Starting Up A Business As A Stay At Home Dad.

The car pulling away and I turned to the toddler standing on the staircase, sweet with a wet nose and a by now familiar smell .. “its just you and I now darling .. mummy’s gone back to work.”

For the first time in my life I pretty much knew what I’d be doing for the next 10-12 years. As I looked at Lil standing on the staircase, I think she hardly understood the magnitude and sorrow of that morning. We had been 3 for the last 9 months and now, it was going to be a lot of 2 and not so much 3.

I carried her upstairs. A mixture of apprehension and excitement. Our treasured little girl, Lilia and her loving daddy were going to make a go of this.  It wasn’t the norm, but it had been planned from long before she was conceived.  This was no accident, I was going to be a stay at home dad.

I had spent time alone with Lil of cause, but this was different. Rose and I had shared the responsibilities evenly as we always do – I was a dab hand.

I went to a couple of pre natal and post natal groups with Rose and knew a few of the mothers and a couple of the fathers. Fathers rarely attend these meetings even in the 21st century.

That first morning we went to her toddler group as usual.  Being the only man in a room full of women was a bit odd at first, but I was there for Lil not for me, and I kept telling myself that as the months and years go by… Its not that everyone isn’t very friendly, in fact the baby/toddler/playschool/kindergarten/primary school crew are a very chatty friendly group. But I suspect women talk about things that they don’t share with even the ‘honorary mummy’ that I became.

For several years up to this point, I had been building a freelancing business as an IT consultant, specializing in Microsoft Excel development – largely so that I would have the necessary freedom of movement to  be a stay at home parent, and partly because self-employment just suits me anyway. I’d had a good taste of what it would be like, juggling work and parenting, during Rose’s maternity leave. But I soon realised that ‘going it alone’ was going to be quite a different thing again.

There is only so much you can delegate to the evenings after Lil was asleep, before the busy days, working nights and broken sleep… catch up on you. I think it took me about a year to finally realise something had to change.

I’d got off the phone to one of my work colleagues, explaining for the umpteenth time why I could not just “go to a meeting with a client any more.”  “I realise we may lose this contract yes, I realise that its bad form in some ways as the boss, to not be at this meeting .. but I simply cannot leave Lil all day or even most of a day, with anyone.”  I had tried leaving Lils with a very nice child minder a few times, but it was really upsetting her, that Rose and I had made the decision that I wasn’t going to upset Lil so much for the sake of ‘work’ was final, and our decision had to be respected.  It wasn’t being respected.

That evening I felt a very strange mix of depression and deep anxiety, not quite understanding why I felt deep down anger and hurt, to such an extent, I talked to Rose about it and she suggested that I felt discriminated against as a stay at home parent.  That was it, I finally understood how so many women must feel when they try to juggle parenting and work. It’s a really horrible feeling.

Depression turned to anger, at a society that allowed this kind of attitude to perpetuate. I suppose that evening I became a more deeply committed ‘feminist’ that I ever pictured I could become.  I’m glad now that I understand something that many men possibly only understand intellectually. It goes deeper than the intellect. I fired my project manager, who was supposed to be representing me too clients, for not upholding the values of the company. That had always been “Lilia comes first.”

There had been a similar experience a few months earlier, that has stuck in my mind, as fresh as if it was yesterday.  I was sitting at my PC in the living room working on a project. Lil was staggering around and she wondered over to me and rested her arms on my leg. Her way of saying “will you play with me daddy?” “I will In a bit darling I must just finish this..” It was difficult demanding work, with an impatient client who just was not interested in my family life. Fair enough, I didn’t expect them to be – it’s my problem after all, not theirs.

A few minutes later she came back and tried again, again I placed her back with her toys and returned to the project In hand. I think I did this about 5 times. Then on the fifth occasion I looked over and she was sitting in the middle of the room, quietly crying. Not to get attention, the feeling of being ignored, neglect hung over her like a cloud.  I scooped her up and swore that I would never do that again. Clients can wait. Projects can wait.  The question was, how could I continue to make a useful and necessary contribution to the family finances, while looking after Lilia’s basic needs?

Over the years several Excel consultants had contacted me via my website asking if I had any work they could help me with. My answer had always been the same “sorry, I only just have enough work for my own needs.” I figured that If you want things to change, you have to do something differently … so, I decided to give a carefully selected, small project, to one of the experts that had contacted in the past, and “The Excel Experts Agency” was born.

The first project went very well. Instead of doing the work, I spent the time studying my marketing to see how I could generate more work.  The shift from consulting to marketing was an instant relief, the new problem simply was not as ‘all consuming’ as writing code, and there was no client waiting for the results of my labour. If Lilia needed my attention, she got it… I could, and did, fall back into the consultant role if need be, but I had seen freedom and there was no going back.

The Excel Experts Ltd was built upon 3 maxims:

  1. We would trade ethically
  2. The company would ultimately make decent money
  3. Family values would feature foremost.

This meant that the business would be conceived, from its foundation… to ultimately create maximum profit and offer maximum freedom (for me) to look after Lilia, and be a good husband as well. A tall order, but as I have learnt, not impossible.

Much of what I have learnt can be applied in a wide range of business start-ups I expect. I will discuss my discoveries in a future article.