Welcome to Week 7 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.
"Listen to your kids. Kids often have great ideas because they’re not afraid to dream out loud."
I've been a fan of Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood for a very long time and I suspect you will be too, if you're not already. She is a mother and crafting businessperson of course, but she's also a journalist by training and trade and that's what really makes her special. I highly recommend her Craft Sanity podcast (available on iTunes) not only for its content, but for what Jennifer brings out from her podcast guests - her journalism skills really shine as she digs deep with the people she interviews. It's been wonderful to watch her evolution over the years and I'm thrilled she agreed to participate in Motherhood by Design and I hope you're as inspired by her as I am.
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Jennifer - can you please describe your family?
My husband, Jeff, and our two daughters, Abby, 10, and Amelia, 9.
What is your business?
CraftSanity LLC is a podcast, magazine, blog, weaving loom business and print shop. (I just took up printmaking.)
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
As a child, I spent many, many hours reading, riding my bike and crafting.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
Oh, absolutely. I learned to crochet when I was about 5. I did other crafts, too, but I was really proud of my crochet skills because I learned from my mom and the older women in my family. My great grandmother was a craft genius. She would host a weekly gathering of women in the family and many would be crafting around the table. She had me convinced that she could crochet anything without a pattern. When I learned to crochet, I felt like I was joining a sisterhood. I knew it was very special to hang out at the kitchen table and stitch with these very wise women who smiled so kindly at me. Most of their conversation was way over my head back then, but I felt very at home in their company. And now that I’m grown with a family of my own, I wish I could recreate that experience for my daughters. But sadly, I live too far from my childhood home to host a similar extended family craft event. Perhaps it’s time to get my mom and sisters on Skype. : )
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 always hoped to be a mom. And I learned in my early 20s that simply wanting to be a mom doesn’t make it happen. I lost my first pregnancy to miscarriage and struggled for a couple years with the heartache of that experience before my husband and I were blessed with the safe birth of our oldest daughter, now 10. I was on bed rest for a couple months during that pregnancy and I almost couldn’t believe it when I finally got to hold Abby. It was an amazing experience that I got to repeat when her little sister, Amelia, was born 18 months later. Motherhood is challenging and wonderful and I’m so glad I’m having this experience. I feel very blessed.
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?
I got heavily into weaving after I graduated from college in 1998 and bought a floor loom as soon as I paid off my college loan. I spent time weaving almost every day for many years as a way to wind down after my night cops reporting shift at the newspaper where I worked.
Later, I did a lot of knitting when I was on bed rest and have always tried to have a project in my bag so I can take advantage of any free moment I might get. And as soon as my girls got old enough, I started involving them in my art and craft projects. I taught them both to sew beads and scraps to fabric stretched across embroidery hoops as soon as they were old enough to hold the needle. I followed that up with crochet and sewing instruction. Our latest handmade adventure has been printmaking.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
My husband helped me launch the CraftSanity Podcast the day I returned to work at the end of my second maternity leave from my job as a full-time newspaper reporter. At the time, I had a newborn and 18 month old. It was an insane time to launch a weekly show, but I went for it and I’m so glad. Yes, I was tired and it was difficult to juggle it all, but launching CraftSanity gave me an outlet and a way to connect with other like-minded people. It also served as a platform for me to launch other parts of my business.
What prompted you to start your creative business?
My husband was listening to a lot of tech podcasts and encouraged me to start one about crafts. I told him he was nuts and then almost immediately started planning my first show.
Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
I think I always knew that I would be doing a mix of art and craft projects though out my life. Podcasts didn’t exist when I was growing up, so I never imagined myself hosting a show. But I’ve always enjoyed meeting new people and asking questions, so it’s not surprising at all that I grew up to be a reporter. I’ve always loved to write and wanted to have my own publication, so the magazine was a realization of that goal. In this next chapter of my life I hope to write books.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
I don’t know if it’s possible to achieve a perfect balance between work and family life. I’m an “all in” sort of women in my approach to life and simple math reveals that it’s not possible to give 150 percent to everything. So instead of stressing out about achieving the perfect balance, I accept that things will not be perfect but I will be as present as I can be for my daughters. I left the world of daily journalism after years of working opposite shifts with my husband to keep our kids out of day care. We were exhausted and something had to give, so I scaled back to part-time and then became a freelance art and craft columnist in 2009.
I launched a home-based weaving loom business right after I left my day job and then a magazine in 2010.
In 2012, my plate filled up again when I was recruited to teach journalism and advise the school newspaper at the local community college. Several others had turned down the job, but I felt called to help keep the program going. It’s a part-time adjunct position that affords me time to drop off and pick up my kids from school every day and that’s really important to me.
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
I don’t sleep much as most of my projects are interrupted during the day, forcing me to work after my family goes to bed. While it can be challenging to work this way, I can get an amazing amount of work done while my family is sleeping. I do my work in little bursts and do my best to wrap my schedule around driving to soccer and swim practice and coaching my daughters’ Girls on the Run Team. : )
Motherhood has inspired me to seek meaningful work that I can do while still remaining available to my children. I usually would write my weekly newspaper column at our dining room table and I teach college courses while my daughters are in school, so I’m in the thick of family life most of the time and I feel very grateful that I don’t feel like I’m missing out on raising my kids.
Every parent has to decide how to mix professional and family life and there is no right answer. We all have to settle on the best situation for our families and it’s okay to tweak the plan as needed. I’m very grateful that I seem to have settled on a combination that is working for my family right now.
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
I’m in the process of rolling out a new line of fabric and paper goods featuring hand carved prints that I designed along with my daughters and my sister. My daughters are definitely my muses. Amelia’s interest in printmaking inspired me to dive into it full blast a few years ago. And now I’m hooked.
My girls have inspired me to create so many things through the years. I love to stay up late making something to surprise them with in the morning. That is so fun.
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
They are part of my business. They are the V.P.s of Fun here at CraftSanity. They sometimes assist me when I teach workshops and inspire many of my writing and project ideas. If I have one piece of advice to share with other handmade business owners it would be this: Listen to your kids. Kids often have great ideas because they’re not afraid to dream out loud. I love that about my girls.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your children?
My girls get to see me doing work I enjoy while also raising a family. I’m glad they know this is possible.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
I’m happy that my daughters are learning that if their dream job doesn’t exist, they can create the position themselves at their own company.
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 would say: “I hear ya, sister!” It’s completely normal for moms to feel tired. The truth is I’m fighting to stay awake as I type. The key for me is to make time for myself to have at least a small dose creative time each day. I been known to carry mini-looms, knitting, a travel watercolor set, embroidery and English paper piecing projects with me so I can capitalize on any down time I might have during the course of a busy day. I keep these projects at the ready and allow myself to craft or make art instead of vacuum because it’s so important to renew our creative spirits when we’re in the thick of training our little ones to nurture and develop theirs. Vacuum tomorrow. Create today.
Thank you so much, Jennifer, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Jennifer and her podcast interviews, her looms, her prints, and much more in the following places: