House Monkey: How Parents of Twins Plus Two Are Helping Families Get Organized

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Categories Balance, Entrepreneurship, House Monkey, How Do The Moms Do It

My husband Mike and I are parents of twins plus two. We both have a full-time jobs as co-owners and division heads of a thriving scientific agency (where we service pharmaceutical clients). That might make it sound like our plates are full, but we’re also building up a business together to market our organizing solution (called “House Monkey”) to busy families. We were asked to join the HDYDI community to share the process of developing House Monkey as it happens. As a mom of 4 children aged 11, 10, 7, & 7, every day seems like an uphill battle (but we moms of multiples know that rewards on the top of that hill are sweeter).

Amazing story! Donna and Mike were inspired by their busy family to put their professional skills to work to create a fun app to help everyone in the family stay on top of household responsibilities.

Here is our story…

Our family (and the House Monkey idea) grew, starting in 2007

I have a dual BS in Biology and Chemistry and a Masters degree in Microbiology.  I worked in Pharmaceuticals from career inception and moved up through the ranks quickly.  Then I had my first child. When I held that little baby in my hands, I knew I couldn’t go back to my career life, which had me on a plane 3-4 times a week.  Instead, I started a consulting business.

I had another kid and my consulting business started growing. Then I got pregnant… with twins. We were about to have GIRL twins to add to our 2 boys.  I was nervous because I had issues with my previous pregnancies: I was diabetic with my first and second pregnancy involved 3 months of bed-rest for near pre-eclampsia.

This is the point where my story usually sounds different that that of other Moms of Multiples. I had my strongest and easiest pregnancy with the twins!  I “ran”, or rather jogged then down to a power walk, up through the last day.  At 40 weeks and 1 day, I delivered set of twins weighing in at a 7 and a 7.5 pound.

I breastfed my first 2 children for 12 months. I was gung ho that I could do that with twins… until I tried. It was a nightmare. Now I was managing a small business, had 2 toddlers (the 4 kids were born within 4 years), and was trying to breastfeed!  Both my husband and I were deeply sleep deprived.  I had to give in and ask him to feed with bottles in middle of the night.  I managed the day feeding for only 6 months.  I finally gave into the daily logistical difficulties and justified this to myself with “Donna Math” 6 months x 2 twins = 12 months!

Then all the house craziness happened. The dryer broke, and we couldn’t find the warranty, even though we knew it was under warranty. We had bought it right before the twins were born. Then the air conditioner broke!  It was one house-related nightmare after another… with twin baby girls and two toddlers.

That was 6 years ago!  We knew back then there had to be a better way, but didn’t have time or resources to even begin to think about a solution.  The first few years with the twins were all about survival!

The House Monkey idea lingered through 2011

When the twins were 4, life issues happened.  My husband was laid off.  He worked in technology (and had been running the IT for my business on the side).  It was at this point that the boys were starting to become active at school and sports.  Homework needed to be attended to, rides to practices… and the girls were still home needing attention.

So we made a huge decision: to put all our eggs in one basket and have him join my business so that we could better manage our kids.

It was a hard decision because our lifestyle was definitely going to change.  We had one thing in our lives that we would not even consider: selling our house.  Mike and I had built it from the ground up and loved it, but more importantly staying in our town was critical.  Our first son has a life-threatening airborne allergy to peanuts.  His allergy was so severe that one day went into a full anaphylaxis walking past a garbage can that had a bag of peanuts in it.  We had just finished establishing guidelines in our town to have him attend school in a safe manner. Leaving our town was non-negotiable.

Mike joined the business and played (and still plays) an extremely active role as a parent.  We struggled the first year to bring the technology (Mike’s area of expertise) to the pharma consulting work I was doing, but we had a couple of good ideas that helped the business grow marginally.  How our marriage survived that first year is amazing.  Admittedly there was much “loud talking” during that “work-life” merge.  I chalked marital survival up to a shared mutual dedication to our vows!

The big “C” hit in 2012

2012 came in with a bang.  I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  I felt very blessed to find it so early.

I had started “dabbling” in triathlons.  Yes it sounds counter-intuitive when one is so busy, but honestly having a “reason” to go to the gym when the kids went down at night was a saving grace for me both mentally and physically after working and managing 4 kids all day long.

The last month of training before a race, I was working out 6 days a week and eating properly but put on 30 pounds!  Sparing you the intricate details, let me tell you: be your own healthcare advocate.  My blood levels were all normal, and doctors wanted me to wait.  I insisted on a biopsy for this lump in my throat which, it turned, was indeed cancerous.  I did well, but had to stay in the hospital for a week for a non-planned visit due to post-surgery side effects.

Most of my clients did not know I was sick so the business had to keep running.  The kids were upset.  We were very upfront and matter of fact with them.  My chances of full survival and healing were well over 90% (thyroid cancer is tiny pimple of the cancer world- highly curable) but still we weren’t having them visit me in a head and neck cancer floor.  It was too traumatic, my poor roommate didn’t have an eyeball!

Here was Mike running back and forth to a hospital 1.5 hours away to care for me and to go over the day-to-day tasks of the business.

The kids??? Well let’s just say I thank God for my parents. They stayed at my house during the week while the children went to school. The kids bounced from place to place on the weekends with my two besties LC and JD.  I can’t neglect my mother-in-law, who picked me up at discharge because my husband and parents had caught colds.

What do you think got de-prioritized in 2012? Yes, the house!  Upkeep and maintenance was non-existent again.

Building one idea in 2013

While House Monkey was still less a concept and more an idea that “someone should build something for house organization”, we remained focused on our existing business. The technology and science finally merged together into a beautiful product.  It was a rough year building our concept from the ground up.

On the family side, the kids were becoming really, really active.  The twins were 6 and in school full time. The boys were just into everything.  Between the business and the growing needs of the family, with little personalities jetting out from everywhere, our house was one big stress ball. This led to an extreme lack of organization for our house, always the lowest priority!

How House Monkey finally came to fruition in Fall 2014

While I was focused on our technology-based product for our pharma clients, Mike had decided to revisit the house disorganization problem we identified when the twins were born and had progressively become worse over the years.  He approached me with an idea to build this app, thinking it could be a way to manage an active house busy and full of life. I added on the organizational piece.

It became our night time job, filled with many white board sketches before the full concept of “House Monkey” was born!  We decided to put the House Monkey idea on Kickstarter and see what happened.  Not only was this a great way to fundraise to build House Monkey, but interest in Kickstarter would also show us if other busy houses needed something better too.

Don’t let anyone tell you running a crowd-funding campaign is easy!  It was tons of work and involved lots of follow up with people both online and offline.

In essence we were working full time with pharma clients during the day (a job I love with great clients!), caring for the kids when they got home from school until bedtime, and going back to idea stream and plan out House Monkey at night.

We are pleased to say we received a wonderful Christmas gift on December 24th, 2014: House Monkey was financed on Kickstarter!

How do we do it? Where do we find the time?

All this is no small challenge. My husband and I each have two full time jobs, all while balancing our 4 very active children. Their sports range from golf to football and they have several sports and activities in between. Did I mention that Mike is the president of the EMS squad in our town and rides on the ambulance 2-3 nights a week? I was a founder and now sit on the executive committee for the women’s group at our church.

So when a blog named How Do You Do It? contacted me and asked “how are you going to do it?” my answer was “I have no idea how I’m going to do it”! The flood gates are wide open for both our pharma-based business and the House Monkey idea all at once. Plus, we are committed to not letting the businesses get in the way of our family time!

Over the next few months, Mike and I will be sharing our progress and challenges in building this organizational solution for busy families.  We will be focused on 5 key topics:

  • House Monkey App Development: What are the updates, key challenges, and wins in building this resource
  • Parenting: Managing 4 kids with 4 different sets of priorities and interests
  • Marriage: Making it work at work, at home, and as a couple
  • Trade-offs: What stays and what goes at both work and home
  • “What the kids say”: How does running two separate businesses impact the kids?

Our intention is that progress will be reported once a month from each of us….. once from Mike’s perspective as a dad, husband, and business owner and once a month from my perspective as a mom, wife, and business owner.  We hope our intention comes to fruition, but if not, we hope you understand why!

We look forward to reporting on this journey and hope that as we try and find our way, you find some “golden nuggets” that apply to your journey and help you find a “way to do it” as well!

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5 thoughts on “House Monkey: How Parents of Twins Plus Two Are Helping Families Get Organized”

  1. I’m excited to learn more! House Monkey sounds like it will be an amazing parenting resource once it is available, but the journey to get there seems like it is full of lessons and insights as well. Looking forward to following the process.

  2. Help!!! I’m a mom of twins not 1 but 2 Sets of twins and have been looking aimlessly at a solution to finances and organization. My children are seven and two. We thought the age gap was perfect but are finding out it is alot harder than to be expected. I cry just about everyday. This is the first site that actually gives me a little piece of hope.

    1. Lindsay, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been struggling. HDYDI authors Michelle, Amy, Helene, and Lalagirl all have multiple multiples, and I hope that their writing will resonate with you. As someone who has been diagnosed with depression, and has it extremely well-managed, hearing that you’re crying every day makes me think that it might be worth talking to your doctor or maybe paying a visit to a talk therapist just to see whether having someone who will listen non-judgmentally would help.

      Do me a favour and identify the one thing that is most stressful right now. It is making it to bedtime? Being alone with all the kids? Worrying about money? I know it probably feels like adding another thing to your plate sounds insane, but if you aren’t already a member, please consider joining your local Mothers of Multiples group. There are people there who want to help, I promise. And we’re here too.

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