcing your spouse into an unpaid assistant role, of course – but it does mean sharing with them how you spend your time, and showing them a piece of yourself. “For the spouse, that might mean going on business travel together or working a booth at a trade show,” says Cadoux Hirshberg. In its early years, she worked for her husband’s company, but when she stopped, she took on a project writing a Stonyfield Farm Yogurt Cookbook – a creative, individual way to express herself yet still remain involved with the business. For kids, “they might have their first job with the business, or they could come to work with their father or mother one day and spend a special day out of school.”
- It’s not all about you. It’s easy for entrepreneurs or top executives to justify all the attention being on them – after all, they’re running high-stakes enterprises that impact the family’s financial health. But the essence of a good family life is give and take. Cadoux Hirshberg advises entrepreneurs to “make the effort to get involved in their family’s universe – not to just inquire about what they did today, but to show up.” That could mean helping your spouse with an important presentation he or she is doing for work, rolling up your sleeves to help a child with a science project, or simply listening when someone has had a bad day.
- Debrief regularly. Running a business is stressful and demanding, and it’s easy to let personal concerns take a backseat. But left unattended, problems and misunderstandings can fester. Cadoux Hirshberg advises entrepreneurs to consider having a regular family meeting. “One couple I spoke with has a weekly download session for two hours,” Cadoux Hirshberg says. “They review what’s going on with ‘you, me, and the family,’ and they’re making it work on a weekly basis, instead of fitting each other in with an ‘oh, by the way….’ Those regular downloads have really lowered the temperature in their household.”
How have you balanced work and family obligations? What’s your recipe for keeping your relationships strong?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.