We've all seen it. Most of us have probably been on the receiving end at one time or another. Some of us may even remember doing it. What is it? It is what I call "The Toddler Syndrome."
You are doing household chores and your toddler is playing quietly with his toys seemingly oblivious to you. The phone rings and you start talking to a friend. Within minutes the toddler is doing 1 of 2 things - he is either underfoot clamoring for attention or into something he knows he is not supposed to do because your attention is focused on something else. No matter the reasoning you have a problem and have to deal with it.
As they get older, kids usually are just interested in the times you are not paying attention to do something they are not supposed to do. I am not sure that we ever outgrow that game no matter how old or mature we get. You know - when the cat's away, the mice will play.
However, it is the demand for attention that can suddenly reappear when you decide to start your own business. The real toddlers will do their thing but sometimes with more frequency when they see you are concentrating on something else. And heaven help you if you schedule a conference or important business call when you expect them to be taking a nap. Of course that will be the day they won't take a nap!
The real problem will be with the "toddlers" that are over 5 feet tall - parents, siblings, other family members, friends, spouses, and sometimes acquaintances. Whether real or not, they will often feel that they are getting less attention from you than they want or believe they deserve. Needless to say, some felt that way before you started your business but now it is even worse.
Adult "toddler syndrome" antics can come in many forms. My father had his own commercial art studio which made it difficult for him to take a vacation. On occasion he and my mother would plan a 2 or 3 day getaway for a little R&R. Long before there was Fred Sanford, my maternal grandmother would always be having "the big one" heart attack whenever they planned to go away. She never actually had a heart attack but she sure was good at faking them. The only way they could get away was to let her know after the fact.
Fortunately, most people don't go to quite those lengths but that doesn't mean they can't do a lot of damage to you emotionally and to your scheduling. Being women, we have been forced to learn some good time management skills. Adding business owner to our responsibilities just means adjusting our time management to accommodate the new demands. Many spouses feel especially threatened by your new absorbing interest. The potential that you might succeed can also be perceived as a threat.
If you have to explain a toddler's behavior to someone on the phone they understand and usually laugh with great empathy. The problem is that it is very difficult if not also embarrassing to try to explain the adult having a toddler moment to someone.
Many of the same techniques that one uses to deal with the toddler can also be effective in dealing with the adult.
1. Timing - you can wait until the child needs to take a nap or go to bed or has other activities to time your calls. Adults may have work hours or other commitments around which you can schedule.
2. The rules - telling a toddler that interrupting you is not acceptable can work with children but adults can think of many more excuses why they can't obey the rules.
3. Punishment - you can send a toddler to his room or a chair for a time out. Do you really want to try that with an adult? It's like beating your head against a wall.
4. Bribery - toddlers are easy. A cookie or a hug will usually work or the promise of reading them a story. Try those with an adult and they will look at you like you are crazy. For adults the bribes get bigger and frequently more expensive.
The only thing that really may work is to try to negotiate some rules and terms. If you can figure out what an adult's motive is for their toddler antics, then you can often find an effective way to reassure them.
Do they feel neglected or that they are not getting enough attention? Scheduling some special time may work just fine. Sometimes asking for some help in one way or another can work wonders as well.
If the problem is jealousy that is much harder to deal with and perhaps encouraging the other to start their own business or offering to teach them some fundamentals can help. If the jealousy is emanating from a stay-at-home mom, then asking for advice or help in some area of child rearing or home related subjects can show that you value what they do and can often reduce the amount of jealousy. Sometimes even an occasional work project that they can do may make the green eyes go away.
Fear can also be part of jealousy but it has its own dynamic. Children can be afraid that you don't love them anymore because you are involved with something else. Significant others can be afraid that you are moving away from them, that you will be more successful than they are and/or will make more money than they do. You can reassure them that their fears are unjustified until you turn blue without making a dent in the fear. And the truth of the matter is that the fears can be justified. As an entrepreneur you are not only entering a new venture in your life but also you are reinventing yourself as a business owner. You can't tell where the adventure of self-discovery and reinvention will lead so it is more difficult to put those fears to rest.
However, ignoring them will not make the fears of others go away. Honesty with yourself and others is always best but when you may be unsure and can share your fears then often discussions can work to dispel or at least lessen the fears on all sides.
There will always be people who try to undermine what you are doing either inadvertently or deliberately. Trying to understand what is going on and dealing with it appropriately are essential skills so that you are not fighting unruly "toddlers" at every turn and can concentrate on starting and growing your business.