5 Things I Learned from Motherhood About Running an Art Business
Motherhood is messy - emotionally, mentally, physically and literally. It will push you to the edges of yourself and then ask you to go further. Raising children requires all of your love, your energy and your patience but the reward is so worth the effort. Do you know what else is messy? Building a business, especially when you are doing it in parallel to being a mom.
If I could advise anyone who is wanting to become a parent, wanting to start a business or the crazy few who are planning to do them both at the same time, it would be this:
1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I thought the moment that I waddled out of the hospital with my newborn baby I would magically transform into a mother who immediately knew what to do. I was wrong. You are quite literally thrown into motherhood the moment you arrive home without any hand-holding or manual (or one that you have time to read). Be gracious with yourself, you are a newborn mom too, you will learn as you grow. Do your best to roll with the constant changes (hello teething) and don't see every set back as a failure but rather as a chapter that will pass.
The reality of starting a business is that you will get a lot of things wrong before you start getting things right. Acknowledging that you don’t have all of the answers but that you are willing to learn will make your journey so much smoother. You cannot fail if you learn from your mistakes, if you stay curious and if you adapt to unforeseen challenges (like renovating a home or moving countries).
2. Ask for help and learn to delegate.
Asking for help and inconveniencing others has never been easy for me so it took a while to master this step as a new mom. My Postpartum therapist made me realize that no one likes to ask for help yet we all like to feel needed. That delineation helped me realize that not only was it an important step for me to ask but it was especially important for my loved ones to hear that I needed them. Whatever you do, don't be an island and try and handle it all on your own. You will crash and burn. Lean on your community and if you don't have one where you live reach out and find one (there are great mother groups online). If you have a partner, divide up your responsibilities or alternate days on who is doing what (early mornings). It takes a village because we are not meant to do it alone.
In business, just like motherhood, you quickly learn that you can't do it all on your own. Focus on what you are the best at and find ways to hand off the tasks that don't require your attention. With a limited number of hours to spend on my business, I have found ways to automate processes and hand off tasks like picking up prints and shipping so that I can focus on creating art. Your time costs you money so be thoughtful in how you spend it.
3. Set boundaries.
On the Enneagram Personality Test, I am a Type 4 (Individualist) with a strong dose of Type 2 (Giver). Since I was young I often put the needs of others before my own so it was not surprising to learn that I was a giver. Being aware of this trait long before becoming a mother made me realize that I needed measures in place to protect time for myself. Painting became my lifeline - it was the one place where being a mom ended and I began. As my son started to get more mobile I quickly learned that I needed space to create, not just a corner in a living room. Here are my 2 examples of boundaries:
- Get a physical space: A home studio, an office, a converted closet... whatever it is have a space that allows you the ability to close off the distractions of everyday life and focus on your business. It took me years to finally rent an actual studio space so every time I close that door behind me I feel an immense amount of gratitude and responsibility to honour it. Keep your space clean, make it welcoming and make it yours.
- Protect your time: Being a mom will always be the top priority for me so it can be easy to put off work for the responsibilities of my personal life. I have learned that blocking off hours in google calendar is the only way I can guarantee that things will get done. Set clear hours with your partner or get childcare and claim back time for your business (and for you). If help is not an option, toddlers go to bed at 7:30 PM and if you're lucky will sleep until 6:30 AM - make the most of these hours.
4. Know that work/life balance is not 50/50.
Work/life balance doesn't always look even. Sometimes one part of your life will demand all of your attention and that is okay. The first 3 months of motherhood were a whirlwind of sleepless nights, emotional rollercoasters and cluster feedings. I started to measure success by whether or not I left the house rather than by how much I got done. This is a great season for dreaming up goals and planning but not a the time for doing.
Guilt does not serve you so let go of it and focus on what you can control. If you are not able to meet the expectations that others have placed on you, if you are falling behind on deadlines or if you are missing out on too many special moments then learn to flex. This is the blessing of having your own business, you can choose your hours and set your customer's expectations. The curse of having your own business is that you can never fully shut off and leave work at the office. There will be seasons where you simply cannot have it all, so learn to flow with it and set up systems or buffers to help accommodate your ever-changing world (Covid).
5. Know that you are capable of SO much more than you realize.
My 30-hour labour was one hell of an initiation process into motherhood. I have to admit though, it taught me that I was WAY more resilient, strong and capable than I ever knew. I had been selling myself short for so long that I started to believe it. When you become a parent it is the ability to persist and be present that helps you get through the especially exhausting days. That tenacity is what helps you grow, learn and adapt when the challenges inevitably role in.
I heard this quote on the Creative Pep Talk podcast the other day that I wrote down, "Know who you are and do it on purpose" from Dolly Parton. Know who you are, know what you have to offer, know what fills you up, prioritize it and deliver it wrapped in a bow to the world. Being a mother forces you to face your insecurities and recognize your strengths and as a result, you find a deep inner clarity of self. Apply that clarity, those findings and those values to your business.
Building a fulfilling art career has made me a better mother and being a mother has made me a better business owner. These roles have pushed me out of my comfort zone and have required all of my energy and then some but they have also been the most fulfilling accomplishments of my life (along with being a wife). Watching my son grow and sharing my art practice with him is a privilege that I will never take for granted.