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Giving up My Career to Be a Mother Wasn’t an Option

Insights from seven years of juggling deadlines and playdates

I like to tell people that my child and my business have grown up together, but the reality is that this is less of a joke and actually just how my family has been living the past seven years. I got into wedding photography when I was two months pregnant, and through a combination of skill, timing, and good ole-fashioned hustle, I’ve been working as a photographer and freelance writer ever since.

I was pregnant when I shot my first wedding, and I got back in the game when my son was around five months old. So basically, this is what I’ve been doing his entire life. Because my work and my child have been so intimately woven together, and because I really, really wanted to be a stay-at-home mom who happened to have several jobs, I have (mostly happily) pieced together a life and a workflow that keep us all afloat and reasonably pleased. This doesn’t mean it’s been easy—in fact, it’s been terribly challenging—but it does mean it’s a path and challenge I have chosen, again and again. And since I’ve been working this way for seven years, I feel like I’ve learned a little bit that’s worth sharing.

Working from home and raising a kid is really hard

I can’t emphasize this point enough, and I try to hit it so hard every time I sit down with a friend to have a chat about how I do what I do and raise my kid at the same time. I have seen many a fellow parent try to start a business and end up crashing and burning a few months in—usually around the time they realize that working for yourself is still a lot of work. And I mean real work: It’s not easy just because you’re the boss. I didn’t just pick up a fancy camera one day (on the contrary, I shot my first wedding on a very not-fancy Canon Rebel), decide I was going to make a living taking photos, and have it just happen, and I don’t just happen to know a lot of people on the Internet who will give me writing jobs because we’re such great pals.

I was lucky enough to start my first photography business with someone who knew how to run a business. We disagreed on a few key points, but she was already running two successful businesses and had a great head for the game. I learned a lot of hustling tricks from her, and we both built something that became infinitely more successful than we imagined, but we didn’t do this by magic. We did this by staying up incredibly late, by shooting ten-to-twelve-hour days at half the rate we wanted to charge, and by pouring a lot of sweat and tears (and burnt hair—sparklers are hazardous to your head, fellow photogs) into a vision that we mostly shared. And you know what? It worked. It worked at the expense of a lot of things (namely our friendship), but putting in that much of ourselves paid off.

The thing that makes this tricky is that other than work, the part of my life that takes the most from me is parenting. I mean that in the least negative way possible, as I’m one of those people who happily gives my full self to my child. I learned to work when my child slept, which meant two to six hours during the day while he was small, and eventually meant forty-five minutes a day or after 8 p.m., when he was finally asleep. Spoiler: Staying up late at night typing or editing doesn’t do great things for your body or soul (or marriage).

It takes a village, or at least two people

Remember that time I told you guys all about how my marriage sucked for a few years? I don’t think I really got into it on that piece, but the biggest reason my marriage almost drowned was because I had very little work-life balance. During those years I was working intense hours for myself, and intense hours for someone else, and neither of us was doing a good job paying me what I deserved.

During all this time I didn’t—and still don’t—do everything all on my own, and that’s wildly important to acknowledge. Whatever marital problems we had in the past, my husband has been a fully committed and incredibly awesome father since day one. He’s put off pursuing a career path of his own (but has always worked at least one full-time job) so he could spend as much time as possible with our son while he was small. He’s always had jobs that have him working weekends, therefore leaving two weekdays a week totally free so he can full-time parent while I do what I need to do. While I’ve definitely shouldered the heavier load when it comes to parenting, this doesn’t mean he hasn’t had an almost equally heavy load. And when it comes down to it, this is primarily because that’s how I want it to be: I want to be the do-it-all  mom, and I don’t want to miss something (or mess something up) with my kid.

Our son was also enrolled in half-day preschool five days a week between the ages of three and five, and that was GIGANTIC. He started school last year, and I suddenly had six to seven hours a day I could spend working and doing whatever I wanted. This was dreamy. He’s homeschooling this year, but he’s already enrolled in out-of-the-house classes for half days three days a week. I am a big advocate for daycare or preschool or regular school or any kind of activity that means a responsible adult is watching your child so you can work. We both have to have jobs; financially speaking, not working isn’t an option for either us.

You will always worry that you’re failing someone (or yourself)

If you were reading the above paragraphs and thought, “Good luck!” when I said I didn’t want to miss anything or mess up something with my kid, it’s because you’re smarter than I am. It took me years of experiencing anguish and guilt (and sometimes taking that out on my family) to realize that being a parent means sometimes you’re going to fuck it all up… and that’s okay.

Likewise, owning a business inherently means you’re at risk for failing there, too. I have been lucky—so far I haven’t been responsible for any catastrophic failures—but I have definitely burnt myself out at times. When my son was young there were definitely nights I was up way too late working, and my work suffered for it. I mean, I once left a wedding before the reception was over because my exclusively breastfed infant was screaming at home and my frazzled husband had no idea what to do, and the whole Internet told me that if I didn’t breastfeed my son he would end up horribly scarred and hating me for the rest of his life. (FYI: Sometimes, the internet needs to fuck off and leave sleep-deprived, anxious new parents alone.) Luckily the wedding was for a friend and it was fine, but even six years later I still get queasy when I think about leaving like that. It’s easy to feel a tremendous amount of pressure to always be on, always succeed, when you’re the one running the show. This pressure can consume you.

I get incensed when I read articles about how women give up themselves when they become parents, and this is just the honorable and beautiful thing to do, and the only way to show the world you’re a great mom. Obviously these articles are leaving a huge portion of the parenting world out (dads, extended family, etc.), but they’re also pretty insidiously implying that if you prioritize yourself over your kid ever, you fail. This isn’t realistic, nor does it hit my ideal: I want to be a great mom. I want to be a great business owner. I want to be a great wife. I also really want to be true to me, and I don’t want to lose ANY part of myself in this process.

Is this always realistic? Maybe not, but I can get damn close.

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