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Graphic Designer vs./and/or Mom

I am under 30.
I am knocked-up.
And I am basically unemployed.

Just the way I planned.

Almost a year ago I quit my very fulfilling job, packed my bags and headed out to Tuscany with a group of friends for ten days of absolute relaxation before my life turned upside down — abruptly, like flipping a tortilla on a pan. I had enormous — more like gargantuan — plans in my head about how the next year would transpire, leading into the next five.

I am a planner by nature. I like structure, I like lists, I like headers that start with “To do:”. Organization in general is my philosophy. This allows for flexibility and spontaneity in what I do without creating havoc. Or so I like to believe. You see, I embarked on this new adventure with many plans and goals but my tortilla flip feels more like a Mexican Jumping Bean who can’t make quite figure things out.

I decided to take a step back from My Big Design Career in order to become Mom With Normal Design Career. I chose to focus my energies in building a sustainable design practice from my home whose purpose would be to keep me connected with design (otherwise I know I would likely lose my mind), help me pay the bills and, most importantly, allow me to work within my own very flexible schedule. This would also allow me to travel for judging or speaking engagements, conferences and the like, that UnderConsideration likes to be a part of. I would also be able to spend more time on UC, and the different projects that we are currently undertaking. And of course, take care of Baby.

Boy was I in for a surprise. Did I realize flexible hours meant being too tired growing a fetus to get out of bed? Reading a book required too much concentration, and staring at the computer was like traveling to Mars, while potential client pitches and business travel were something to dread. Not to say that it has been all that bad, but the wake up call and the realization that you want to do so many things as you watch how, little by little, the list gets longer, and you stop caring as much about each unattended item.

Surprisingly, though, fewer pitches led to a happier me, and a happier me led to a happier everything that surrounds me. And I wondered if the famous Maternal Instinct was kicking in just as we all kept talking about men designers vs. women designers, celebrity status and our Design Careers in the big wide world. Early in my pregnancy Ellen Lupton approached the subject, and a few months later the issue was brought up again at an event moderated by Michael Bierut when an audience member raised the question. Many dinners, parties, and events have circled back to these topics as well, and I have participated in this discussion throughout my expanding belly — it has been particularly interesting to see how people approach the subject when it is obvious to all, where I am headed. And it has been fascinating to see how my tongue was become a bit less sharp with some of my preconceptions on the subject.

Today I realize I don’t have as strong a sustainable design practice as I set out to develop in the beginning, and I am okay with that. I realize that having a year of absolute devotion to this goal was unrealistic and unattainable, and I am okay with that. I realize that I have no idea what the next year holds for me, and I want to be okay with that. But I am still struggling. I should probably know better by now, and I guess the fact that I am already questioning some of the action items on my list is a start.

I admire the women who take what Corporate America has to offer. Three months of maternity leave with various degrees of pay or no-pay, and then go back to work with the support of family members or Day Care centers. Maybe because my mother stayed home with us as we were growing up I find it very hard to make that commitment, and I have chosen to hike the middle path. I want to be a Stay At Home Mom, but I also wish to continue working and growing as a Designer. Is this possible? I would like to believe so. I know I will not be climbing the ladder as quickly as the women who go back to work after a short period of time, or as quickly as The Men I am surrounded by, and I am okay with that as well. Why? Because I think that taking the time to be with my child in her (yes, we are having a girl) developing years will be more beneficial in the long run for both of us, than my client roster.

My ambition is still very much active, my desire to succeed is there as well, so how can it be possible that after all these years of busting my water-retentive chops I am so willing to switch to the slower lane?

Nature.
Instinct.
Education.
Need.
Other?

I have had eight moths to ponder such life-challenging questions, and I have yet to find the answers (even if partial ones). And so, I have decided to roll with the punches and take things day by day, step by step as I figure this new role of Mother and how I own it, and how I wear it as I walk alongside my fellow Designers.

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 3166 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Mar.22.2007 BY bryony
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Doug B’s comment is:

Congrats!

I have 3 kids, and a design business as well. Apprehension is normal, I've seen a lot of my friends and their wives go through it, we did as well. Your priorities will probably change in one way or another. The reality is that having and raising kids is more important that design (at least for me).

I tell my friends who are thinking about having a baby this: if I knew how much fun and fulfilling it would be, I would have done it sooner. Best advice: keep your first-choice baby names to yourself. I've seen names stolen in the past, not pretty!

On Mar.22.2007 at 10:27 AM
Rob Weychert’s comment is:

Thanks for sharing, Bryony. Congratulations, and best of luck!

On Mar.22.2007 at 11:03 AM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

You and Armin are in for so much fun!!!! Happy days!!!

Congratulations!!!!!

VR/

On Mar.22.2007 at 01:38 PM
Tom’s comment is:

I would suggest that you are not switching to the slow lane, but the High-Occupancy Vehicle - fast lane. I think you will find that your ambition and desire for design will continue; just in different directions than you anticipated. My wife, an Art Teacher prior to kids still has passion for children and art - it's just expressed differently now.

Remember also, you and your body have had 8 - 9 months to adjust and realize what is about to happen. It will take Armin a while after the birth, to realize how much this will change his life as well.

On Mar.22.2007 at 01:47 PM
Andrew’s comment is:

It will be a very cute kid no doubt! Congrats :)

On Mar.22.2007 at 02:05 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I'm actually looking forward to 3:00 am blogging sessions.

In all seriousness though, the change clearly affects "design life," and I'm somewhat happy to see that the myth that dads can go about their business as usual is not quite true – or that dads don't have to give up anything in order to achieve "celebrity" status. This year I turned down two judging invitations: The first one, which was really hard for me to turn down, mostly because I had already agreed to do it, was for the Adobe Achievement Awards where the judging day was just too close to our due date and I didn't feel like taking a chance on missing that part; the other was for AIGA Boston, where the judging was on the same day as our birthing class. In both instances, I put Having a Baby first and, as Bryony says throughout the post: I'm okay with that. Design can wait.

On Mar.22.2007 at 02:08 PM
Michael Holdren’s comment is:

Congrats guys!

My wife and I just had our first one last summer. While I feel like I'm back in my design life full swing now, there was definitely a period where baby-time was all-encompassing. My brain only holds some much information at one time, and whether it was how fast I could change a diaper before she could pee or which display typeface worked well with the copy text would simply vary on how sleep deprived I was.

Good luck guys! I have full confidence that all three of you will be fine.

On Mar.22.2007 at 02:46 PM
Michelle French’s comment is:

You'll do great! I actually did plan to do exactly what you are doing, but didn't work out that way. I am quite the expert aunt, though with 6 nephews, I'm so jealous of the girl.

My mom taught piano at home.

I think it was a great way to grow up. Here are a few reasons:
We learned the value of work, and to some degree, being able to support yourself and family at what you enjoy. We had boundaries—you did not open those French Doors during a lesson unless you were bleeding profusely. We learned to make our own popcorn. We practiced excellent phone manners. We entertained ourselves.

We knew that the entire world did not revolve around us.

As a kid, it is a great way to grow up. Mom is home for the important stuff.
This will be one lucky little girl. And don't worry, your checklist will fill quickly with things you haven't imagined.

On Mar.22.2007 at 04:14 PM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

No one has mentioned it, but David Barringer gives us work-at-home-designer-dads some coverage on the AIGA site:

Man and WIHF

Here's my sincere congratulations on your imminent entry into the breeders club. Best wishes and good luck.

On Mar.22.2007 at 04:40 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S !

You two are in for the best roller coaster ride of your lives!

On Mar.22.2007 at 04:42 PM
diane witman’s comment is:

And so, I have decided to roll with the punches and take things day by day, step by step as I figure this new role of Mother and how I own it, and how I wear it as I walk alongside my fellow Designers.

Byrony, this is a great attitude to have! I am a mother of a very active (understatement) three-year old boy. I am twenty-seven and still have not launched my design career full force. I had decided that the first five years of his life are probably the most important and that should take precedent over my career. Once he attends Kindergarten, I plan on starting my own design business, getting my MFA so that one day I can teach and be the best damn mom I can be.

I realized a long time ago that if I am not happy in my personal life, then my career will surely not benefit from it. So for the time being I balance being a full-time designer at a small agency near Philadelphia with being a part-time Mom at night and on the weekends.

So as a mom and a bride-to-be (we're doing this backwards) as well as looking into buying our first home, I can clearly understand your thoughts of losing some of your interests and perhaps not feeling quite like yourself. But don't worry it will all come back, just keep rolling with the punches as you've been doing and thank you for sharing!

Being a parent isn't all that scary!

On Mar.22.2007 at 04:47 PM
Mr. One-Hundred’s comment is:

May I say, congratulations.

I found out very quickly, that nothing else matters. Well, it matters, but only in the tiniest way.

I love being a Father more than I ever loved being a designer or professional musician. Now if I can only find a way to make it pay...

On Mar.22.2007 at 06:43 PM
felix’s comment is:

Goodbye Speak Up, hello Spit Up.

..and hello naming assignment!

congrats guys! It's Fun! Trust me.

—Fertil'ix

On Mar.22.2007 at 08:56 PM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

"Ah, my sweet girl, but you have to tuck your A-block and your B-block a hair closer together. See? Yes, this is kerning."

Congratulations to you both, congratulations indeed.

On Mar.22.2007 at 10:56 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Coming in late to the Love Fest: Can I keep a secret or what, Bryony! :::grinning:::

A new little lower case Vit: very cool.

On Mar.23.2007 at 10:17 AM
Unnikrishna Menon Damodaran’s comment is:

Hi Bryony & Armin

Good news!

C o n g r a t u l a t i o n s !!

Yes, it's good fun, indeed.

Enjoy every bit of these growing moments.

Goodluck and Best Wishes.

On Mar.23.2007 at 10:44 AM
connie harvey’s comment is:

ohmygod...you're life is about to change! (for the best ;). congratulations...can't wait to meet the baby!

On Mar.23.2007 at 11:59 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

As a Design Dad, I identify with your situation even though I'm not carrying the child. And as foc scaling back your career, goals, ambitions, you should look at all the Hollywood moms that use daycare and a nanny to help with the famil. Realize that the juggling act called life has one additional ball thrown in now, and so long as you don't drop anything (or worse yet, break something), then you're doing a damn good job, Bryony. You don't have to give up your dreams and ambitions, but do take it day by day and surprise yourself by not planning too much and not expecting too much. Make the "glass half full."

On Mar.23.2007 at 02:05 PM
Amanda Woodward’s comment is:

Bryony & Armin,

Big congrats to the both of you.

I am glad to read this Bryony, as I have contemplated how having a baby would affect my own career and business (of which I run with my husband, at home). Tick tock, as they say. I have ideas and hopes and I am sure they will all be turned upside down when the reality of it happens. Balance, patience and clear priorities I'm sure are key to feeling under control.

I'm certain that your girl will open your eyes in new ways and bring a whole new level of inspiration to your work. Design will never disappear, but the time you spend with your child is precious.

On Mar.23.2007 at 02:53 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Once kids come, all of the sudden (for a lot of people) 'career' doesn't sound all that important anymore.

It's a struggle. I don't put too much effort into my career right now. I want to spend time with the family. And the more I do that, the less I think I even WANT a career...at least not a career dictated by a 9-5 corporate ladder system. But then I realize a career is probably how to best support my family, so you end up working more, and then...well...it all just turns into a giant catch-22 it seems.

In the end, though, the only thing of any real value in life is time. At this point, I think my time is best spend wrestling with the kids on the floor or going on bike rides with them more so than updating my portfolio or attending another client meeting.

So, anyways, congrats you two. You're now going to be three. Enjoy it!

On Mar.23.2007 at 05:36 PM
Cate’s comment is:

Bryony,

I am so glad you are talking about this. I have often wondered how other female designers dealt with the mother-designer balance. After working almost two years at an ad agency, I thought wanted to get out of design and started working at a non-profit.

Now I'm working to get back in the game, looking for that job that will put great work in my book and help me move into a more senior position. And for some strange reason, every time I go to an interview I think about what will happen when I want to have kids (been married three years and fast approaching 30). Should I feel guilty about day-care or working late? Should I be worried about what will happen to my "career" if I stay home?

Thanks for talking about this.
Congrats on becoming a Mom.

On Mar.23.2007 at 09:21 PM
heather’s comment is:

wow.
amazing. true, true, true.
thanks for sharing your story with all of us. i so much know how that feels. been there, done & felt that. was not very easy for me (truly hope it will be for you!) but after five years I feel I am finally coming out of the shell and catching up.
thanks again. it's nice to hear stories that are very real and so close to what we fell.
congratulations and all the best to the three of you!

On Mar.24.2007 at 03:44 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

Thank you all for your kind words.

By the sound of the comments above, it seems to be that there is a big stepping back from Design during the childbearing years. And that is exactly what I want to diminish, but not so much by working as a designer, but more by being an involved designer. What does this mean? This will mean that many of you will get to know the “munchkin” in Denver during the AIGA conference, or maybe sooner at the HOW conference in June. This means that through writing (online and on paper), judging, teaching, attending events and staying involved in the design community I seek to avoid disconnecting myself from the Design life I crave and love.

Should I feel guilty about day-care or working late? Should I be worried about what will happen to my "career" if I stay home?

No. No. And no. Each situation is different, and the parameters (from financial to emotional) vary from person to person. As long as you feel comfortable with your choices, then those decisions are the right ones for you. Not your neighbor. Not your relative. Not the nagger on the other side of the coffee shop.

On Mar.24.2007 at 10:04 AM
Hollis’s comment is:

Armin I remember reading about how you used to go to the store with your mom in Mexico City to buy monografias. So, I hope your daughter enjoys healthy visits back to Mexico to visit her family and experience some of the traditions you and Bryony had growing up, and to smother her with muchos besos of course!

One of my friends recently described newbie parenting as like waking up in your bedroom but it's been relocated to Zimbabwe, where everything's familiar but awesome and new at the same time.

¡Muchas felicidades!

On Mar.24.2007 at 11:03 AM
Pesky’s comment is:

No one could be better suited to contemplete the balance of Baby and Baskerville as our Bryony...if you come thru Atlanta for the How Conference in June, look me up, Vits. This time I have a place...

On Mar.24.2007 at 11:22 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

I could have tried to spell contemplate, ya know.....

On Mar.24.2007 at 11:24 PM
DadoQueiroz’s comment is:

Congratulations! I wish you guys all the happiness in the world. Wow, so nice... I have no experience of parenthood, but seems to me you're taking very wise decisions.

On Mar.25.2007 at 12:16 AM
Andy Malhan’s comment is:

It's hard not to repeat everything that people have said already, but I'll add my congratulations to the heap and a quick tidbit:

I wouldn't stress too much over balancing being a mom and being a designer, Bryony. As a parent and a husband to a very career focused wife, I know first hand that there isn't a lot of difference in the results obtained by good parenting and those by exemplary parenting.

Bad parenting on the other hand is well, bad. As long as you're covering the basics, your daughter will turn out just fine.

Enjoy yourselves. This balance between work, spouse, child and self is what life is all about. Remember to enjoy the journey.

On Mar.25.2007 at 12:11 PM
Shahla’s comment is:

Congratulations on expecting a springtime baby girl. I had surmised the two of you were having an addition to the family since seeing the Cooper-Hewitt Museum photo last December.
: )
: )
You're in for lots of warm and joyous moments : )


On Mar.25.2007 at 04:54 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Many sincere congratulations, Bryony and Armin.

In my experience -- with the first child -- you have to deal with the fear of the unknown.

But for any children after that, there's just the fear of the known.

Best wishes!

On Mar.26.2007 at 01:36 PM
Debbie’s comment is:

You wrote, "I want to be a Stay At Home Mom, but I also wish to continue working and growing as a Designer. Is this possible?"

Yes, it is--I did it. My youngest (of 3) will graduate in June. I've raised 3 bright, talented, loving kids. Over the last year, I transitioned back into design full-time, having maintained a freelance career while they were growing up. It went much more smoothly than I expected. Today, I accepted a position in a web design firm at a very competitive salary. I'm so glad I made the choices I did--and my kids are too. :) Congratulations!

On Mar.27.2007 at 12:14 AM
Kari’s comment is:

I just went back to work after having a baby. I was creatively drained when I was pregnant and I had thought it would continue into eternity (how dramatic)... but here I am back at work and the creativity has emerged. My priorities have changed and my daughter has become my main source of inspiration. I never knew how I would change as a woman, as a designer, as a creative being. No one could prepare me. Now I am looking at baby toys and books wondering how I could make them better!

Being a mother has made my design more effective. I am able to multi-task better and not stress about all of the little things. Everything seems so miniscule now that I have a daughter. You will see. Congrats!

On Mar.27.2007 at 01:13 PM
HANK’s comment is:

CONGRATS!

On Mar.27.2007 at 10:48 PM
Susan's’s comment is:

Oh boy...congratulations! And best of luck with those big plans. Just take it one day at a time...most of us mom's claim to be lucky if we get a shower every day, let alone time to write and travel!

On Apr.02.2007 at 10:09 AM
B. Jones’s comment is:

Congratulations! First, for the baby. Two, for choosing the road less traveled. So many mothers feel that career= what's best for the children. It pleases me to know that someone out there still believes in the "family first" system. The good thing about design is that you can always do it. You have the drive, the skills, and (most importantly) your priorities in order. Be blessed!

On Apr.02.2007 at 12:07 PM
g-sppud’s comment is:

Congratulations. It is indeed a blast, and great for inspiration. Also, nothing erases a bad day like going home to that little face - truly amazing.

On Apr.02.2007 at 01:46 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Congrats to you both! Yes, priorities will change, and yes you will continue to design and perhaps find more inspiration in your work through everyday living with the new family.

My wife and I found out we were expecting at the beginning of my 5th quarter at PC, right before Hank's class. I didn't take part in an internship opportunity because if I earned it, I'd have been away from my wife during her pregnancy. He was born at the end of the 7th quarter, and after that, I never worked harder in my life. Funny thing is, I loved every moment, and had no qualms staying up late to finish a project if it meant I got to rock our sweet little man to sleep.

The best is yet to come. Enjoy.

On Apr.03.2007 at 10:03 PM