The sun is rising and Cash, Eli, Julia, Olivia, Keller, and Maya are zipping around their rooms, getting ready for the day. They have a jam-packed schedule ahead of them, and each one is raring to go. Except this group of go-getters isn’t heading to the office — they’re watching their parents go off instead.
Intensity has always been a given in startup life. When you’re pouring your all into trying to change the world, somehow every moment is elevated. Add kids to the mix, and that feeling is taken to the extreme. So how do people handle the bustle of building both a family and a startup? To find out, I talked to a few Gusto parents to hear how they’ve calibrated their lives to maximize each moment.
Seek and ye shall find (help)
Alyssa discovered she was pregnant one month after starting on Gusto’s People team. “I felt bad because I had so much ahead of me,” she says. All the uncertainties made it frightening at the time. But Alyssa soon realized that the only way to overcome her fears was to go out and ask for help.
During a trip to Disneyland, Alyssa told her team she was pregnant. “Not just pregnant, pregnant with twins.” She was standing in line for the Tower of Terror — one of her favorite rides — but she couldn’t get on because of her pregnancy. Luckily, the anticipation was the scariest part. After sharing the news, the team rallied around her. Talks about flexible hours and off- and on-ramping projects helped Alyssa see just how manageable it could be. Those conversations, along with an in-depth parental leave package, gave her the confidence she needed to address the prospect of becoming a mom while working on her goal of returning to Gusto. “I’m confident it will work,” she says.
However, it took a lot of work for us to reach that stage. “We didn’t actually have parental leave until I took mine,” says Nick, who is part of the Engineering team. Nick was the first employee to take parental leave back in 2014, when the company had fewer than 20 people. The benefits have matured as Gusto has grown, but the support hasn’t changed. “Before I joined, I was struggling with the decision of whether to work at a startup or start a family. Josh, our CEO, made it pretty clear that I didn’t have to decide — I could do both.”
Owning the journey
Thinking like an owner courses through the way many people think about being a working parent. To Rachel, mother of nine-month-old Eli, it “creates an opportunity to be a role model for others considering having kids.” But enacting change is a two-way street, especially at a startup.
When Rachel joined Gusto, the parent community hadn’t quite crystallized. So she decided to take matters into her own hands. Rachel set up a private Slack channel where parents could “feel comfortable talking about how hard it is sometimes,” and rely on each other as they make their way through parenthood and startup life. Today, the channel has blossomed to over 20 parents, and it continues to expand. Igor, father of 14-month-old twins Maya and Yael, appreciates what this initiative has sparked. “It’s just a small thing, but it adds a lot to the community.”
According to Igor, the culture has evolved since more parents have joined. “We’re all a family. We know that everyone has different obligations, and we support each other in that.” Talking about our needs is an ongoing conversation. Dario, who is on the Marketing team, says people understand when he needs to take his daughters to a doctor’s appointment or step out because of a kiddo situation. “I personally don’t think I’m different than anyone else — maybe more sleep-deprived.” A change has occurred because more people are sharing their experiences, says Igor, and realizing that “in order to be successful at work, you have to be successful at home.”
Bringing it home
“When you have a child, your life expands,” says Katie, mother of four-year-old Cash. To her, packing as much as she can into every moment is how she makes it all work, especially since she lives over two hours away from Gusto’s San Francisco office. Whether with work or family, says Katie, “It’s about being completely engaged.” That hyper-focus rubs off on family time too. If someone’s inbox fills up while putting the kids to bed, many parents said they don’t jump in. Instead, they revisit it later on because they’re trying to stay completely present during the hours they have with their family. That fierce kind of energy can also be deeply satisfying. “I’m in a building phase of my life,” says Katie. “I’m building a family and a startup. It’s worth it because I love the people I get to build with.”
Startup life + parent life is one wild ride. There are sudden drops and “whee” moments, and at times you may just want to press pause. But if you focus on the things you can control, it will allow you to enjoy the best parts of each spinning world. When the week wraps up, and “the baby is happy and work went well,” says Rachel, “I’m really proud.”
This story was originally published here on LinkedIn.