Welcome to Week 20 of Motherhood by Design – the series where mothers who also run creative businesses share their inspirations and their experiences juggling the demands of raising children while growing a creative career.
"My profession, education, was one outlet for my creative abilities as was being a mom to my boys. Motherhood is probably one of the most creative jobs a person can have. I poured my creative energies into mothering my children and to creating a home for our family."
About a month ago Jacquie Gering was in town speaking to a neighboring quilt guild and I was lucky enough to attend her talk. Although I had previously seen her speak online and had watched her classes on Craftsy, she was positively mesmerizing in person - her warmth and keen sense of humor really shone through as she shared her perspectives on quilting and the quilting industry during her talk and trunk show. Not only is Jacquie a quilter, author and teacher, she is the president of the Modern Quilt Guild and her work is strikingly modern and full of social commentary. Although Jacquie's children are now adults, they've played an integral role in the development of her business so I knew she'd be a perfect fit for this series.
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Jacquie - can you please describe your family?
My family includes myself, my husband Steve and my two sons Benjamin, 26 and Jonathan 24.
What is your business?
I am a quilt designer, author and instructor and my business is Tallgrass Prairie Studio.
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
I loved reading and music. I played piano and guitar and sang in the choir. I spent lots of time playing school and playing outside in the neighborhood or on the farm. Ice and roller-skating, biking and gymnastics were my favorite pastimes as I got older.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
My mother and father and my family are makers. I learned to sew at an early age, but it wasn't sewing for fun and I definitely didn't see it as a creative endeavor. I learned to embroider and cross-stitch as a youngster. My grandmother and mom tried to teach me to knit, but I was a miserable failure at that. My mom pretty much never met a craft she didn't like so there were always craft supplies and opportunities to craft in my house. My dad is a hobby woodworker and can build about anything and I was always holding for him or fetching tools. I grew up knowing how to sew, hammer, paint, glue and I was comfortable and familiar with all sorts of making. All those skills came into play later in my life. I learned to tackle anything that I wanted to learn or create which was modeled for me my both of my parents.
When you were a child, did you have ideas about your own future as a mother? Was motherhood something you’d always imagined for yourself, or is it an idea you grew into later in life?
I never really thought much about it except I knew I wanted to be more than a mother. My initial impression of motherhood was that it was limiting. My mom was a career woman and always worked outside the home. I wanted to be like her. Children weren't number one in the family or the central focus of the family like they seem to be today. In our family we were raised with a focus on work ethic. Hard work brought success and satisfaction. I remember a good day for my dad was always a day where we, and he worked hard at something. For him, hard work was its own reward.
I didn't know if I wanted to be a mother. When motherhood didn't happen easily I was happy continuing to work and have our family be the two of us. Ben happened and I became a mother. Jon came along and I was a mother of two. It just happened and like everything I do, I worked hard to do the best I could.
In your early years of motherhood, did you have/make time for your creative pursuits, or was your creative work put aside for a while? If the latter, when did you pick it back up?
It's interesting how the question seems to separate motherhood and creativity. For me motherhood was a creative work opportunity.
My profession, education, was one outlet for my creative abilities as was being a mom to my boys. Motherhood is probably one of the most creative jobs a person can have. I poured my creative energies into mothering my children and to creating a home for our family. I decorated rooms for myself and for the kids. I never met a bucket of paint I didn't like. I think both boys had their rooms repainted three or four times while they were growing up. During one round of redecorating Ben's room was painted and designed to be a baseball stadium and Jon's was painted with giant orange spikes. Creative pursuits came in the form of Legos, water balloons, sticks in the woods and refrigerator boxes. Motherhood is a perfect training ground and outlet for creative energy. I think the time I spent raising my boys stretched my creative muscles and laid the groundwork for the work I'm doing now.
I started quilting when my sons were teenagers, but not because I didn't have time earlier, but because I was busy doing other creative things. I stumbled onto quilting, liked it, found a passion for it and kept on doing it. When you love something, you make time for it.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
I started my business when my boys were in their late teens.
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
I saw myself as an accomplished woman, so I guess so. The specific job was irrelevant to me, but I knew as a child that I would be a career woman. Though as a child, my vision for myself was limited in terms of the professions that were available to me. It wasn't until I was in my early twenties that I felt like there were possibilities for me beyond the traditional "female" oriented professions. My mom changed careers multiple times and she showed me that skills in one job might be made to work in other areas. I've never felt trapped by my training to do one thing.
As for starting the business I have now, it was my oldest son who spurred me to take what started out as a time-filler between jobs and to think about what I was doing as a potential business. Ben was the first person to see something in me that I didn't even know was there. It was because of his encouragement and prodding that I began to share my work and at the same time believe in my creative potential. Without his faith in me, and relentless prodding to "just do it", I wouldn't have the business or have achieved the success I have.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
In our house and in our family we have an unspoken set of priorities. I take care of myself first, and then my husband and I take care of our relationship. We then focus on the kids. It's not that they aren't important, but being a healthy and strong person comes first, and having a strong relationship as a couple sets the foundation for my husband and I as parents. I will always be a mother. That role will always be part of who I am, but I (we) have always worked to balance our own needs as people, our work life and time as a couple and a family. I have never tried to be a supermom where I leave myself in the dust to take care of and support the boys. I don't believe in running myself ragged to be a mom and I also don't believe in working all the time and ignoring my family. Of course, there are times where we have been out of balance and had to sit down together to prioritize and make choices and changes.
Because my boys are now self-supporting my husband and I have the time to pour more of ourselves into our work and we do. We still, however find time for each other and for the boys and we do it thoughtfully. We plan time together and have a pretty good time. They know they can come to us if they need us and we now can go to them if we need them. Our role was to raise them to be good people and to live their own lives. Our role now is to continue to support them as independent young men and continue to model as adults and as a couple.
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
I don't think it does.
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
I have raised two strong, independent, opinionated young men. We have always shared our opinions with each other and I respect their ideas. They are both musicians and have many creative ideas and strong opinions. I welcome their thoughts and their critique. They don't hesitate to give it and I listen. Their ideas have impact on my work. My boys inspire me to create. Their pride in my work is motivation for me to continue to create, grow, change and improve. Their faith in me helps me see myself in a new way. I have gone farther with my business because they have helped me expand my vision of the possibilities for Tallgrass Prairie Studio.
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
As I said, my boys' ideas and opinions affect the aesthetic and the pieces I produce, but they have impacted my work in other ways. They keep me connected and hooked in to both information and trends that I can't experience and understand without them. They are my cultural translators. They are technology natives while I am a technology immigrant. They push me in ways that I couldn't do on my own. They help me see things and ways to approach my business that I wouldn't on my own.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your children?
Everything I do affects my children. I am their model for a person, wife, mother, and a businessperson. They see how I work, how I balance work and home and how I love what I do. I'm modeling all those things for my kids and I know they're watching.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
Making a living in a creative field isn't easy. They have both entered a creative field where it is challenging both to find employment and to maintain a standard of living. They are hard workers and have decided to take a risk and follow their passions. They know from watching me that it is both a difficult road and that it's possible. I'm proud that they are willing to take risks and work hard to make their dreams a reality. I do my best to teach them that good people = good business.
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
I've learned that as a creative person, time is my most valuable resource and NO is my most valuable word. I'm learning to use it more and more. NO is the easiest word to say to reduce stress and bring balance to my life and also to give me time to create. It's also important to ask for help. Doing it all is overrated. Parents, friends, and neighbors are all resources for sharing the load and most are willing to help when you are in need.
Lastly, for me, less is more in business and in our personal lives. We all feel pressure to conform to the latest trends and do it all for our kids and in our business, but do we really need to put on the most elaborate birthday party on the block with all the bells and whistles or is cake and ice cream and playing pin the mask on batman with a few friends a lovely way to celebrate and not overwhelm you and your child. The same applies to my business. Do I have to have the most number of followers on Instagram or attend every quilt market just because it's supposedly the thing to do? We have to make choices to achieve balance and feel satisfied in our personal, family and work lives.
Thank you so much, Jacquie, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Jacquie in the following places: