Startup Culture as it Relates to Motherhood

I’ve been temping at a web startup in Santa Monica and I love it.  Mostly it feels like slipping on a comfortable glove, but only because I have the perspective to see it. It looks like the push and hustle that comes in the early days of motherhood when all you came to expect as normal is shifted for the little one that flips things around for you.

Identity

All startups want to first define who they are.  What are their values? What matters and how will they make their impact? As a new Mom, I had to figure out who I am.  Do I copy the mothers I watched on television? What do I want to take from my parents and grandparents? What is something I want to distance myself from?  How do I identify as a mom, or as an individual? What about my children’s identity? It took many years to accept that my children were separate from me.  They had their own personalities and ideas.  They were going to need to do things their own way and all I could do is guide them from where I sat as Mom.  It was about defining us and setting boundaries that were flexible enough for who we were and wanted to be.

Relationships

There’s a lot of gentleness towards co-workers and inclusion through activities in a startup.  There are company-wide meetings and training with applause and congratulations.  There are company provided weekly meals and happy hours.  There are ping pong tournaments, though I’ve never seen anyone touch the Foosball table. The point is we want to like each other and I really feel we do.  In mothering, I want my boys to get along with each other.  One day when I’m gone, I know my kids will only have each other.  I often remind them that when they end up in therapy as adults, the only people that will understand exactly what their parents put them through is each other.  Without relationships, you can’t rely on others, and being unreliable and unwilling to trust is a weakness.  Relationship matters. This is taught and encouraged and part of the fabric of startup life.

Collaborative Environment

We work together.  Every opinion matters and we keep asking for it. This isn’t reflective of all mothers, but it’s how I run my house.  I try to get my kids to tell me what they think, know and feel.  If I don’t encourage them to see and understand the value within them, I can’t expect them to stand on the security of who they are.  If I don’t trust the boys I’m raising, how can I expect them to trust themselves?  Startups try to hire the right people so they can trust them with their ideas and know they’ll try to make the company successful.

Communication

Documentation and communication are everything in a startup.  It’s how we track progress and see where we came from.  Everything is written and talked about and brainstormed.  It’s about sharing what is in our heads so we can create something bigger together.  Mothering requires diligent communication.  Specifically, you have to be able to read your child’s language as well as their silence.  You have to understand how their bodies move so you’ll know when they aren’t moving normally.  It’s not enough to speak but to listen actively.  As a special needs mom and advocate, documentation is what gets the services you need. It’s a skill that flows fluidly between motherese and Salesforce.

Self Care and Care of Others

I’ve noticed that those in startups rarely take care of themselves.  Give them a job and they’ll do whatever it takes.  There’s a fluid ability to flex your reach into things outside of what was originally defined for you.  Give a person a problem and they’ll analyze several possible answers into solutions.  It’s a gift that is part of mothering.  You do whatever it takes for your child, but with both, there’s an inability to take care of yourself.  In these startups, you’ll have fully loaded kitchens to nourish your body, machines to keep you caffeinated, games to keep you agile and relieve stress and drinks to take the edge off in a grown-up way. In the office I’m currently in, there are even dogs that sit with their people and follow them to meetings. These people consistently put others ahead of themselves.  They are natural at caring for the world outside of themselves.

Focusing on the dogs . . . They are so loved and pampered.  They have neat haircuts and trimmed nails.  Their coats are glossy and well groomed.  They go on walks throughout the day. These dogs make their people go on walks and care for them.  (Much like children.) On Fridays I’ve noticed far fewer dogs in the office.  Their people work harder and will work through lunch or run to the bathroom because they have put their workflow ahead of their bladders.

It’s like being a Mom.  We’ll do all we can to care for our kids and our self care often looks like putting their needs first and getting the latent benefit of our sacrifice.  It’s that same drive and personality.  Self sacrifice and hard work is the default setting. Self care is secondary.  But unnecessary.  If your company wants to make you happy, they understand and want to honor your commitment.  They also understand the value of your contentment means they can pay you less but make you feel like they want you to stay because of the many perks. It’s like the harder exchange that comes in chasing toddlers and changing diapers.  It’s exhausting and hard work but the rewards of a happy child make you forget the frustrations.

Growth Strategy

As a startup, the goal is to grow and be so amazing in the world on it’s own that other companies will want to buy you.  So maybe it’s terribly creepy if you are trying to sell off your child, but really, the goal is independence and that comes from exponential growth and secure development. In that way, startups are exactly like motherhood.

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