As a mother of three young children, it can be difficult to balance work with home life.
When I became a parent, my attitude shifted from one of career-climbing ambition to fierce maternal determination. The idea that I was responsible for this precious person’s well-being opened my eyes to how valuable time is, and how a nine-to-five job could eat up far too much of it. So I set my sights on working to become an entrepreneur instead, building a handmade business making T-shirt quilts and pillows. I needed to create something that yielded an income while offering me the flexibility to be around my family when they needed me most.
It hasn’t been easy. For example, one of my children has special needs, and it’s only in this past year that he’s finally settled into a school placement that’s working for him. (He’s currently in Grade 6, so it’s been a while). Prior to this, I would receive daily phone calls that required me to leave what I was doing and collect him at the drop of a hat, which in turn affected my work productivity. With his new, stabilized placement, my schedule is a little more predictable, but I still continue to learn how to balance work and home life on a regular basis. And along the way I’ve picked up some valuable lessons.
To help out other makers with families, I’d like to share how I strike a balance between parenthood and entrepreneurship without feeling too overwhelmed (or quite frankly, like a failure — us moms are so hard on ourselves!).
Like most mothers, I wear a lot of hats. I’m a cook, a teacher, a nurse, a taxi driver, and more.
Like most mothers, I wear a lot of hats. I’m a cook, a teacher, a nurse, a taxi driver, and more. And while I may be good at all of those things, there's one role that sometimes I don’t feel quite as confident in: being a business owner.
When you're juggling parenthood and running a business, it can be difficult to know where to focus your attention. However, I try to remember that both my business and my family need my time and energy. Being a successful entrepreneur and maintaining a happy family is not always easy, but these are the eight principles of work-life balance that I try to follow to help my business thrive.
8 ways to find work-life balance as a handmade business owner and parent
1. Have a dedicated workspace
As a creative, you need a place where you can go to work on your business without being interrupted by family life.
I’m fortunate enough to have an entire studio in my (very cold during Alberta winters) basement that is exclusively mine. This allows me to close the door and block out any outside distractions so I can focus entirely on the task at hand.
Your own space doesn’t have to be an entire room like I have, or even a studio outside the home; your space can be as simple as a corner of your living room or a small desk in your bedroom. You just need somewhere that’s dedicated solely to your craft.
2. Set boundaries with your family and friends
One thing I’ve often struggled with is setting boundaries. I found that when I first set up my studio, setting clear rules and expectations with my family really helped. When I’m in my studio, I’m not to be disturbed, unless in case of an emergency.
Occasionally at the beginning, one of the children would barge into my office while I was working, but with consistent rule setting and a reward system (my kids love a sticker chart), over time they learned to respect my boundaries and even started bringing me coffee. (I must have done something right!)
Another important but difficult lesson has been learning how to say no. I used to feel guilty if I turned down an invitation to a play date or lunch with a friend, but I quickly realized that I couldn't do it all. It's okay to say no from time to time and put your business first.
3. Set routines and structured work hours
One of the best ways I’ve found to balance motherhood and running a business is to make a schedule and stick to it. As much as I would love to be, being a supermom and available to my family 24-7 just isn't feasible.
A schedule has helped me make the most of my days by ensuring that I’m not wasting time on tasks that aren't essential.
I have set hours during the week that I stick to. Typically, that looks like working Monday to Thursday during the day while the children are at school, then also having a buffer after they’ve gone to bed to answer any inquiries or emails from customers.
I also set aside time for marketing and promotion. Blocking out an hour or two each week to work on these tasks is really helpful, as is using tools such as Facebook scheduler for my Instagram and Facebook posts, and Tailwind and Canva for Pinterest marketing. These tools allow me to bulk-create content ahead of time and prevent me from scrambling around every day to remember to update my social accounts.
Of course, there are times when I’ve had to be flexible with my schedule, but I try to stick to it as much as possible.
4. Delegate and ask for help
Since I started my business, I've made sure my husband is aware of my goals and always try to involve him in the process. He’s my biggest cheerleader and helps me out whenever he can.
At the beginning, I was afraid to delegate tasks, but I soon realized that in order to succeed in balancing my family life and business, I needed to learn to become comfortable asking others for help.
In time, I was able to identify which tasks could be handled by someone else. For example, I now have an assistant who takes care of paperwork and customer service inquiries. This frees up my time so I can focus on tasks that only I can do, like making the T-shirt quilts I sell.
When it comes to maintaining our home, keeping up with the cleaning and cooking is a full-time job in itself. So my husband and children pitch in. For example, we’ve set a schedule for the whole family so that (age-appropriate) chores are divided between us all.
I’m also very lucky to have a cleaner who comes weekly to take care of the general household upkeep, and have purchased a smart robot vacuum that runs daily while I'm working — an absolute lifesaver and a great investment!
5. Set goals
As a small business owner, setting goals is super important. Not only does it help me stay on track, but it also provides me with something to strive for.
I like to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes every day writing out my goals. On Monday mornings, I write out my weekly goals along with a daily goal. Then Tuesday to Thursday I set my daily goals, and then review them on Fridays.
This way, I’m able to see my progress — because let's face it, quite often it feels as though we’re chasing our own tails and not getting anywhere.
Writing and reviewing my goals also allows me to pinpoint anything that I’m not getting the time to complete, so I know what I might want to delegate the following week.
It’s also really important for me to set monthly and yearly goals for my business. I’m always shocked as I look back throughout the year to appreciate just how far I’ve come!
Over time, I’ve learned to set better goals for both my business and family. At first, I would constantly set unrealistic goals, and quickly felt stressed and overwhelmed. Now, I take the time to figure out what I realistically can and cannot accomplish. Then, I make sure my goals are SMART goals — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
6. Involve your family
When it comes to running a handmade business, it takes a village. Or, in other words, it takes a family.
From my parents who watch the kids while I'm at shows, to friends who help with social media, there's no limit to the ways in which loved ones can pitch in. I often put my family to work. After all, there's no one better suited for the job. My mom will help me create blankets, my husband will pack orders and my daughter will help me at the post office (but only for a little pocket money first!).
Involving my family has had some real benefits for my business. First, it helped me to save money on child care and other expenses. But more important, it created a stronger sense of connection to my business. I found that when my loved ones are invested in my success, they’re more likely to promote and support my work — which is great for my progression. I love involving them all and sharing my success.
7. Be realistic
Being a parent is hard. Being a business owner is hard. Being both is a special kind of chaos that only those of us who live it can understand.
I find that I’m constantly juggling my time, energy and emotions — and sometimes, the most important thing is just to survive.
But in order to thrive as both a mom and business owner, I need to always remember to be realistic with myself.
I'm unable to do it all, and that’s okay. I give myself grace when things don’t go according to plan and try to remember that as an ambitious entrepreneur, I may have strict deadlines to reach, so sometimes those obligations take priority.
Furthermore, I like to remind myself that although it stings a little when there isn't enough time in the day to spend with loved ones, the hard work will pay off in the end, meaning better resources for ensuring my family can have their needs met in the long run — so everyone wins!
At the end of the day, I can look back and say I did my best, and that’s all anyone can ask for.
8. Look after YOU
The most important principle of work-life balance that helps my business thrive: making sure that I take time for myself. As parents, we often put ourselves last on the list, but doing so can be detrimental to yourself, your business and your family.
Whether it's taking a few minutes each day for a cup of coffee or going on vacation once a year, taking breaks helps refresh the mind and body so that you can continue working hard without burning out.
I find walking extremely relaxing and refreshing, and I'm lucky enough to have a furry best friend who loves going out for walks as much as I do. As soon as dinner is done, I head out for my 30-minute walk with Piper and my headphones playing my favourite music. This is hands-down my favourite part of the day: a moment of personal tranquility that allows me to reset before I'm ready to tackle the next pressing task.
I hope sharing the tips that have worked for me will inspire you to find the balance that works for you, your business and your family.
As I look back over the last decade and ponder all the ups and downs with a smile, one thing that becomes obvious is that my ambition to have a successful handmade business was definitely worth it! From the extra income and flexible hours to the incredible clients I've had the pleasure of working with along the way, I'm so thankful for this unique journey.
If you're looking for a healthy balance between parenting and craftiness, you can make it happen with a little hard work, creative thinking and determination. You are capable of achieving great things, trust me!
Gemma Smith is a stay-at-home mom of three children who writes about her personal experience of raising children with complex mental health conditions, along with how she has created multiple successful handmade businesses from home, at gemmaannesmith.com.