Welcome to Week 26 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 children are creative, so we inspire each other. Our days go pretty smoothly when we have a normal schedule, but when extra activities pop up, the days can get a little insane. We have to have the guts to say “no” to a lot of great “opportunities.”
Meredith Howard started designing her own clothes once she realized that she kept grabbing the same soft, but boring shirts out of her closet and wanted some more variety. When people started asking her where she bought what she was wearing, her business was born. This mother of two offers limited edition hand-crafted tops and dresses that not only inspire, but make getting dressed in the morning easy and fun.
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Meredith - can you please describe your family?
My family consists of my husband Greg and my two daughters (ages 11 and 8). They are my favorite people in the world.
What is your business?
My business is Meredith M Howard. I love fashion and photography, and I have a passion for encouraging people to use their gifts. So, I combine all of that in my business. I design and sew “limited edition” tops and dresses for women. And I am working on a couple of photography books.
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
I spent a lot of time playing pretend (“Little House on the Prairie”,“librarian” or “Star Wars”) either by myself or with my brother or friends. I read a lot and tried to write my own stories. I danced in my bedroom to classical music. I liked the feeling of ballet.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
I grew up thinking I was not creative. My family was into sports and math. So, we played sports and studied a lot. My dad was always dabbling in something creative (playing the guitar, photography, building elaborate train sets), yet somehow I received the message – “We are not a creative family.” I think practicality was a priority. My grandmother taught me to crochet and sew and cross-stitch when I was young, but she lived far away. I dabbled in those crafts for a few years but grew frustrated when I didn’t have anyone local to help me.
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 thought I would have children, but I wasn’t dying to have kids. When I played with dolls, Barbie was going on a date – not taking care of babies.
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 was during my early years of motherhood that I developed my creativity. Honestly, the television shows “Trading Spaces” and “Project Runway” were instrumental in drawing me into the creative world. Seeing people in the act of creation sparked something in me and made painting and sewing very accessible. My first baby was happy to watch me paint the fireplace and recover chairs. Then later, fashion blogs like “The Sartorialist” and “Garance Dore” drew me into “street style” photography. I started a blog called “Finding Soul Balance” to reconcile my fashion/art side with my intellectual/spiritual side.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
Prior to becoming a mother, I was an accountant for 10 years. So definitely after. Writing “Finding Soul Balance” for 3 years was a very serious hobby, and I ran it like a business. But it wasn’t until I started designing clothes and patternmaking that I had actual products for sale. So, 10 years after becoming a mother, I started “Meredith M Howard.”
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
As a child, I had a lot of ideas. Ideas for inventions, for businesses, for books. My dad started his own business, so I knew that it could be done. And my husband is always saying, “Let’s stop talking about it and DO IT.” So, when my kids were in school full time, I decided it was time to go for it.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
Sometimes the balance is so easy, and sometimes it is impossible. When my children were babies and toddlers, I was creative out of desperation. Now that they are a little older, I have more of a rhythm. My children are creative, so we inspire each other. Our days go pretty smoothly when we have a normal schedule, but when extra activities pop up, the days can get a little insane. We have to have the guts to say “no” to a lot of great “opportunities”.
I am very task-oriented and can easily get caught up in a project. I constantly remind myself that my children will be home for only a few more years. I try to plan times to focus on them.
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
I see my day in blocks of time. I have to focus on one thing in each block, or I will accomplish nothing. I always accomplish the most in the last hour before I pick up my kids from school.
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
My children are very creative and have their own unique style. They are constantly surprising me with their paper dolls, condominium designs, fairy characters, and dances. Their attention to detail inspires me.
And children are very honest. They will tell you if your product is good or bad. They are my critics and my cheerleaders.
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
If I didn’t have children, it would be a very different business. I would have so much more time to devote to the work and to travel to different opportunities. It would probably be all-consuming, and I’m not sure I would have many real relationships. So, I could say my kids hold me back, but in a good grounding sort of way. It is awesome to be able to snuggle with someone at the end of the day regardless of whether you were successful in your “work” or not.
How do you think your creative pursuits, including your business, affect your children?
Since I started later in life, my children have watched me learn everything I know about art, photography, sewing, writing, creating a business and a website. I am always forging into new areas and doing weird things (like taking photographs of strangers). I think it gives them the confidence to try new activities and to love learning.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
I think they have already learned that there are so many options in life. If you don’t see the job you want, create it for yourself. They have learned that running a business is really hard work but that hard work can be enjoyable. I also hope they are learning some of the craft of photography and sewing. My oldest daughter takes most of my product photos, and when she is not available, I coerce my younger daughter into doing it.
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
Start today. You will feel like you don’t have the time or energy for it, but if you find the right thing, it will give you time and energy. Find some instruction (a physical class, an online class, a Pinterest tutorial) and dabble. Once you find something you want to pursue, commit to doing it every day for 30 days. That will take you through a whole cycle of “I love this”, “I hate this”, “This is too hard”, “Oh, I might be getting better”, “I can do this”!
Thank you so much, Meredith, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Meredith in the following places: