Two Eastside professionals have found that operating their own businesses has helped keep their lives in check

Photos by Rachel Coward & Julia Sumpter

Photos by Rachel Coward & Julia Sumpter

Balancing work and life might be most difficult for the single parent. And the overwhelming majority of single parents are women. In its latest analysis of custodial parents, the U.S. Census Bureau said fewer than one-fifth of custodial parents are fathers.

For some of those single mothers, the best path toward making sure they have enough time for their kids is, paradoxically, to choose a path that ramps up their work responsibilities: start a company.

Libbi Finnessy, a dentist with two practices in Bellevue, and Kerry Neville, founder of public relations firm Mix Nutrition Group in Bellevue, both founded their businesses while they were married, but have since split with their partners. Their ex-husbands play a smaller role than previously in their personal lives, but the flexibility that comes with running a business has allowed both of the women to maintain a satisfactory work-life balance.

“A lot of my friends dropped out of the workforce (when they had kids), and to be honest, if I didn’t have my own business and the flexibility I wanted … I probably would have done the same thing,” said Neville, who founded Mix Nutrition Group 17 years ago. Two years later, Neville adopted her son.

Running a company usually means long hours and high stress, but it also means you get to determine your schedule. That’s a boon to parents who can embrace entrepreneurship; to them, working 12 or 15 hours a day but being able to see your kids is better than working 8 or 9 hours but not being able to see them between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Kerry Neville founded Mix Nutrition Group to ensure she had the flexibility she wanted to raise a family.

Kerry Neville founded Mix Nutrition Group to ensure she had the flexibility she wanted to raise a family.

Founding a company also means a parent-friendly culture can be established from the outset. That’s the approach Finnessy took when she moved to the Eastside from Wisconsin.

“Ella comes with me to the office all the time,” Finnessy said of her 5-year-old daughter. “I call her a dental-office rat. … She’s in there, poking her head in all the time, and my patients are great about it.”

Ella isn’t the only staff member’s child who comes into Finnessy’s office. As her staff has grown, Finnessy has made clear to employees who are parents that they can bring their kids to the office if a babysitter falls through or if the child is sick. “The option is to either have the parent take time off work, or say, ‘Hey, we have TV screens in every office. Bring your kid in and let’s pop in a movie,’” Finnessy said.

This type of flexibility comes with downsides, though. Employees can liberally interpret kid-friendly privileges, turning a workplace into a de facto daycare for employees. But setting clear boundaries, Finnessy said, lets parents know their boss is open to childcare adjustments, but not kids dominating a person’s professional life.

Setting boundaries for employees is important, but setting personal boundaries is another perk of entrepreneurship. As an employee, any adjustment in work schedule requires supervisor approval, but that’s not needed when you’re at the top.

“Even now, which is funny because (her son) is in high school, I kind of stop work at 3 o’clock when I pick him up,” Neville said. “I may check email some, but I pretty much work from 8 o’clock in the morning until 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and that’s pretty much been consistent since he started school.”