Say Goodbye to June and Ward

Maybe it was a result of watching too many “Leave It to Beaver” reruns after school, but as a young girl I wanted my married life to look a lot like June and Ward Cleaver, minus June’s pearls and Ward’s pipe. The clearly defined roles of the parents made their lives looked so neat and ordered.

In that world, Dad leaves at 8:00 am to do some kind of important work in a mysterious place called “The Office” and returns at 5:30 with his white shirt as crisp as when he left. For all we knew, during the day Ward could have been selling secrets to the Soviets, but when he arrived home, he had left the problems of the Cold War back at the office and was ready for roast beef and mashed potatoes and a rousing game of checkers with the Beav ““ at least I guess that’s what people did at night before there was Taco Bell and DVDs.

And while Ward was at work, June was at home ““ queen of her domain. I’m sure she kept busy with PTA meetings, mending Wally’s favorite flannel shirt, and baking cookies to have waiting for the boys after school. And if June ate as much cookie dough as she baked, no one was the wiser.

For many years, our married life certainly had some of the same characteristics. Even though Steve worked for himself, for 20 years he drove off in the morning to an office and returned home ““ sometimes 12 hours later particularly if it was a Friday and he was driving north out of San Francisco. He worked hard to bring home paychecks and to leave the stress of the business in the city. And while he was gone, the house and the kids were mine with only the cats and dog to answer to.

Then about 3½ years ago, after much discussion with me, Steve reinvented his business. For the first time, I was a going to be a partner in it (not bad, considering my resume has some big gaps in it, but then again, I did sleep with the owner). And instead of finding office space somewhere, we were going to set up shop in what was formerly our formal dining room.

That’s when my life got less rigid”¦and a lot better.

Now that we work for ourselves out of our home, the distinct separation between what Steve does and what I do is more flexible. It’s not just Dad goes to work and Mom stays home. Now, what we’re able to build in our business ““ and in our family ““ is a shared effort.

Of course, in the business context, Steve’s the one with 30 years of experience and the gift for marketing, so the lion’s share of the responsibility falls to him. But now, I can take on some the burden. He tells me that even something as simple as me answering the phone really helps. It gives him a little bit of a buffer and a few seconds to collect his thoughts before he takes a call from a cranky client.

And no one is more surprised than me, that I am evolving into the “biz dev” part of the team. Even though I still have to gird my loins before I start making cold calls, when I succeed in getting us an appointment with a potential client that then turns into real business that puts a few more dollars into the checking account so I can write us a check at the end of the month, I definitely feel the rewards of ownership.

And on the household front, when Steve offers to pick up one of the kids, I’m starting to gladly accept his help and relinquish a bit of my control. I realize I don’t have to carry the full load of mom chores and contribute to the business. And when I’m more flexible about who does what, everyone is happier. I’m not drained from 16 chauffeuring trips and Steve’s gotten a much needed break from the computer.

However, there are times when it just doesn’t make sense for us to trade tasks. For instance, Steve has offered to scrub toilets on a Saturday morning. While I appreciate it and I’m sure he’d do a great job, his skills are put to better use writing a marketing proposal than squirting Lysol on porcelain. And besides, cleaning bathrooms is where my skill set really shines.

Unlike the Cleaver’s, our kids experience firsthand the kind of work that Dad and Mom do during the day. They hear Steve fielding a difficult phone call from a client about the cost of their website and hear me struggling through my telemarketing list. There’s not much that insulates them from the realities of running a business. They see the rough days, like when a client’s business cards and letterhead are delivered from the printing company and the colors are drastically different that what they approved (“Mom, why is Dad hyperventilating?”) or when the cash flow is down to a trickle (“Dad, why is Mom weeping at the QuickBooks screen?”).

But they know that it buys them iPods and gymnastics classes.

June and Ward lived a stiff but very tidy life. Our’s is messier but undeniably real. Steve and I often wonder how living with the ups and downs of running our own business will affect our kids’ future careers. Will they vow to only work for big companies that promise regular paychecks and two weeks paid vacation or will they follow in our footsteps and create their own way to make a living?

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