Balancing Motherhood with a Creative Business / by Aftyn Shah

 

I no longer believe in work-life balance. I think it’s a myth. And, like many other myths, I think it’s rooted in momentary half-truths, which of course leave out a lifetime’s worth of details. Frustrating, messy, and totally robust, if utterly mundane details. Instead, I’ve come to realize there will always be an ebb and flow of priorities. Sometimes the waves are gentle, and we’re able to ride them easily, and other times we’re tossed around until we might be pulled under. We’re up and down and here and there, and sometimes just holding on and praying for sanity.

Can you tell I’ve felt more like I’m in the rough waters lately?

Beyond the Instagram Squares

I find myself scrolling through Instagram and seeing idyllic photos of mothers contentedly creating while their little ones play at their feet or sleep wrapped to their chests. And then I find myself posting photos of adorable chubby hands “helping” me work in the studio or happily crawling around my table, like they fit in easily into my process.

And it’s such a farce.

Parenting is exhausting. It's joy-filled and beautiful, but bringing up tiny humans, helping them thrive and become good people, is a massive undertaking. It’s a full-time endeavor, 24-hours of every single day. Some moments, I feel like I’m the best mom in the world; others, I worry I’m completely failing these boys. Most days are somewhere in between that very broad spectrum, and I think that's normal for most parents.

Add in any kind of employment (whether you work in or out of the home) or a similarly demanding responsibility, and you’re going to inevitably face conflict. Struggle. Frustration. Disappointment. A lot of feelings.

Small Children Don't Make Great Helpers

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I started R+W as a sort of hobby, a mental stretch activity after a brain injury. I had my one son at home with me, back when we were in St. Louis, and he went to daycare for two or three full days each week. I had a wealth of time (approximately 30 hours to myself) to rest, go to my doctors’ appointments, do my cognitive therapies, focus on diet, hike, create, tidy the house, and fulfill the very few orders I had in the beginning. I had a rhythm and everything felt easy.

Fast forward to today. I have two boys now (SJ is four, Sam will be one at the end of June) and R+W has grown into a full-blown business. A small one (hi, it’s just me), but a business all the same. Unfortunately, while R+W has grown, my dedicated hours have disappeared. SJ goes to nursery school for part of the day, but I have Sam with me full-time, and he’s a handful.

Let’s just say, when you see his chubby little hands in photos, it’s obviously cute, but I’m not holding him in my lap because I love the stinker so much (I do). It’s because that twenty-pound tornado of a child believes it’s his purpose in life to attack everything by either beating it into the ground or chewing it to smithereens. His only goal at this point is to conquer through destruction, and that could be his brother’s Lego towers or the artwork I took hours to create.

Also, he might not walk, but he climbs. He scales the safety gate and laughs. This kid is like a mischievous little monkey.

So, here I am, like any small business owner, trying to get stuff done. We wear so many hats, am I right? Artist, webmaster, social media strategist, copywriter, photographer, bookkeeper and accountant, admin, packer/shipper, supply manager… But I’m also trying to keep this kid alive and from devastating our house. And, on the subject of our house, I’m also the one trying to keep it presentable to the point that we don’t hide behind our couch if the neighbors stop by.

(I want to note, before you make any assumptions, that my husband is amazing and supportive and a great father, but he works full-time himself and is also enrolled in graduate school right now. When he's home and we're all together, we try to emphasize family time.)

All of this to say that sometimes parenthood and running a business feel like two diametrically opposed objectives. If you feel this way, you’re not alone.

You. Are. Not. Alone.

Being a “mompreneur” has become a bit of a cliché these days, and there is this image of women who somehow manage to fit it all in and get it done while we carry our babes around in wraps or on our hips. Our houses are full of gorgeous houseplants we always remember to water, our windows let in beautiful natural light, and we cook amazing meals--all of this on top of creating nonstop!

This is not real life.

And no amount of chanting #HustleHarder or “You’ve got this, mama!” on social media is going to make it easier. If you take everyone at their word, we all seem to be doing so darn well, like it’s easy. But that almost does a disservice to the effort.

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It’s not easy.

You are not alone. I want you to know that, from me to you. So many of us are struggling behind the scenes of these little square pictures you see posted. That doesn't mean we're unhappy or can't recognize our luck in doing what we love. It just means so many of us are wishing for another five hours in the day (preferably when the babies are miraculously sleeping).

It Takes a Village

There might be that one in a million mother whose sweet children cooperate throughout her studio time and play nicely, but more likely there are temper tantrums about breakfast, shoe standoffs, and messes happening while she tries to eke out three minutes of work whenever possible. And, if those things aren’t there, I guarantee she either has a baby who sleeps beautifully and never fusses or she has help. A village. Either she pays for that village or she has wonderfully supportive family and friends who can help out.

Which brings me to one of the changes I’ve been hinting at for my family. At the end of May, we are welcoming a wonderful young woman into our home to help with our children. For the first time ever, I will have regular studio time, dedicated creative periods. I don’t think I can properly convey in words how excited how I am.

To be totally frank, I have felt like I’m drowning these past couple months. My orders are running up against my internal two-week deadline for shipment, I’m painfully behind on emails (sorry!), and I have been turning down opportunities I really want. On top of this, I feel like I’m not the mother or wife or friend or daughter that I want to be.

So, there it is. Life is not Instagram, which we all know, but sometimes need reminding. Sometimes we need help. I want to be very transparent as I make this change in my business, because when June comes and I'm able to focus more on R+W I don't want anyone to think I'm doing it alone.