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Marital Support of Your Home Business

© 1999, by Lisa M. Roberts

Recently a request came in that said "EP Times" written all over it. When asked on the application form what EP can offer, a new member wrote in, "How to encourage your spouse to support your decision to work at home."
Now here's a subject near and dear to my heart. So much so that I devoted a full chapter in my book about it. I called the chapter "Seesawing With Your Spouse," and I procrastinated writing it until the very end. Later I wondered how I could zip through the chapters on how home business impacts on children, a household and the individual...but muddle so slowly through the chapter about how it impacts on a marriage.
The answer is simple: the issue is complicated! Yet it is a vital one that could make or break this work option for you. It also, truth be told, could make or break a marriage. As aspiring or new Entrepreneurial Parents, you should be aware that not all home businesses have happy endings. Personally, two of my EP mentors have struggled through the break-up of their marriages -- and one after fifteen years of entrepreneurship and raising four children to adulthood. While clearly the issues between these couples run deeper than choice of a career, both did express to me that the subject came up in marriage counseling sessions, and their spouses attributed the home business as a deep source of pent-up hostility. The unhappy spouses cited the following issues as part of the problem:
1. Competition with the home business (and clients) for attention
2. Jealousy of all the public recognition (via promotions for the business), and
3. Resentment of being the one "stuck" with a 9-5, day-in, day-out conventional job that *paid the bills* (and financially supported the
EP with the "fun" job).
Encouraging your spouse to support your decision to work at home involves much more than the viability of the home business in question. How you perceive yourself, how your spouse perceives him/herself, how you perceive each other, are all embroiled in with the decision. While some of us are blessed with easy-going relationships that thrive on "whatever makes you happy makes me happy," many more of us deal with ongoing power struggles, marital miscommunications, and middle-aged (yes, it's time for some of us to admit it!) fears and insecurities.
The bottom line is that the new member who wrote in with her concern has opened up a can of worms! If you've been looking to toss that can aside yourself, here are a few concepts to consider. To promote your home business as a positive force in your marital life, you should offer your spouse the following:
  • Communication
There is no greater instrument in your work-family toolbox than your words -- honest, direct, and as needed. Before introducing your home business to your family, take the time to convey to your spouse the whys, the hows, and the how oftens. Why is a home career so important to you? (Remember to speak in terms of "I need" not "I'm not getting.") How are you going to find the time, make the money, balance your responsibilities as a parent, be there for your spouse? How often are you going to be working in the home office, how often will you be fully available to your family? Remember that "as needed" could mean every day or once a month...whatever it takes to fully communicate with each other as the big and small issues come up.
  • Involvement
Enlisting your children's involvement in your home career is a must -- it ignites their creativity, teaches discipline, fosters strong ties with you, develops a team spirit, and generates many more positive experiences than can be listed here. But for some couples, enlisting a spouse's involvement in a home career can be a "must not." You need to get a sense from your spouse how much s/he wants to be involved in your work, and in what way. For instance, my spouse has supported me over the years by painting my home office, building me bookshelves, introducing me to new software programs, discussing client issues, buying me an office chair, and just letting me be (even when he would rather be with me). But even though he is an MIS professional, he made it clear to me when I purchased my first computer that he would not assist me as a technician. Having to solve computer-related problems all day at work, he encouraged me to learn how to troubleshoot my own computer so that he could get a break from it all when he came home. So as a rule of thumb, extend the invitation to involve your spouse in your business, but don't push. Respect his/her limits.
  • Sharing
A home career brings in many rewards -- for your wallet and for your spirit! Share the rewards of your home career liberally with your spouse. As soon as you turn your first profit, thank your spouse with it. Think about how your spouse would spend that money -- by going out for a celebration, by taking a weekend vacation, by slipping it into a savings account, by investing it in some stock?? Use your home business to spread good will to others first, before thinking of yourself. And remember, if your business puts you in a good mood, share the mood -- not the business talk!
  • Commitment
Before you even start your first home business, decide where your greatest alliance is. Will your greatest commitment be to your career, your children, your spouse? My husband knows that I would drop my home career in a heartbeat if I felt our marriage was at risk. I say this not because I am a self-sacrificing martyr, or because I lack a strong sense of self, but because I am committed to putting family first, career second. Period. I make no apologies -- to my colleagues, to my customers, to the women's movement, to my working parent peers in corporate America, to anyone -- for that. Keeping this priority clear works for me, it's how I remain "true to myself." You need to decide what being "true to yourself" really means, and then remain committed as such.

Lisa Roberts is the mother of four, owner of The Entrepreneurial Parent, LLC and the author of How to Raise A Family & A Career Under One Roof: A Parent's Guide to Home Business (Bookhaven Press, 1997). Copies of her book are available for purchase at EP and through Amazon.

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