Welcome to Week 36 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.
"I credit my older daughter with awakening the impulse to teach. Engaging with her questions and seeing her learn made me realize how much I enjoyed the process."
When I connected with Kelly Martineau through a mutual writer friend of ours, I knew I had come upon a kindred spirit. In addition to being a fellow mother, writer and quilter, Kelly also writes about the effects of craft and creativity on the family. Her essays are achingly beautiful and luckily for those who live in the Pacific Northwest, she's now teaching a class on writing and motherhood. If not for the coast-to-coast difference between us, I would take that class in a heartbeat!
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Kelly – can you please describe your family?
My husband Mathew, who is a software engineer. We have two daughters: Ruby, who is nearly six, and Stella, who is two.
What is your business?
I am a creative nonfiction writer whose essays explore craft, creativity, and the fiber of family. My writing process is similar to how I work as a quilter—each progresses through conception, composition, rearrangement, seaming, and weaving together the layers. In addition, I often use craft as a metaphor for how we make our life in the face of loss and dysfunction. Currently, I am expanding my business to include teaching; my first workshop is called “Motherhood on the Page: Read and Write the Mothering Experience.”
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
I was an only child so I learned to entertain myself at a young age. I divided my time between reading and creative activities, including writing, jewelry-making, sewing, and baking. Looking back, I realize that being alone allowed me to pursue whatever craft excited me, and that freedom drives my writing to this day.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
Yes, some of my earliest memories are the sounds of my parents engaged in their crafts: the whir of my mother’s sewing machine and my father’s saw in the basement. While spending childhood summers with my grandparents, I took sewing and embroidery lessons. I lost myself for hours, energized by the clack of the machine and the repeated plunk of needle into fabric.
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 didn’t think much about or engage with children until the birth of a cousin when I was seventeen. His engaging brown eyes and sweet demeanor cracked something open inside of me, and I felt an immediate and sustaining love for him. After that, children seemed a natural part of my future, although I would not have my first daughter for another seventeen years.
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?
When my older daughter was three months old, I returned to writing part-time because I was completing my MFA degree and because, at thirty-four, I had finally realized my profession. I also made time each day (if only ten minutes) to knit because I felt more connected to my mind and body when making with my hands.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
I was writing before I became a mother, but I began to consider myself a professional writer in Ruby’s second year when I started to submit my essays for publication, to pursue public readings, and completed a professional development program. Expanding my work to teaching has definitely arisen from being a mother.
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
I knew as a child that I wanted to make things, but I didn’t know how to make that a career. My path to writing included an undergraduate Humanities degree, several years in the non-profit sector, and community writing classes. I credit my older daughter with awakening the impulse to teach. Engaging with her questions and seeing her learn made me realize how much I enjoyed the process.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
I have been vocal about my need for time and space to pursue my writing, and I have been fortunate to receive support from my family. With the help of my parents, my mother-in-law, and my husband, I have been able to set aside time each week. In the last few years, having the girls in school has afforded me extra hours. I know that writing and fiber craft recharge me and stimulate my mind, which enables me to be a more present and engaged parent to my daughters.
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
I am a slow writer, and I wondered during pregnancy how I would sustain my writing momentum with less time and energy. While I still prefer large chunks of time, I have learned to produce in half-hour increments and to leave off at a point where I can easily dive in the next time.
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
The first is in subject matter. While I have always written about family relationships, the focus has shifted from me as a product of parenting to me as a parent, as well as the fertile overlap between how I was raised and how I am raising my children. For me, motherhood requires deep personal inquiry, a skill I apply to my writing. I am more honest and more likely to delve into the complexity of a subject, whether it’s grief, spirituality, or the challenges of motherhood.
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
Parenting has taught me that making mistakes is integral to the learning process. As a writer, I take more chances because I know that I will gain from both success and failure. I plan to apply that knowledge when I teach by encouraging other writers to experiment and learn from what is not working in their work.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your children? Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
I think the biggest challenge is time. I try to be present when I am with my daughters, and I think they miss that presence as I have started to attend evening events like writing groups and readings. But they also greatly benefit from time alone with their dad and grandparents. My older daughter inquires about these events and my writing, and she enjoys talking with about the craft process. I like that they view my identity as a fusion of three active roles: writer, mother, maker.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
I want each of my daughters to understand that doing the work that is right for her is energizing, and that she can harness that energy to work diligently toward her goals. I also want them to recognize that art and craft are integral to a healthy society and that, if they choose not to work in the creative arts, to support them.
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
Find a creative outlet that is just for you and carve out time each week to learn and practice. A creative community can help you stay connected to your passion. Search out bloggers who share both their finished objects and the personal and craft challenges they face. Connect locally by joining a craft guild, dropping by a store for a knit or sew-along, or taking classes. Or form your own group. Most of all, make the time to make.
Thank you so much, Kelly, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Kelly in the following places: