Three similarities between parenting and entrepreneurship

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“If you have never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent.” – Bette Davis

You got to love Bette’s quote. Being at the receiving end of your child’s concentrated hatred, irritation, scorn, anger and contempt is pretty normal for the average parent. Here we are, surrounded by people who constantly question our sanity, second-guess our every decision, and sometimes bad-mouth the way things are. In the meantime, we are also working hard to provide for them, educate them and ensure they learn and succeed and soon become financially independent.

Entrepreneurs, sounds familiar?

After two decades of entrepreneurship and parenting, I am beginning to see similarities and patterns! So what is it that parents and entrepreneurs have in common? Here we go.

We have no control; instead we have an illusion of control

My daughter recently turned 21, and I sat her down for an adult conversation that introduced the “M” word – marriage. Coming from a very conservative Tamil Brahmin family, I told her that she needs to soon mentally prepare for marriage. Not immediately, but over the next few years once she is done with her studies and gets her career on track. We argued back and forth a few times. She was lying down on my lap while this discussion was happening. She suddenly got up, looked me in the eye, and said nicely (Such a good girl!) – You do realize that you have no control over me, right?

Since then, I have repeated this conversation to so many parents and to date, not a single parent has said otherwise. They either laughed outright (we tend to greet truth like that sometimes), smirked (probably their kids are all grown up and married) or smiled (with a been-there experienced-that empathetic look).

My daughter is right. As parents, we have this illusion of control over our children and directly attribute all their successes to our planning and interventions, and wince at their follies as something that needs to be determinedly ignored. I do not think we are ever in a situation of control. We can only gently guide and mentor, while ensuring all their physical and financial and learning needs are being taken care of. Not unlike that of an entrepreneur. Our role at our business is to create a nurturing environment for our employees, try our best to ensure that their safety and learning and financial requirements are fulfilled, and stay focused on our role as provider and mentor.

We can never be a proper friend to our wards. Friendly yes, friend no.

I can never be a friend to my children. There, I have said it. And they know it. I will be friendly and hang out at malls, and welcome any gossip or issues they want to share in a non-judgemental way, but if there are areas that as a family we have decided is inappropriate or against our values, I become a parent.

The reason is simple. Our children can get friends anywhere, anytime, and anyhow. But I am their parent. That is my role. I am thinking of their welfare and safety and happiness every single day, and multiple times during the day. My vision for their safety and well-being is long-term. A friend may like their farewell pic or laugh away their low marks. But as a parent, I cannot ignore that the farewell pic is not in good taste or that consistent low marks is an indication of a larger problem. And while friends may console and cheer up, they still have the luxury of walking away.

As a parent, I cannot walk away. I cannot afford to ignore the consequences of not paying attention. And I cannot take my eye off the bigger picture.

Neither can entrepreneurs and leaders. Our employees are our lifeline to customer success and taking care of them is the single most important thought in our mind. But does this mean we support them in everything they do? Does this mean we ignore patterns that are not consistent with company values and vision? If we do not step up and call them out on their behavior and actions, who will?

So while we can be friendly at the workplace, it will be really tough to be a true friend. And I have made my peace with that.

We will never be able to “get” them

Maybe this is a generation gap thing, but most of the time I seriously do not “get” my kids. I do not understand the thought process that goes on when they take decisions. I also do not truly understand what motivates them and the dreams they have for their future. And to be fair, they do not “get” me either. They do not understand my paranoia about their safety, my angst about the way they dress or our emphasis on education and good marks.

The same thing happens with employees. As entrepreneurs we are so focused on our vision, plans and grand ideas for our business, we take for granted that our employees are in sync; that they “get” us. Not really. Not always.

Most of us have been on both sides of the equation – as child and parent, employee and employer. So we do know that both sides have their valid reasons and perspectives on why they do what they do. Moreover, both sides have different agendas, experience, maturity and ambitions. So, it is only fair that both sides do not “get” the other.

So, now what?

Nobody said it was easy being a parent. Or an entrepreneur. So why do we do it? It certainly is not for the money or the status or the pride of having successfully executed on our collective vision. So again, why do we do it?

One possible answer (and the closest to the truth) is that we do not know about the heartaches and the down sides until we jump in. We see others succeeding, and think that we can too. We focus on the success stories of parents and entrepreneurs, downplay the negatives and sincerely believe that when it is our turn, we will do a way better job than them.


For me personally, parenting, like entrepreneurship, is the quickest (and sometimes the most painful) way to learn about myself. I have learnt that there are no theories for parenting or entrepreneurship. There are no hard and fast solutions either. What worked today will not, tomorrow. What worked for this person will not for another. The only thing I can do is to get up, show up and do my best. Then, take my beatings and learnings, slink back with the tail between my legs, go to sleep. And then get up, show up…

After all, if you do not have control, cannot be a true friend, or can never understand them, then all you have is that heart-warming, cheer-bringing philosophy that all parents and entrepreneurs swear by – Wait till they have kids/companies of their own.

Hee hee hee.

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