I’m a new mom + How I’m staying productive & creative as a freelancer

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When I was pregnant, I shook off any suggestion that I wouldn’t be able to carry on in my career exactly as I always had.

The notion that my creativity and productivity would be sapped by ‘mommy brain’ or that my professional development would stall because it would no longer be a priority, was (and still is) utterly sexist in my view. After all, nobody asks fathers how they will continue to be successful in their careers after having children.

However, after becoming a mother, things did change.

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No, I didn’t develop mommy brain, and I didn’t stop prioritizing my work (quite the opposite actually).

What I did have to do was acknowledge that my life had changed significantly, and that I would need to make some changes in order to maintain the career trajectory I want.

Here’s how I do it (and how you can, too):

Take time to develop technical and creative skills

Truthfully, this is something that I have always done.

I haven’t allowed becoming a mother interfere with my professional development.

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Any web designer knows that there are always new technologies, new techniques, and new trends that they need to master in order to remain marketable. This is why I make learning new things a priority.

Of course, I believe that learning the latest software or understanding how to use certain tools is only part of the equation. I also dedicate time to drawing, painting, going to art museums, and reading books and magazines on subjects ranging from architecture to Claymation.

I’m able to do this because for me, this isn’t optional.

I don’t work on learning new things and creating art, ‘if I have time.’ I commit to do these things every week (my minimum is 12 hours per week), and I make it happen.

Some weeks, getting in 12 hours of personal education time is easy. Other weeks, it’s a real struggle, but I still make it happen.

  • Sometimes, this means that we read one chapter at bedtime instead of two.
  • Sometimes it means that dinner is turkey sandwiches and fruit, and that our hour per day screen time rule gets broken.

Do I feel guilty? Not even a little bit.

Set up a full home office

Before I became a mother, the majority of my work was done in the studio space I rented outside of my home. I rarely used my home office for any design work.

Once my son was born, things slowly shifted. I wanted to spend less time away from home. So, I slowly started purchasing the equipment and furniture I needed to create an in-home studio.

Today, my home office is my only office. I save commute time, and it works well for me because it helps me to remain flexible.

For example, when my son was sick recently, I was able to take care of him, and still work and meet deadlines. I couldn’t have done that if my workspace wasn’t in my home.

Read more here about how to make your home office a sanctuary (and never rent office space again!).

Get organized

I’ve discovered that the more organized I am, the more time I have for honing my creative skills.

Before I became a mother, I had a tendency to accumulate piles of paperwork on my desk, and I spent a lot of time searching for things both in my office and on my computer.

That stopped working for me after my son was born.

I tried several different methods of getting organized:

  • I burned through a dozen or so apps, that didn’t quite work for me.
  • I read books on organization.

Finally, I settled on a combination of Evernote, Pinterest, and a giant whiteboard calendar. Find what keeps you organized and rock it!

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Stay active in the design community

This probably reflects the biggest change in my career since becoming a mother.

To some extent, I used to be a 9-to-5 designer.

Yes, I was always taking a class or working my way through some tutorial to learn some piece of technology, and I put in more than my share of working projects after hours to meet deadlines.

What I didn’t do, in my off hours, was associate much with other designers. I certainly didn’t go online seeking out designer blogs or the opportunity to engage in shop talk with other designers.

I think I spent so many sequential hours per day focused on my job impacted that when I was done at the end of the day, I was done.

Now, I feel a greater need to put myself out there and connect with other designers.

(This is a bit of a two-edged sword.)

On one hand, reaching out to other designers has been amazing on both a personal and professional level.

On the other hand, I cannot deny that one of the reasons that drove me to become more active in the online design community was my belief that I needed to prove my relevance as a designer after becoming a parent.

To be honest, I’m not 100% comfortable with the messaging behind that need.

However, at the end of the day, I’ve gained a lot from this and would recommend it to any designer.

Incorporate art into parenting time

Sometimes, my son and I work on art projects together.

We create. We collaborate. We argue. It’s amazing.

Then, sometimes he takes the lead and I act as his assistant and do what he wants in order to help him. He also frequently ‘works’ next to me while I’m working on projects for clients.

This helps us both in so many ways.

Most importantly, we get to spend time together. My son also gets to see what I know how to do and how happy I am doing it.

This creates a dynamic in our household where my work and my interests don’t take away from the time I spend with my family.  Instead, they are the things that that improve and drive my relationships with the people that I love.

Ultimately

…it’s all about setting priorities and refusing to buy into certain myths about work and motherhood. My passion for design and my ambition didn’t waiver after becoming a mother. In fact, they became much stronger.

I’ve just needed to make adjustments to make my life and career work in slightly different ways.

Are you a parent and freelancer? How did your career change after kids? What adjustments did you make in your life? Leave me a note in the comments!

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About Leona Henryson

Leona Henryson is a devoted mother freelancing as a graphic/web designer and creative blogger at Smart Paper Help. Follow @leonahenryson, Facebook and Google+

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Comments

  1. Hi Leona: Thank you for your honesty about how you combined parenting with your freelance design career. I think it’s really awesome advice (even if you’re not a parent yet)! I had my own successful freelance business for 8 years before I became a mom. I moved my office home when my first son was born; and, this really helped me care for him and keep things going. I also began to research some tangent paths (writing & illustrating children’s books). I am an older mom — I was just shy of my 39th birthday when my first son was born. Things worked well for the first few years of my mothering; but, after my second son was born, when I was 41, I found that I couldn’t handle the deadline pressure associated with my freelance work and mothering a (very active) toddler and a newborn. I also found after 10 years in business many of my clients were “turning over” to try someone new. I chose to give my business the back seat at this point, because I just didn’t have the energy or temperament to pursue new clients and manage my home with little kids. I kept up with software upgrades, new equipment, and went back to community college for classes in web design and Photoshop. But scaling back with work gave me the time to have a third child, my daughter, whom I love. I had 3 kids within 3 years and 5 months when I was over 35; it worked for me to back off on my career because I found that babies and toddlers were extremely physically demanding, and that’s not my best stage of mothering. Now, my kids are 15, 13, and nearly 12, and I’m starting to get back into my groove. With pre-teens and teenagers, I have a lot more freedom than when I was mothering little ones. I have no regrets; and now I’m learning about some new markets like surface design. Design is such a wonderful field because the options are endless! Best wishes to you for continued success.

  2. Zofia Szyszka says:

    Hi there, I personally think your article is very missleading, or perhaps it shouldn’t be titled “new mom”. I think you’d struggle to find a “new mom” out there who has 12 hours + a week for herself not to mention design work. The first year of motherhood is more often then not a blur of physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, emotional roller-coaster and lack of time for anything, not even a shower some days. Unless your baby is in childcare from a very early age, chances are that your days will we consumed by breastfeeding, changing nappies, doing laundry or dishes, preparing baby food, trying to catch up with some sleep and trying to make the baby sleep….I think it’s not wise giving others false hope. Having a new baby or even a toddler is extremally demanding – they require constant attention and supervision until capable to play on their own which doesn’t start till pass the first year and then still only last for 10 or 15min at the time. There may be a little time for doing some work occasionally if grandparents are willing to help or your partner doesn’t work full-time – otherwise be prepared to pop your baby in daycare or make sure you have enough savings to survive on one income for the first year or two….sorry but that’s the reality and I think it’s important that mums are honest with each other and stop settings others for a big disappointment.

  3. Shana Haynie says:

    I decided when I found out that I was pregnant that I was going to commit myself to actually learning how to design like a professional. I had been self-taught in photoshop, but lacked the skills in the rest of the creative suite. I thought it would be a “good job” for me to have as a new mom. Oddly enough, I never ended up freelancing because it just didn’t end up that way, but my son is about to turn two, and I literally just finished my AS in Graphic Design from an online school. It took A LOT longer than I was expecting, but eventually, I got it done because I was very motivated and I had A TON of help.
    In the time right after my son was born, my husband and I decided to start a digital marketing agency and blog. I basically took on a lot of schooling, switched careers, and had a kid all at the same time. I’ve learned an exorbitant amount about marketing and design (and parenting for that matter) in the past two years. You can still be a good mom, have a career, and learn new things every day, but I couldn’t have done any of it alone, and it’s not without giant amounts of sacrifice. Our son goes to child care 40+ hours a week sometimes (which is hard for us mentally and financially), and we have family that jumps in to help us out monetarily and with child care pretty often. Without the people helping (and believing in) us, we wouldn’t have been able to take these leaps. And I certainly never would have ever been able to finish my degree without my husband’s support. It’s all about what your priorities are, and what works for your individual family.
    Now that he is older, things are starting to calm down a little bit and our business is really starting to take off. I guess all I’m saying is that having a career and being a parent can be extremely difficult, and it helps to have a solid support system. And women should realize that choosing to be a freelancer is not the same thing as choosing to be a stay at home mom who works while the baby sleeps. Obviously you can’t work when you’re home alone with an infant. So anyone who is looking to freelance is going to need to have some sort of support system in place or some money to pay for child care, because there isn’t a lot of down time with a baby. But if you’ve got these things, you can pretty much do whatever you need to do to be happy with your family and successful in your career, whatever it may be.

  4. Hi Leona. I’m a mom, graphic design freelancer and also have a full time gig. My life is exhausting. I loved everything you said in your post ….sounds like my life!

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