Like clockwork, I’ll be finally hitting a groove in scheduling our Design*Sponge content, or maybe I’m in that glorious writing sweet spot where all the right words are coming together, and it happens. At the peak of my productivity crescendo, interruption slips in and abruptly halts my train of thought — my six-month-old will wake up from her nap crying, or my three-year-old will be tugging at me for a snack. These are, admittedly, the tamest of examples as both of my girls can need any number of things from me, and often at the same time. And since I work from home these examples may be specific to my own working-parent life, but I don’t doubt for a second that others in the creative industry still bring their work home with them in some capacity. It’s in the nature of what we do.
From artists, to designers, to photographers, to novelists and small business owners, we work in fields where we never truly turn off our “work mind.” Working within creative avenues, it is often our passion that our work centers around, and passion isn’t something you can just switch off or return to the next day. This very reason is why so many people in the creative industry struggle with deciding if and when to welcome children into their families — and when they do, how to make their family life harmonious with their demanding and unpredictable creative work.
As I battle with my own daily hurdles of working in my creative field — while also finding new tricks to make life easier — I often wonder how other parents with nontraditional jobs navigate kids and careers. I’ve interviewed self-starters whom I admire to explore the ways they overcome obstacles, delegate control of certain tasks to others, maintain their inspiration and also build a life from which their own children find great inspiration and motivation.
I’ve spoken with textile designer Hana Getachew of Bolé Road Textiles, June & January CEO Amy Richardson-Golia, designer Justina Blakeney, and novelist Rumaan Alam (who’s also writing on behalf of his husband photographer David A. Land‘s experience). These are people who I view to be infinitely talented and unbelievably creative, but whose careers also run the gamut from each other yet are unpredictable and demanding in their own rights.
In part one of this two-part essay series, we’re examining how these parents adjust and adapt their work/life ratios, ways delegating some of your responsibilities can be helpful, and how these creative types like to center themselves when they feel pulled in a million directions. —Kelli
Becoming a parent may mean giving up going to the movies every week, but it does not mean giving up what truly matters to you. -Rumaan Alam
Create a schedule and work-life ratio that works for your family.
It’s helpful to remember, as Rumaan points out, that becoming a parent is indeed a life-altering shift, but it isn’t debilitating (something that is often conveyed through movies, TV shows, and other forms of media). “We became parents well into our careers, though I did move from editorial work to life as a novelist after having had kids,” Rumaan shares. “The change for both of us was, primarily, I think, about time-management. But as self-employed people we had a lot of luxury in that sense. We could knock off early to be with the kids, for example, then go back to work after their bedtime. Being self-employed, and being a couple with mutual respect for one another’s careers, has meant that honestly not much changed in our working lives as a result of being parents. I find this reassuring; becoming a parent may mean giving up going to the movies every week, but it does not mean giving up what truly matters to you.”
Just as David and Rumaan adjusted their daily schedules to accommodate their children, so too did Amy as her company scaled very quickly from the time she was pregnant with her first child, Eli, to after her daughter Juniper was born. “Technically I started June & January when I was pregnant with my now six-and-a-half-year-old son — I was making burp cloths and hats from old t-shirts, and stockpiling them at an alarming rate,” she recalls. “By the time he was a few months old I finally opened an Etsy shop, and things have been nonstop ever since. Around the time he was six months old, I set a goal that I wanted to be able to quit my 9-5 job so I could spend more time with him — my last day was a month before he turned one. I had this incredible vision of offsetting the loss in income by downsizing the hours we had our nanny, which of course ended up being the total opposite, but I was still able to spend SO much amazing quality time with Eli. I took every Friday off to be with him and we were enrolled in just about ever toddler-class you could find in Brooklyn (music, art, swimming, gymnastics, even cooking). My experience with my daughter, who came about four years into the business, was entirely different. I had employees and cashflows and new customer acquisition to worry about and didn’t take a maternity leave of any kind.”
With many creatives and business owners I’ve come across over the years, it always seems to be that their work or careers finally take off once children are in play — just as irony would have it. Justina tells us, “I was not yet a parent when I started my business. My life changed so dramatically once I had my daughter, Ida. One of the surprising things that happened was that my business actually really started to take off right after she was born. I’m still not sure why that is. Sometimes I think it’s because I got married that same year and so all of the sudden two life ‘boxes’ were checked — meaning I had been working/playing towards having a family for a while (my husband Jason and I had been together for seven years before we finally got married when we were 6 months pregnant!). Once I had my man and my daughter and felt secure in that realm it freed me up to think more about my business in some ways. Of course, being a parent also limited how much time I could dedicate to my business, and so that came with its own set of challenges.”
Hana is hopeful that learning the ins and outs of both business and parenthood will result in more work-life harmony. She says, “I had my baby a little over a year after I launched my business. There were so many changes that happened that it’s strange even to compare life before and life after. During the year before I launched my business, I worked long hours, nights and weekends, which is no longer an option. Everything is still pretty new, though. My baby is fifteen months old and I’ve had my business for two and a half years so I’m still getting the hang of both parenting and running a business. I’m sure in a few years I won’t even remember what it was like to run my business pre-baby and things will feel more balanced.”
I now try to focus on the things that can only be done by me, then delegate the rest. -Hana Getachew
Delegate certain tasks to others.
These parents have overridden that often prevalent quality in the creative industry of taking on everything oneself, and instead they’ve embraced support in different ways. Here’s how they’ve delegated certain tasks to others.
Amy: “Tutoring — I have very quickly learned that I am not patient enough to help with homework, and [in] the time we DO have together, I don’t want it to be spent frustrated with each other.” (She and her husband also get help with cleaning the house.)
Rumaan & David: “Our lives would look very different without our babysitter. Her constant, steady presence is a corrective to our erratic, freelancer’s schedules, and she’s everything you could want in the person who looks after your children — kind and loving and reliable. Her presence is integral to our professional and familial happiness. We are very lucky.”
Hana: “When I first started the business I would follow any and every lead, chase down any opportunity, take every meeting. Now, I am very focused and assess how best to spend my time. This spurred me to hire my first employee which has been amazing for both me and my business. With an employee, I now try to focus on the things that can only be done by me, then delegate the rest.”
Justina: “The arrangement that I have with my husband being a stay-at-home dad is huge for us. We also have both sets of our parents living nearby so Ida gets a lot of grandma and grandpa time, which is awesome. We have a housekeeper that comes once a week which gives me and Jason both some sanity. I’m really messy :) ”
I always remind myself that only emergencies are emergencies. I don’t have to stop everything for an email that can be tended to later. -Justina Blakeney
Find trusted ways to center yourself.
If a creative career paired with children is a balancing act, then there will always be a need to refocus and center again. In taking better care of ourselves, our children and work both benefit — here are the ways these parents find their footing.
Amy: “It’s ridiculous, but when I am really overwhelmed and just need 5 minutes to NOT think, I take a break and do squats. Walking away from my computer or phone for a few minutes resets me.”
Justina: “I try and focus on what’s in front of me. It’s not easy. I always remind myself that only emergencies are emergencies. I don’t have to stop everything for an email that can be tended to later. Also, I often have to remind myself that most parents these days work jobs and aren’t with their kids 24/7. In our arrangement my husband is first and foremost a stay-at-home dad so he spends much more time with Ida than I do. Sometimes I feel guilty about that. But ultimately for our family this arrangement works really well.”
Rumaan: “I think it’s important to remember that perfection is impossible and that often ‘good enough’ should be one’s aim.”
Hana: “I make it a point to work out three days a week, or more if I can. I realized I could no longer put my health as my last priority. Pregnancy and labor took a large toll on my body. I often have joint and muscle pain. Regularly going to the gym is the only way I can work towards getting stronger and feeling like myself. It is also one of the only times I have time to be with my own thoughts. I used to skip out on the gym, but now I think of it as a critical part of my overall mental and physical wellbeing.”
I think it’s important to remember that perfection is impossible and that often ‘good enough’ should be one’s aim. -Rumaan Alam
Tune in next week for Part 2, where we’ll discuss overcoming longterm and daily obstacles, ways these parents foster creativity at home for their children, and life hacks they’ve picked up along the way to help with the day-to-day.