Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How Becoming a Mother Helped Me Make the Leap From Baby Bottles To Professional Artist

Jennifer Swift is a stay at home mom and artist living in Plymouth MN. She has been published in several national art publications, has an etsy shop, and is soon to be a published author. Her book, Creative Bloom: Wire and Fabric Projects and Inspirations (North Light) will be released this November. To read more of Jen’s writing visit her blog at http://blog.birdfromawire.com.

I know it's commonly thought that as mothers we have no time, no energy, and no need to push ourselves outside of our roles as mothers. It's not true, and I can attest to that. I tried to throw my whole self into being a mother when my son was born and ended up brainstorming marketing ideas, or innovative product design while breastfeeding. I pestered my employed friends with suggestions, and generally made a nuisance of myself. Then I joined a moms group and after a while signed on as their crafts person. The projects I would come up with usually meant 10-20 hours of elaborate prepping for a 15 min. project. It was at one of the meetings when they were talking about doing a cookie dough mix in a jar recipe that it came to me. I heard myself begging to have them let me hand embroider 20+ pieces of fabric to decorate the top of the mason jars. Now there was absolutely no need for elaborately embroidered covers for these jars. A little raffia and a printed out label were all they were going for. In the middle of this exchange I realized from the looks I was getting that I was going too far. But I needed to have something creative to do with myself or I'd go crazy. Really, it almost happened. Fortunately my mom and husband both realized I needed a hobby and my sanity was restored. They pushed me into knitting and from there I eventually moved to stitching, and from there to experimenting with wire and mini art quilts.

Yes, motherhood demands a lot of us, but if we don't keep some of that back for ourselves I believe we begin to feel lost. So I joined the ranks of mompreneurs and opened an etsy shop. Now, here is how I believe being a mother actually makes me a better artist and businesswoman. Once I became a mom I became much more assertive. Like a mother bear, if you mess with my family, I turn into someone the pre-mom me wouldn't even have recognized and that carries over into the other areas. I dared to start sending in magazine proposals and even a book proposal. I wouldn't have been able to assert myself like that before. I've also learned to make the most of the small moments. Pre-kid I would bemoan the fact that I didn't have enough time or energy after work to do anything substantive. Post- kid me thinks she was a whiner and you can find snatches in most any day to do something creative or to promote your business. Becoming a mother gives you multi-tasking skills like you wouldn't believe, and now I feel strange if I'm not working on several things at once.

I've also learned a lot about the completely underrated discipline of "sucking it up". As a mother you have to suck it up all the time. Planned on having a bath after dinner but your two-year-old now needs one instead? You suck it up. As an artist/business owner there is a lot of my job that I don't enjoy doing- like listing art. I love selling it but hate how tedious the process of writing descriptions, taking photographs, editing photographs, and going through the whole listing process is. Before, just the thought of that process would have paralyzed me. Although I just want to make stuff and sell stuff, I've learned that to be successful at that, there's a whole lot more I need to make myself pay attention to. So while other moms at the library are walking out with the latest bestseller or parenting guide, I'm struggling with a stack of books on guerilla marketing, social media, as well as several Dr. Seuss.

It's a different experience but one I wouldn't trade for anything. Being a mother and an artist, and a small business owner all go hand in hand sometimes in unexpected ways and it's such a joy when they intermingle. I listen to crafty podcasts while cooking dinner, I read marketing before bed, I blog with PBS kids playing in the background. Unexpectedly, the artist thing has come in very handy as a mother too. My son has the coolest handmade Halloween costumes, and when they need a mom to do a craft for a school party I'm there with t-shirts I hand-doodled robots on for the kids to color.

I know I'm not alone. There are moms I talk to every week who are realizing that they need to do more with their lives than just mother. Doing something creative or outside the mom realm gives them a sense of identity that might otherwise have become lost. They feel a little guilty about it, so I get to encourage them by telling them my truth. Which is that because I allow myself to create and plan a business and have aspirations for my art I'm actually better at being a mother. I'm not wrapping up my dreams and foisting them on my son. I don't live and die by his latest milestone achievement or lack thereof. I obsess less and enjoy it more. I hope they believe me.
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