Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: small business edition

As a parent and small business owner, I sometimes feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in my own life.

dr_jekyll_and_mr_hyde_poster_edit2If you’re not familiar (and to be honest, my familiarity with this story mostly comes from the Broadway musical inspired by the story) in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Robert Louis Stevenson imagines a doctor, Dr. Jekyll, who believe’s he’s discovered how to turn criminals away from their lives of evil. He decides to test his medicine on himself; only, being a good man, he releases his evil alter ego, Mr. Hyde, on London to wreak havoc.

I don’t have a criminal alter ego, but I do feel like I have two very different perspectives on my work and non-working life, and it’s hard for me to reconcile them.

Me, at work, with my three week old baby

I have given birth to two babies. My employer gave me a total of zero days of paid time off. For both pregnancies, I was able to work half time for a few weeks before and after my babies were born. Still, I only took about 10 days total off – for both pregnancies. My husband had no paternity leave.

Is this because my boss is an evil Mr. Hyde? I hope not…because I am my boss.

My employer provides me with mediocre health insurance. Is that because my employer is trying to screw me over? No. I have it on good authority that my employer (me) wants her employees (also me) to have access to great health care, but that it’s a struggle to find a plan with a low deductible, an affordable premium and great coverage.

I’ve read a few articles, wistfully, about other country’s health care systems and imagine an alternate universe new mother’s have their prenatal care, delivery and postpartum health care paid for by their universal health insurance. I’ve read about the generous paid family leave policies and the requirements that companies save a job for a working mom for up to a year before she comes back to work. I fantasize about how nice it would have been to have a whole month off of work after I had my baby to stay home, coo at my newborn, and give my body time to really recover from delivering my babies.

Breastfeeding at work
At least my employer was understanding when I needed to breast feed….

Instead…I was a hot mess. For the few days I was home, I felt lonely, tired, overwhelmed and inadequate. And, I know I had a longer recovery, a less complete recovery, more postpartum depression and a host of other discomforts because I didn’t take more time off after my babies were born.

Mr. Hyde, who owns my business, is here in my mind thinking – there was NO WAY that I could have paid myself my regular salary while I was at home taking care of my babies and also paid someone to do my job. It’s not because of taxes, insurance, or anything…I own a tiny little company without those kind of resources. Well, you could have waited to have babies until you had more money. Yeah, but I really like my babies. And I really wanted my babies. And I would rather struggle financially through their childhood than risk never having them because I was waiting to feel totally secure financially.

I can also imagine if the Mr. Hyde in me owned a larger company with more employees and more potential babies, he probably isn’t wildly enthusiastic about paying people to not work. How could that make my company more profitable? It’s counter intuitive.

As it turns out, other counter-intuitive things have turned out to be great ideas in business. In the United States, when people demanded a 10 then 8 hour workday, output increased and accidents decreased – making companies MORE profitable. Crazy, but true. It was true in the 19th century, and it’s true today. Working more, doesn’t make you more productive. It just burns you out and makes you sick in the long run. If you don’t believe me, believe the Harvard Business Review. Also, in California paid family leave is funded separately, so that employers didn’t have to bear the full cost.

Basically, I’m starting to realize that I don’t want to burn myself out, because I want to still be in business in 15 years. I’ll be honest: I’m a great employee. I’ve done great work for my company, and I would be very disappointed to lose an enthusiastic, positive, creative, and hard-working employee like me.

Still, Mr. Hyde whispers in my ear: we won’t be here in 15 years if you don’t burn the candles at both ends now. 

Dr. Jekyll says, but if I burn the candle at both ends now, I’ll be bitter and resentful in 15 years and I’ll hate my job and wish I’d been a garbage collector.

One of the things that stood out to me from the HBR article above is that people sometimes overwork not because they’re being managed by Mr. Hyde, but rather because work is easier than home life. It’s easier to hide at your desk where you know what you’re supposed to do, you can delegate certain responsibilities, and you have a team working together to reach a shared goal. Whereas at home, you might have to negotiate between to small people over who gets to wear the rainbow dress today or adjudicate who had the broken toy phone first. When you’re home you might have to make time to contact your family members who live far away; you might have to send birthday cards on time; you might have to plan birthday parties and get togethers; you might have to wash dishes, manage your finances, monitor your child’s screen time, respond to teachers, help with homework. It’s complex, never-ending, and exhausting.

Thinking about this and looking back, I wonder if I didn’t take more maternity leave because work gave me a break from parenting. It was an anchor to the confidence to the person I was before I had babies. Maybe Mr. Hyde was the parent in me trying to get a break from the overwhelming new responsibilities I had. Maybe it was good for me to use my work as a way to stay grounded during that difficult time.

I can’t change how I handled my postpartum leave or lack thereof.. My “baby” is almost two years old, and I’m starting to feel like I can focus on a task for more than three minutes again. I’m starting to feel like the whirlwind of babyhood is winding down, and while my sweet baby will become more opinionated over the next few years, I can at least see the light at the end of the tunnel where I won’t have to change her diapers or monitor her bathroom use constantly.

So…now, I feel like it’s up to me to regain some balance and play at life like I’m in it for the long haul. It’s time to silence Mr. Hyde – wherever he resides in my psyche – and have a schedule and balance in my life that I can maintain.

I hope you’ll visit me again later this week for some more specific strategies on how I plan to do that.

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