Back again with a fab new instalment of the 'Parenthood Unplugged' series! I hope you enjoyed reading Lucy & Tim's thoughts on free-spirited living with kids in a yurt, Ali sharing about motherhood on the tour bus of a world-famous band, and Sheena as an expat, raising kids in a village in Africa! For some more insight into a different aspect of parenthood, I'd like to introduce you to my pal Aly Harte. Aly and I mainly became friends through social media and blogging (isn't that just a big old sign of the times?!) She and her family live in Belfast - Aly works as an artist, her husband, Michael is a teacher and they have two young boys.
Being a self-employed mama is something that has always fascinated me because of the special kind of self-motivation and balancing that it requires and I've loved watching Aly launch and nurture her career and hold down family life with such fun and zest. I thought it would be interesting to hear about her journey in balancing family life and self-employment so here we go!
Aly, WELCOME! You are a mama, a blogger and an artist, running your own business - tell us all a bit about how you have ended up doing what you are doing?
Hi! Thanks for having me over here Mel!
Well - I studied at art college and after I completed my Masters in Fine Art I was out in the world as a practicing artist who only really practised her art teaching workshops for the Arts Council.
I relied on my role as a support worker for young people with learning disabilities as my income and didn't know what art as a 'business' was.
Then I had our first-born and my priorities shifted. I was raising this little person so my career took a backseat. I made greetings cards and continued my work as a one-to-one support worker but my main focus was motherhood.
After my second boy was born we moved to Belfast and I started to make commissions for people I knew, working in our study when the boys went to bed in the evening. This was a transitional and exciting time for me. Within a few months, my momentum had wheels and I got my first website running. It just happened to have a print shop on the site design so I decided to make prints of my originals so I could add them to it.
Fast forward a few years and I now make art from the garage my brother renovated into a fancy studio for me last year. From it I make and sell original art works, commissions and prints of my work. I blog on Darling Edna mainly about my journey in mental and physical wellbeing with life stories and recipes. I see it as an extension of my creativity and I totally love this part of my work/life.
Such a great journey evolving for you - how are you finding the balance of self-employment and parenthood?
I am always learning! Some weeks I feel like I have had the best time with my kids while smashing my to do list for work. Then other times I struggle and feel like I'm more consumed by work and less "present" with the boys and my husband Michael. I'm getting better at switching off on the weekends though which has been a great shift and has added worth to our family time.
I can imagine it is hard to switch off. Maybe you could tell us a bit more about the benefits and the drawbacks of working for yourself and family life?
The benefits are absolutely the flexibility and the freedom. I can do swim lessons at 4pm on a Friday or take some time off in the morning if I work late the night before. This is great.
The drawbacks are probably that the buck stops with me when something goes wrong in work. This can be as fickle as me noticing a typo on my latest blog post when we're at the zoo, or having to take difficult phone calls right when we have sat down to a tasty lunch in a restaurant. I guess I don't escape the business fully, except for those times when I have it all scheduled and ready (controlling much!?) or when there is no wifi to hand. This inability to switch off from work can be a drawback.
In saying that, if I get a phone call during the same lunch out with the family to tell me I just landed a big commission then of course this is when self-employment is awesome and we can celebrate! Work and family life can be beautifully combined from time to time.
You do a great job of involving your kids in your business and I love that it all feels really family friendly - do you think your lads have a good understanding of what you do for a living?
The boys have a few days with a childminder a week so they know this is definite work time for me. When my mum steps in and helps with childcare on the other days I usually end up with the boys in and out of the studio or one of them in reporting some tales to me about the other one!
For the most part I don't mind this. We have a little understanding/ritual where the eldest boy uses the soft pastels to make maps and the other uses the paper cutter to shred paper I have in the recycling bin. These are simple little things that keep my workspace welcoming for them.
Obviously there are times when the studio is a little too welcoming - like last week when the second-born walked water over an original that was drying on the floor because he wanted to fill his water pistol up at the sink!
ARGH! I'm sure you had to dig deep in that situation! In that vein, other than never leaving originals on the floor ever again (!), tell us a little bit about how motherhood has shaped your work?
This is a great question.
Without a doubt motherhood has shaped my work.
I reckon I owe some of my ballsiness, my passion, my excitement and my inspiration to motherhood. I am driven through the love and excitement that has come from the privilege of becoming a mother.
Give us a run down of a typical day in the Harte house...
This changes as the boys are in childcare some days but in short:
Days start with breakfast (usually Michael does breakfast and uniform duty!) then I do teeth and School/Nursery run.
I check emails and process orders in the mornings, often a postal run or trip to the framers is in there. I'm working on originals or commissions; shooting videos for youtube, making phone calls, meeting with clients and other professionals - both art and blog related.
When everyone is back together and after homeworks are done, we try as much as possible to have dinners around the table together. I mainly work on my blog in the evenings or Michael and I get in an episode or two of House of Cards on Netflix!
Now for a biggie - how has parenthood changed you?
Apart from making me more crazy!? No, I'm joking.
I think I am more proactive than I was before kids. I was always good at getting things done but now I (mostly) use my time efficiently. Nothing teaches efficiency like trying to get a list of things done while a baby naps! This was, in itself, good preparation for running a business!
Absolutely. And finally, what are your greatest hopes for your family and your career?
I think the family and career hopes can intertwine here - my greatest hopes are for overall happiness and contentment and a thirst for living life whole-heartedly.
Aly is really inspiring, don't you think? Thank you for sharing with us! Be sure to check out Aly's work and her fabulous new blog, Darling Edna. She is also really active on Instagram and has an account dedicated to her wellbeing journey with lots of tips and recipes!