Continuing my series on working mums, I now welcome Jen.
I really hope that we will all be able to learn something from reading each others stories and potentially find something which helps us individually in working out a better way of juggling going to work with having a family. It will also be interesting to see what themes, if any, run through the various answers, and what we can take from that, if anything.
Jen lives in California and works as a surface designer. She also runs a popular blog about home design, renovation, craft projects, work projects. She has two boys, Oliver (2) and Leo (1).
Hi Jen. Thanks for answering my questions and giving an insight into being a working mum.
Q: in what sector are you employed?
A: I have my degree in graphic design and work as a surface designer creating artwork that is licensed to paper and fabric companies. I also run a popular blog about home design, renovation, craft projects, work projects, and my family.
Q: how long have you been in that sector?
A: I’ve been in my career sector for 12 years.
Q: why did you follow your chosen career path?
A: From a young age I always wanted to be an artist. In college I learned what Graphic Design was (this was before it was hugely popular as a career) and immediately knew it was what I wanted to do with my life.
Q: How long did you take for maternity leave (each maternity leave)?
A: I work from my home office now, and so when I had baby #1 I only took 2 days off of work. I was working against some crazy deadlines, and just couldn’t take any time off. Luckily he was a really good baby. I would nurse him, hand him off to whomever was in the house (my husband or family), work for 2 hours, and then nurse again. Rinse repeat 24/7 for the first 2 weeks of his life. Then I finally got a little respite and went back to a less-stringent work schedule for several weeks before starting on new deadlines.
With baby #2 I vowed to take at least a few weeks off. But after the first week I got asked (begged) to design a line in a week’s time (usually they take a month). A bonus that I couldn’t refuse was offered so I took the job. My husband was out of town that week so I had to find a neighbour lady who could come over a few hours a day and help tend my older child while I nursed, worked and let the baby nap next to me.
Q: did you return to the same role after your maternity leave?
A: Yes. I have my own freelance business. So no one is there to do the work other than me! With my second child, I did drop some of my clientele and commitments knowing that I would not be able to take on as many projects.
Q: did you feel any pressure to return earlier or later than you did?
A: Definitely pressure to return earlier. Mostly self-inflicted though. I have to manage my own time knowing what my deadlines are. Working for yourself can be a bit more complicated than working for someone else. No one else can pull up the slack when you’re not feeling well or recovering from birth.
Q: what factors influenced your choice?
A: Keeping my clients happy, bringing in extra money to balance out the additional expense of another child. Overall the desire to keep my business thriving.
Q: if you breastfed, were you still doing this in some form when you returned to work and did you return date/timing either influence your decision or was your return to work date influenced by this issue?
A: Because I have the flexibility of working from home, I was able to breastfeed as long as I wanted with my kids and not have to sacrifice in either realm. I just worked breastfeeding around my schedule and enjoyed the breaks and bonding with my babies.
Q: do you have any role models in your sector, employment or generally?
A: Yes, in the industry that I work in most of the companies are own and ran by women. I’ve always had a huge amount of support from all the women that I have come in contact with. Because I’ve been in the industry so long, I’ve seen all these business owners start and build their business while having young children.
Q: why are they a role model?
A: Being able to manage and grow a business and have young kids/still having babies is no small task. Seeing them accomplish so much gave me no excuses of why I couldn’t do it too.
Q: did your own mother return to work?
A: Yes. My mother has 7 kids – I’m the youngest. My mom was a SAHM for many years, but when I was in all-day school (age 6) she returned to the workplace. I’m sure it was a lot of work for her to do both especially as my father worked quite a bit. But I don’t ever recall her having a bad day, or even yelling at us. She was a great mother and a wonderful example of balancing life and being happy with what she was doing in life.
Q: any comments on whether that influenced your decision?
A: I think it did on a deeper level. I never really thought of my mom as a working mom growing up. But now that I am a working mom, I have only felt support from both of my parents. This is probably in part to her having worked. If she had always stayed home, I might feel some nagging in the back of my head that I needed to be just like her in order to be a good mom.
Q: are you a member of any mothers/women networking events? if so, which ones/ what kind and what kind of support do you find it provides, if any?
A: I belong to the Utah Women’s Creative Guild. This is an awesome networking resource for me, and I am able to be influenced daily by women who “do it all” so to speak.
Q: do you think working as a mum is important? why?
A: I think it’s very important to me. If you had asked me that 10-15 years ago, I would have never said that though. However now, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Working hard at objective-based projects helps my self-esteem and self-identity more than I can even describe. Almost daily I have a sense of pride at what I’ve accomplished. There is also a huge amount of growth being an artist. The more I work/practice, the better I get. I love knowing that I’m spending my days building a valuable skill set.
Q: what kind of childcare do you have?
A: Currently we have a part-time Nanny who comes 20 hours/week. We’ve only had her for a few months and it’s helped tremendously in being able to focus on work. We are currently designing/building a house. So every moment is booked and over- booked. Having someone we can rely on to watch the kids makes all the difference in the world. I also prefer to have in-home childcare because I want to be around my children when they are this young. Where we live child-care is more affordable than other areas.
Q: how do you balance the various roles in your life?
A: Not sleeping! There is so much that I love to do and be that I really have to manage my time well. Some things always end up being low-priority – like blogging, social media, and crafting. When I’m with my kids in the afternoon/evening I try to give them my undivided attention. I put on music and dance around – let my older son help me cook dinner, or build a fort and play with both of them while my husband is making dinner. I do my best to separate work time from family time. But once those kids are back in bed, I work for another 4-6 hours. Luckily I have an incredibly supportive husband who also works from home and a lot of hours. So we are working side-by-side most nights and can get some semblance of couple-time while we are working.
Q: do you have a partner, what do they do for work and how does this affect your ability and decisions regarding your work/childcare arrangements?
A: My husband owns his own Industrial Design consultancy. He also works part-time as an adjunct professor at BYU. Having him work from home most of the time allows me quite a bit of flexibility with needing to go to meetings or on business trips. He also understand my work craziness because he’s building his business and that takes a tremendous amount of commitment and time. We do our best to support each other by sharing child-care duties as needed. Honestly we just take life a week at a time and try to arrange our week to accommodate our individual work schedules as best we can so that we both have the support we need.
Q: do you think there is any stigma being a working mum? have you experienced any issues, either at work, or from other mums or family members?
A: Yes… and no. I live in an area where most mothers do not work. I’ve never felt judged by women in my generation – but I don’t think most understand the level of commitment that is required to have a career and children at the same time. I truly don’t have time for a lot of extra social or church/community commitments, and so I find myself somewhat isolated in a culture where most ladies “lunch”
Q: (I appreciate this is quite nosy, but I’m throwing it out there) are you any better off financially from going out to work?
A: Absolutely. I have been able to cultivate a very successful career and that helps me make sacrifices, knowing that I’m providing for my family’s future.
Thanks so much Jen; so interesting to hear from working mums in other parts of the world and how we still face the same issues and pressures.
Jen can be found on Twitter: @jenallyson and Instagram: @theprojectgirl