3 Things Being Dad Of A Special Needs Kid Taught Me About Owning A Business

I started Wild Frog right around the time we found out my son would be born with spina bifida. At that time, we didn’t know a lot about it but knew we were in for a roller coaster ride. Twelve years on, being dad to that awesome little boy (and later, his sister too) is still one of the greatest joys of my life. But parenting a kid with special/medical needs is definitely a unique experience. Most days I feel like he’s taught me a lot more than I teach him. But after 11 years, there are three things that stand out which have informed my entrepreneurial journey.

No plan survives first contact. . .

Being a former Army officer, this came to mind and my son certainly reinforced it for me. Circumstances change all plans. I’d been doing Mac support for several years before we were expecting our son, but I never thought seriously about starting a business. I had no grand design on becoming an entrepreneur and I was way too chicken to consider it beyond a fleeting idea. That is, until I had to. When my son was born, we didn’t know what we were in for but we knew it meant lots of medical appointments. Almost instantly it hit us that either my wife or I couldn’t continue working for The Man. Our son needed one of us to have a flexible schedule. Since my wife’s job carried the health insurance, it was pretty much decided. At first, medical appointments dominated my schedule and starting the business was very much a background activity. But as my son grew stronger I was able to focus more on being a business owner and getting Wild Frog going. Today my son is, in most respects, a normal 6th grader.  But my journey as an entrepreneur wouldn’t have even started if I hadn’t been forced to change plans. 

Life happens to you or life happens for you. You choose. 

When things don’t happen the way you expect, it’s natural to ask “Why Me?” I mean with our son, we did everything right. My wife and I were reasonably healthy. We made sure we got all the care. And yet, our son was born with a disability. But if I could go back, I wouldn’t change anything, even if it meant “healing” him. We came to realize that while he had/has medical needs, he’s never needed to be ‘cured’ because he’s awesome, full stop. It wasn’t his disability that needed to change. It was us that needed to change. And it’s taught me that in life - and in business - life can happen to you or life can happen for you. I originally thought of Wild Frog as a side hustle, because I hated the sales job I took when we moved to Columbus. But I also knew I needed it to start contributing. About 2 weeks after our son came home, he started having trouble breathing. He had to devote every ounce of energy just to breathing. So. . .after 2 more months in the hospital, he came home with a trach. That meant traditional daycare was out. So this side hustle that I needed to start contributing would have to take a back seat to being a stay-at-home dad. On the one hand it was frustrating that I couldn’t hit the ground running with this new business that was suddenly important to our family. But in hindsight, life was happening for me. I was a stay-at-home dad until my son was about 6 months old. The bond I got to form with him is something most parents don’t get to experience. It also gave me a chance to set some of the foundations for Wild Frog without so much pressure. I put together our first website using iWeb. How many of you remember iWeb? I was able to do some internet stalking and get a sense of who was who in the marketing/advertising scene and identify them as early potential clients. 

Another example. Last year we parted ways with two clients for various reasons. One of them had been with us a long time and in many ways felt more like family than clients. And losing those two clients meant about a 30% drop in revenue. When the dust settled and after a lot of reflection, I realized that in both cases we lost their business because (for different reasons) we just weren’t good enough. It forced me to worry less about making Wild Frog bigger and focus my attention on making Wild Frog better. None of which would have happened if I didn’t see life happening for me.

It may not be apparent at first but if you step back and have some self awareness, you’ll be amazed how often life happens for you rather than to you.

If you compare yourself you’ll just end up miserable!

Spina bifida is, at its core, a spinal cord injury. It just happens in the first month of pregnancy. Like any other spinal cord injury, there is no singular universal outcome. That can be hard to get your head around when you’re discovering your child will likely never walk on his own and seeing other kids his age with spina bifida walking around with arm crutches or walkers. The natural reaction is “Why can’t my kid do that too?”. It can be really hard to remember that there are other folks out there would give almost anything to be in your situation. And at least for me, I’ve learned that time spent pining over the things my son can’t do is time I’m not spending appreciating how special (and awesome) he is. Not too long ago, the same realization hit me with Wild Frog. I found I was spending way too much time wondering/worrying about what my competitors were doing. It very much made me feel ‘less than’. And it took my attention away from what makes Wild Frog special (and awesome). I think human nature is to look at someone else’s life or business and see the highlight reel - while seeing our own life as the bloopers. My son helped me realize that’s just a one way ticket to being miserable.