The Celebrating Moms and Their Choices Series
Growing up in a startup family business was probably the best education I’ve ever received. My parents, both school teachers, had 3 children in 5 years. My mom wanted desperately to be a stay at home mom, but in the ’80’s there was pressure on women to “have it all”…meaning “do it all”. Remembering how much she loved swimming in her backyard pool growing up, she and my dad decided to build an indoor pool in our backyard just months before I was born (picture my mom 38 weeks pregnant carrying bags of concrete).
Through blood, sweat and tears, my Mom ramped up the La Petite Baleen swim school while my Dad taught school during the day and came home and taught swimming in the evening. My siblings and I were classic latchkey kids. My parents’ business was booming and they were still a two-man band. My Dad quit teaching and came onboard full-time. Today, we own four swim schools in San Francisco and on the Peninsula.
People often ask me if I always knew I’d work in the family business. Nope. I had a degree from Cal Berkeley, so the pressure was on to get a “real job” in the “.com boom” like everyone else. But, I learned what real work ethic was by watching my parents work themselves to the bone for 20 years. I grew up with this company, it was a member of the family. I just couldn’t shake the passion that stuck to me like glue. I loved La Petite Baleen.
So, the day after graduating from Cal, I cleaned the back parking lot at LPB and taught over 20 hours a week. With my successful competitive swimming background and Berkeley degree, I went to work every day, loving what I did.
Years later, my husband and I partnered with my parents to open the Presidio location of our swim school. This long, expensive and difficult process took us 5 years, but we knew it was a service we had to bring to San Francisco. Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children under the age of 5. While parents in San Francisco seem to be crazed over car seat safety, many of them don’t realize that despite their fear of car accidents, the risk of drowning is more of a reality for their young children.
It continues to be a challenge as we are caught between two government run operations (National Parks and Presidio Trust). Any improvements or upgrades go through a tireless historic approval process (insulation, rodent proofing, signage, you name it!).
But, it was worth it. We opened in June of 2008 with over 2,500 students enrolled. We currently teach an average of 4,500 students each week, year round.
These days, the biggest challenge is staffing, management and quality control. Company-wide, we have about 180 employees, many of whom are “millennials”. As a mom and business owner, it’s always a balance between parenting and managing….but what I’ve found is, they’re much the same. Consistency, communication and leadership are tools needed to be a successful parent and manager. Avoidance, distraction and indecisiveness are your enemies.
Today, my husband and I have branched out on our own. Combining our two backgrounds of finance and swimming, we opened La Petite Playhouse. This extension of the “La Petite” brand and Waverly Whale logo was a perfect fit for our family. As a mom of young kids, I see flashbacks from my own childhood as I manage to juggle all three of my full time jobs.
This is a tricky balance…it’s not 1985, and although I consider myself a “Free Range Parent” leaving my kids home alone after preschool and kindergarten is just plain illegal nowadays. So, I schedule as much of my “on site” work in the mornings as possible. When I have to work after school hours, I lean on my mom, my neighbor and my husband. It takes a village! Technology has made it possible to multi-task as a working mom, so I bring my laptop to my children’s after school activities and work on the go (please don’t judge those parents who are on their laptops and phones during swim class….they might not just be on Facebook!).
The myth of being completely focused on work when I’m at work, and on family when I’m at home is just that, mythical. Working with my parents and husband blurs lines and boundaries. We often talk shop at breakfast, lunch and dinner. But in the end, we know when it’s time to focus on family (like when my 4 year old gets a bloody nose while I’m on a conference call at home). Growing up in a family business definitely helped prepare me for this lifestyle. But rest assured, there’s no such thing as part time work when you’re a business owner…you’re all in everyday (much like parenting).
One of the things I missed most as a child growing up in a family business was having my mom take me to activities. At the age of 5, I walked to school by myself. By age 8 I took the school bus and by age 11 I rode the city bus alone. Getting rides from various other moms made me long for that special time with my mom. I remember feeling very alone, but also understanding (at a very young age) that my mom always did the best she could for our family. Now that I’m a mompreneur myself, I struggle with the balance of work and family.
One way I’ve learned to protect family time is by blocking off our weekends. We often say “no thank you” to birthday parties, and avoid weekend activities and sports. Weekends are for family time. You know…lemonade stands, fort building, banana bread making, down-home time. That having been said, LPB, LPP and being a mom are 7-days-a-week operations. I know that there are times when I have to work until 10:00 pm on a Sunday night, but I find comfort in knowing that my kids are learning about work ethic by watching me. Hopefully, someday they will be entrepreneurs themselves.