Everyone is wrong: The surprising advantage to being a working mom

By Sarah Lacy , written on June 15, 2013

From The News Desk

I've been leaning in so much lately I'm in danger of falling over.

As regular readers know, my own biological clock and career trajectory have coincided with an interesting time in women's employment rights. Just as the debate has raged over whether or not the paucity of women entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley is some deep, dark sexist plot, various women have weighed in on your own likelihood of having it all. Sheryl Sandberg has offered advice on navigating an unfair system. Meanwhile, everything Marissa Mayer does as a new mom and a high profile tech CEO seems to be a noisy Rorschach test for America's views on working moms.

I last wrote about this topic as the controversy around Sandberg's book "Lean In" was reaching a zenith. My take in a nutshell: This is all highly personally and situationally dependent, and anyone who lets another woman tell her what she can or can't have doesn't deserve any of it. At the time, I was expecting my second child imminently. I've now had about 10 weeks on the other side of labor and delivery.

No real surprise: It hasn't been easy.

Everyone says that two feels like way more than two. Particularly two under two. (My son is 21 months old, and PandoDaily was born in between them.)

Add to the chaos the fact that the two months after I gave birth have been PandoDaily's biggest traffic months in the history of the company -- by a significant margin -- and last month, we doubled our revenue, outperforming our own ambitious goals. We've just hired our first director of sales (some six months later than I'd hoped), and I had to revise the sales goals up several times during the negotiation, because our contract sales team was just selling so damn much.

That may sound like I'm bragging to anyone who hasn't built a company from scratch. Mo' revenue is great, but it also creates a lot mo' problems when it comes to servicing all that revenue. Simply put: At the exact moment I welcomed my second child into the world and my son neared his terrible twos, my company's growth dramatically accelerated.

Not enough to juggle?

In the 10 weeks since we've become a family of four, the four of us have been in the same city for about three weeks. My husband is finishing an MFA in photography and working on an ambitious two-year photography project in downtown Las Vegas. Add in a PandoMonthly in LA, two in New York, and two conferences since Evie's birth, and we've been criss-crossing much of the United States in endless combinations. Me and Evie and the night nurse. Eli and our nanny and my husband. Me and Evie and Eli and the Nanny. Me, Eli, Evie, my husband, and the nanny. And my least favorite combo: Just me and the breast pump. Every once in a while a Paul Carr is thrown into the mix.

Then there are the trips -- like my recent one in New York -- where it's just me and the newborn, and all attempts to hire child care on the ground come up empty. Last Thursday's PandoMonthly was particularly absurd, when my crying newborn was rocked and soothed by a combination of my staff and the CEO of our event's sponsor, Smartling. That's right: He paid us money and then babysat.

A lot of parents have a day when things go wrong, and they have to take a kid to work with them. It just doesn't usually happen when you're interviewing Fred Wilson in front of a beyond sold out crowd of 200 people. It's well beyond Sandberg's advice to have a 50 percent-50 percent marriage. My whole company, Fred Wilson, and our audience were all in on my parenting journey that night.

And yet, here's the thing: It's all still totally doable. Yep: Even if my highly specific, absolutely insane personal case of work-life balance that few women will ever be crazy enough to mimic, I am building a company (quickly) and am a very engaged mom to two young kids. The world isn't just "letting" me -- the world is helping me. On the other side of baby No. 2, I can say two things with more conviction than ever before: You can absolutely have a career and a family. More surprising: You can do this precisely because most people actually want working moms to succeed. Yes, even white men controlling way too much of the world.

I have been nursing or pregnant every day I have run this company. A media company, by the way, that has a 90 percent male audience, highly indexed to be single and childless. I have raised $3 million in capital -- $2.5 million of that with a newborn in the room (sometimes crying) and another $500,000 of that weighing some 200 pounds, uncomfortably late into my third trimester. I couldn't scream, "NOT A 20-YEAR-OLD PROGRAMMER WHO CAN DEVOTE EVERY SECOND TO RETURNING YOUR CAPITAL" louder even if I were to actually scream it. And yet, we've quickly closed funding at higher valuations than I expected with some of the best investors in the world, nonetheless.

And no one -- not a single one -- has warily asked if I was done having kids, if I could get a male co-founder, or if I was really at the right stage of my life to build a company. On the contrary, when I returned to posting the week after giving birth, several of my investors reached out privately to encourage me to take more time with my family.

What about my team? Not only has everyone at this company joined knowing full well that I have small children, they spent nine months preparing for me to be gone from the company when I went into labor. Over the last two months everyone on the team has stepped up dramatically, without complaining, making our company considerably stronger as every metric since the beginning of April shows.

And our community? Rather than getting a load of tweets complaining about my crying baby backstage at two PandoMonthlys, I've gotten dozens of notes of "You Go Girl!" style encouragement. My somewhat messy integrated life appears to have won me more fans than it has detractors. When people were filing out of PandoMonthly last week, many of them stopped to peek at and say goodbye to Evie on the way out, several high-fiving Paul for his epic (and surprising) baby-soothing abilities.

In my experience, people -- at least those in our community -- root for working moms for the same reason they root for entrepreneurs. Those who haven't done it find it unimaginable, and those who have done it remember the pain and empathize. I'm not the first person who has built a company while raising small children, I'm merely one of the most public about it for one big reason: I want to erase the FUD that this is all somehow impossible and that women have to chose between starting a company and raising kids. Is it messy and chaotic when I do it? Yes. But I am doing it nonetheless, and I've never been happier or felt more fulfilled.

And here's the thing: I am not a millionaire. Nowhere remotely close. You can make that somewhat unfair knock on Sandberg and Mayer, but you can't make it on me. I work on a startup salary with razor thin savings.

Oddly enough, when I was a young woman in my 20s in this industry, I was struck by how many people I didn't know wanted me to fail. As a woman nearing 40 with two kids, I am stuck by how many people who don't know me want to succeed. And thanks to social media, this isn't really a "feeling" -- there's pretty good data to back both sentiments up. Maybe the haters have simply grown tired of hating me. Perhaps as I've aged, I've become less objectionable. Or more likely, maybe there is something that's so universal and hard-coded into us about respecting motherhood that it changes whether people root for you. "Having it all" may not only be doable, it may come with actual advantages. 

I have already said I hate the over abundance of advice on "having it all," but for what it's worth, here's mine:

Don't think about it. I'm a fan of the Wile E. Coyote school of running off a cliff and not looking down. I know there's nothing underneath my feet, but If I don't look down I can still keep running in mid-air. When people have asked me how I'm doing it, I've simply responded, "I have no idea, because I'm not thinking about it." This post is probably the most introspection I've given the topic in the last two and a half months. Doing and thinking about doing both take time and energy, and I just don't have any of that to spare.

Let people help you. When people offer help, they want to help you. Let them. Let it take a village. That's how it's supposed to be. No child needs all of its needs met by one person. I have no idea when I last did laundry, and yet I have clean clothes. That's so much better than either of the alternatives.

Avoid making promises. If I'm not sure whether I can make a dinner or not, I say that I'll try. I made no pronouncements about maternity leave. Instead, I said I'd do work when I could. Promises box you in, and life with two small kids and a company is constant improvisation. There are already so many things you have to do; try not to commit to those that aren't absolutely necessary. The last thing you need is to feel like you're failing because of an unrealistic promise you made that other people didn't demand. And that includes unrealistic promises you make yourself. Three people have asked me when I'm due since I gave birth. That is incredibly depressing. But it took nine months to put weight on, and it'll take a while to take it all off. That's just reality.

Thank everyone and be gracious. While you shouldn't expect you can do this alone, you also aren't entitled to have a village help you just because you got pregnant. Be grateful that anyone gives a damn about your kids or your vision enough to help you be the best at raising both of them. (Even if you pay them to help you. In fact, be even nicer to the ones you pay.) Hell, I'm even grateful you are reading this.

It all boils down to accepting that you aren't Superwoman and that this is going to be messy and chaotic. But just like any stage of life or business, it won't last forever. I drink lots of coffee and grab naps in those rare moments the kids are all asleep. Nothing is melting down; emails are all answered; and there's already 15 stories on the site.

Am I luckier than most women? In many respects, yes. While my salary is less than half of what I would have made staying in my last job, the ability to raise funding meant I could pay myself a decent enough wage to afford an excellent nanny. Our company got enough traction early on that I was able to hire a team that takes initiative and doesn't need me to micromanage them. I have a very engaged husband who doesn't balk at being alone with two small kids. Indeed, we actually have debates over which one of us gets to take our toddler on a business trip. I also had a fantastic role model in my own mother -- a teacher who had five kids.

But one of the things that I'm the most grateful for is that entrepreneurial stubbornness that tells you that you are somehow different, that you can do the impossible if you just work hard enough: Whether that's balancing work and family or upending an established industry. No one hands you either opportunity. It's up to you to tune out all rational thought and take it.