One of the questions that comes up time and time again when I talk to mothers about setting up their own business, is "How do you juggle it all?"
It's a fair question. The mental and emotional load we carry as we work to nourish and grow an actual human is something we still don't give ourselves enough credit for. It's humungous. And no matter how much support we have around us, the mental load is usually still almost entirely carried by us alone (illustrator Emma described it perfectly in her feminist comic, You Should Have Asked).
Motherhood is already so much more than I ever knew I was capable of. It is exhausting, it is relentless, it is joyous, it is life-altering. But it is not everything. I need to do more, and be more than a mother. I love and need to work.
So how do we make room in our lives and our heads for that work? For our creative passion?
Over the coming months I'll be interviewing amazing women who are building creative, heart-lead businesses around their growing families. I'm not expecting anyone to have all the answers - it's really, really bloody hard - but I do think we can all benefit from each other's experiences and honesty.
This month, I start with my own small business and family.
A little bit about my business and my little ones:
I have been running my letterpress business, Inky and the Beast since 2014. I started with zero knowledge, an Adana 8x5, and some loose type in our spare room in Wandsworth. I now have a little bit more knowledge, and four presses in our garden studio in Epsom.
I used to design, print and sell everything from greeting cards to event stationery, run workshops, create bespoke commissions, and sell at fairs and wholesale, but when the twins arrived it got too hard to manage all the different aspects. Over the last year I have been letting go of different parts of the business and now just focus on teaching others to print in my letterpress workshops. It's the part that makes me happy, and the part that ties in with Silly Heart which is where I feel my future lies.
My girls, Poppy and Clementine, are two years old now and it took a long time for me to get back into the swing of things after their premature arrival. I feel like I'm only just back in the groove now, to be honest!
They could not be any less identical. Clem is our blond, blue-eyed drama queen who is shy of people but jumps head first into new experiences. She is chatty while her sister is quiet. Poppy is our green-eyed, (mostly) even-tempered brunette. She's not a fan of new sensations, new foods... new anything really. They both love books, bubbles and puddles. Neither have got the whole "sleeping thing" yet.
How I structure my days and weeks:
I have two main modes now - mum mode, and work mode. I try not to switch between the two more than a couple of times a day as I'd never build up any momentum.
The girls go to a childminder two days a week. I don't drive so on those days I walk the 20 minutes there and back and have turned this walk into part of my working ritual. On the way home, if I don't have a workshop to teach, I try not to rush too much. I listen to inspiring podcasts and I grab a pastry from the bakery to eat when I'm back at my desk with a coffee.
When the girls are at the minders I am in work mode. There could be toys all over the floor, and a pile of washing to be done but I will not so much as look at it until the girls are back in the house. It took a bit of discipline but I'm lucky that when I'm at my desk, or in the studio I can't see any of the mess!
I keep an overall work/life monthly To Do list, and a daily priority list. I work slowly and purposefully. I plan. I let go of ideas and new projects that are more stressful than enjoyable. I say no to work that doesn't fit with me and my life, and I'm open and honest with whomever I work with about limitations on my time and energy. I used to worry about sounding unreliable but of course it means the opposite, as managing expectations upfront means there is less chance of disappointment further down the line.
When the girls are at home, if they've been sleeping ok then I will tackle some work during naps and in the evenings. If I'm sleep deprived I know no one is going to benefit from me pushing myself and burning out so, again, I let things go.
On 'mum guilt':
Something that has hugely frustrated me since being pregnant is the pressure we feel to be happy and grateful all the time, even when we're exhausted and at the end of our tether. The idea that if we want something more, or more time for ourselves that we are somehow wishing our children's lives away, or wishing them away! It's absurd and so detrimental because it implies that our feelings aren't valid, so yes, though I do still sometimes suffer from mum guilt, I try to be satisfied with what I am accomplishing and how much my girls are getting from me. Because it's a lot.
I play with them and read to them and feed them healthy foods (and unhealthy food). I cuddle and kiss them and tell them I love them. And yes I scroll on my phone while they play, and I sit them in front of the TV so I can answer some emails or just have a moment's peace. I both marvel at them growing out of another pair of leggings, and daydream about them being old enough to go on a day trip without the buggy and a huge bag, and feed themselves, and use the toilet. That's not wishing their lives away. That to me is looking forward to getting to know them even better and sharing more of the world with them.
How working for myself feels, and what it means to me:
It feels wonderful and satisfying to know I'm building something of my own, on my own terms. The flip side is that it's tense and stressful to not have a guaranteed income, and to know that I need to keep working at it to keep it growing. I don't miss the commute into town or the office politics, but I miss having friends in my colleagues as working from home can be lonely. Like most things in life (especially motherhood) it comes with ups and downs!
Though it means I sometimes have to work evenings and weekends, being self employed does mean more flexibility for our family, time off when it's needed, and a schedule that suits all of us.
I also hope it means that the girls will grow up with a happy mum, and that it shows them they can make something of their own, building a life around whatever it is that makes them content and working towards their own version of success.
Though I have plenty of days where I wish I could get more work done, I know how fortunate I am to have so much time with my daughters. Watching them grow up, and learning alongside them. I feel like they are genuinely happy children, and that's not something I take for granted.
Next month, I'll be sharing the story of another creative mother. If you have any questions or subjects you'd like covered in this series, or know someone you think I should interview, I'd love to hear from you.