7 Mantras That Guide My Days as a Working Mom
I love hearing about how other artists/mothers balance their roles in each realm, so I thought I would share what a typical day is like for me at this moment in time. The last time I shared on this topic was in the fall of 2021, when my youngest was 11 months old. He turned 2 in November, so things have changed a lot since then.
This is a typical day except…there are almost no typical days. So in some ways this post is aspirational. This is what happens when no one is sick, and we have had one virus after another (or sometimes, like in the last two weeks, three viruses at once) in our house since the cold weather arrived. So there has been a lot of shuffling, working from home, bringing one or both kids to the studio. But this is the plan right now, and when it works it works pretty well.
I am so, so lucky to have a partner who shares the parenting and working responsibilities with me. And the fact that I have choices about both work and childcare is a tremendous gift, and one of the main reasons that I am committed to working for myself despite all the challenges.
Making decisions about childcare have been some of the most difficult I’ve had to make, and there have been plenty of moments along the way when this topic would have been too tender to share about. But we are in a good place right now, so I want to offer this snapshot in case it is helpful to another artist trying to figure out how to take care of their family and pursue a creative dream.
Lucas (he’ll be 5 at the end of this month) is in preschool at a wonderful Montessori-style K-2 school five minutes from our house, and Charlie started daycare at a great place on the way to the studio in January. It’s been a transition but he’s doing great, we’re lucky both our kids have great teachers.
Lucas: “When I'm growed up I'm gonna be…[dramatic pause and winky smirk] a racecar driver.”
Me: “What about an artist like mommy?”
Lucas: “Oh yes, when I'm even more growed up. Racecar driver and then a artist. Racecar drivers are fifteen and artists are six one hundred teen.”
Buckle up momma!!
5:00-6:30 AM – Wake Up Mommy
“You can have it all, but not all at once.” - Betsy Pollak (Rachel’s Mom)
I wish I could tell you I wake up and spend an hour doing yoga and gratitude journaling and meal prepping but the truth is that most days I wake up to someone yelling "mommy!" sometimes followed by "I need a wipe!" This can happen at any unholy hour; if it happens after 6 that feels like a win. I know I will have many years after they grow up and leave me when I can drink coffee in bed and have actual conversations with my husband (or even peace and quiet, what a concept). For now I have lots of giggles and snuggles instead. And I get to have soggy leftover cereal and half eaten egg swammiches for breakfast!
I’m going to be honest and admit that many days we start with some screen time. It helps everyone stay calm until we’ve had a chance to get some coffee and food into us before the daily mayhem really gets going. Sometimes I can even do some drawing on my iPad during this time, usually with at least one baby attached to me.
8:15 AM – Work it Out
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” - Buddhist proverb
I’m not sure I believe this mantra is true in all circumstances but it sums up my current relationship to exercise. My two pregnancies wreaked havoc on my body (I had my kids at 36 and 38 so that probably had something to do with it) and daily exercise is the key to feeling good, or at least managing the inevitable aches and pains that are just my reality now as well as regulating my energy and mood, so I exercise after the kids leave for school/daycare (Dad does drop-off these days woohoo!).
I want to be clear this is a non-negotiable that I have done a great deal of negotiating to make time for (with myself, my partner and my kids)! I like running/walking outside if it's warm enough but lately in Indiana, it's not. Strength training is the most effective for managing/preventing my pain, so I mostly do that. If I’m extra tired or feel sick I just do some yoga/stretching. Lately I’ve been mixing in Beyonce dance workouts on YouTube for days when I feel overwhelmed or stressed out and it is a real mood booster.
9:30 AM – En Route
“Slow and steady growth is how strong businesses are built.” - Katie Hunt
I get myself together and drive 10 mins to the studio (even better if there's a new podcast by Katie Hunt or Bonnie Christine to listen to on the way. I’ve learned that what matters most when growing a business (and a family) is to show up every day and keep taking the next right step. You can’t skip anything and you can only think so far ahead, so the big goal I have in mind each day is to make measured, manageable progress. Depending on my husband's report of how daycare dropoff went I sometimes call the daycare through the bluetooth in our car on the way over to make sure Charlie is ok (he's always fine).
10 AM – Studio
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou
Lately when I arrive at the studio, before I start anything else, I've been writing a card to someone I care about. I've tried lots of different ways to fit this habit into my day (after lunch with a piece of chocolate, last thing I do before I leave for the day) but this is the first time it has stuck, I think because by doing it first I haven't had the chance to get involved in anything else yet, and I have plenty of energy. It reminds me why I do what I do: to help people nurture their most cherished relationships by making beautiful cards and gifts that help them express how they feel. I don’t do this because I’m an expert, I do it because it is something I have always wanted to be better at. I've realized that nurturing relationships is like everything else in life: if you want to do it, there has to be a part of the day when you actually do it. And a little planning (or strategic habit-forming - thanks James Clear!) can really help to make it happen.
Manage your energy not your time.
What I do next depends on the day of the week. There is always more to do than I have time for, and because my kids still often wake up in the night I’m usually less than rested. So I try to block my time, batch my work and have designated “on-stage” and “off-stage” time (my favorite expert on this topic is Michael Hyatt in his book Free to Focus). I always start with whatever feels the hardest since my energy peaks in the morning. Mondays and Thursdays are off-stage, I try to keep these reserved for deep work on new designs and big projects. Tuesdays we have a team meeting to touch base on new releases coming up and details having to do with inventory tracking and order fulfillment. On Wednesdays I meet with our Marketing Assistant Lauren (she works remotely from Michigan so we meet on Zoom) and I focus on writing blog posts like this one and planning our weekly retail and wholesale newsletters. When I start to fade and notice that even simple decisions are getting hard to make, I switch to carving blocks, a blissfully mindless task that I love doing.
One of my favorite things to work on these days is making repeating patterns and I fit this in wherever I can. It’s a new skill I learned last year and I’m having so much fun practicing (it takes a lot of practice!). I’m working on integrating my patterns into products and marketing projects for Heartell, as well as building on my portfolio for pitching to potential licensing partners. I’ve been entering the weekly design challenges on Spoonflower and plan to open a shop there soon so you’ll be able to purchase things like wallpaper, fabric and homegoods with Heartell patterns on them. On Friday afternoons I meet over Zoom with the surface pattern design study group I joined when I did Bonnie Christine’s Immersion course. I love seeing what they’ve been working on and getting feedback on my designs, it’s a highlight of my week.
3:30 PM – Preschool Pickup
Monday-Wednesday I pick up my oldest at preschool at 3:30, then we go and get his brother at daycare. When to stop working has been a fraught decision for me ever since I had kids. There is always more to be done at work, but I cherish this time in the afternoons when it’s just me and my boys. If it’s nice out we go to a park or the zoo, if not we go to the library or a cafe or if the boys are really lucky and I’m feeling energetic we hit Sky Zone or the bowling alley. I also love doing art projects with them but that is usually more of a weekend thing.
Sometimes we come back to the studio. We are lucky to have a nursery set up here and they LOVE to be here, running amok, playing with toys (or packaging supplies), eating snacks. If I have something I need to finish they are more than happy to watch a tablet while I work.
On Thursdays, Lucas stays for aftercare at his school so I can catch up on whatever needs to get done by the end of the week and we get Charlie a little later. On Fridays, our babysitter (she was with Lucas starting a few months into the pandemic and with Charlie part of the day until he started daycare at the beginning of this year so the boys love her) picks them up so my husband and I can go out to dinner. Date night is another highlight of the week so Fridays are pretty great normally. As I write this we haven’t had one in several weeks so fingers crossed for this week!
5 PM – Happy Hour
“Good enough is better than perfect.” - paraphrased from Kate Rope’s book Strong as a Mother
After being out all day the boys and I need some down time so they watch their shows and I do some combination of cooking, listening to NPR or podcasts or Skillshare classes, drink a glass of wine and draw on my iPad. We definitely lean on screen time in our family. And wine. And frozen foods. But I have decided that as a mother, I don’t want to strive for perfection. If my kids see me doing a good enough job, they will know that good enough is good enough for them too. If they see me trying to be perfect all the time, they will think that they, too, must be perfect, and we all know where that kind of striving can land you in life. So we are happy with our good-enough balance between educational activities and mindless cartoons, between the occasional veg and treat with lots of “doodles” (this is what Charlie calls plain noodles, which make up 90% of both my kids’ diets these days) and swammiches in between. As long as everything is packaged up with lots and lots of hugs and snuggles, I can keep all the shoulds and what-ifs at bay.
6 PM – Family Time
My value is not tied to my accomplishments.
I try very hard not to work in the evenings. It is important to have a life outside of work, to remember that I am not my art. My value is not tied to how many beautiful things I make (or sell!). Drawing is relaxing in some ways (I slip very quickly into the kind of state where you aren’t aware of anything except what you’re concentrating on, hours go by in seconds, etc.) but it also gets me worked up, and if I work late it takes ages to wind down and go to sleep. So in the evenings, we try to have dinner as a family. We are generally all at the table for a maximum of 4.5 minutes, so don’t get excited, this is not a Norman Rockwell scene I’m describing. It’s more an exercise in short order cooking, volume management and fielding fly balls (or food, or matchbox cars) than dinner, but I like to think of it as laying a foundation for future, more peaceful repasts.
The bath/bedtime/cleanup routine is the most chaotic time of day and can last up to two hours. So by the time that is done, my husband and I usually are ready to watch something (short) on TV and then read a few pages in bed before sleeping. I do like to look at art books or seed catalogs or other visual things at this time, I find the images filter into my thoughts and resurface in a recalibrated form as design ideas the next morning. But for the most part I try to turn the working part of my brain off at night.
I hope this has been fun, thank you for reading!