Welcome to Week 49 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 essentially became the career coach I needed when I decided not to pursue acting as my "grown-up" career, and I couldn't find anyone who understood my values, needs and priorities as a creative person."
Michelle Ward is the inspirational mastermind behind "When I Grow Up" creative career coaching and she's been featured in New York Magazine, The Huffington Post, Newsweek, Etsy, among other places. Her accomplishments include being a breast cancer kicker, a Judge Judy contest winner, and a kick-ass ukelele player (and her ukelele is pink, natch). With a graduate degree in theater from NYU, Michelle brings her warm, engaging and vibrant style to everything she does.
Welcome to Motherhood by Design, Michelle – can you please describe your family?
Myself, my husband Luke, and our 19 month old daughter Ramona
What is your business?
When I Grow Up Coach LLC. I've offered dream career guidance for creative women since '08, and it's the best!
When you were a child yourself, how did you spend your free time?
Ohmygosh, I did everything - sports, piano, performing, and lots of imagination games like playing "teenager" and "secretary." But by the time I was 10 I was hit with the acting bug, so it was all about musical theater all the time.
Did crafting or handwork play a significant role in your childhood? If yes, in what way?
No, I'm actually not artsy/crafty at all! I can sing and act and kinda dance, but I don't have a visually artistic bone in my body.
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?
No - I actually hated kids growing up! They were so boring and annoying. :) I always just assumed I'd like my own. Thankfully I assumed right! And have grown to love/like other kids along the way.
Was motherhood something you’d always imagined for yourself, or is it an idea you grew into later in life?
I think I always knew I wanted to be a Mom, but it wasn't important to me until I was married and felt ready for it - or as ready as I was gonna be! We had fertility issues and then I got a cancer diagnosis in late 2011 at age 33, so it was just awful to have to put aside the dream of being a Mom and focus on my treatment. We adopted Ramona in the summer of 2014 - it felt like forever from the time we started trying until we brought her home!
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?
I still feel like I'm in my early motherhood years...but yes, I did/do make time to play my ukulele, sing, and write. I always want Ramona to see her parents doing what brings them joy.
Did you start your creative business prior to becoming a mother, or after?
Prior, in 2008.
What prompted you to start your creative business? Is it something you saw yourself doing when you were a child?
Oh no - life coaches didn't really exist in the '80s! I essentially became the career coach I needed when I decided not to pursue acting as my "grown-up" career, and I couldn't find anyone who understood my values, needs and priorities as a creative person.
How do you balance your creative work with your role as a mother and how has that changed over time?
My husband is a freelancer, so we take turns doing our work and watching the baby. Just recently we have our babysitter here 3 full days a week instead of 1-2, and that helps us have our own time to ourselves to do our professional and/or creative work.
In what ways does motherhood affect your work processes?
I'm working a lot less since becoming a Mom - an average of 20-25 hours/week instead of 30-40. I haven't felt, though, that my work has suffered or I'm doing anything less than what I did before. It's definitely more working nights and during naps, though!
In what ways does motherhood affect your creative products?
Ooh, that's a good question! I think it boils down to how I want to spend my time, and only offering what could work within the family/baby time I want and need.
What is the biggest impact that your children have had on your business?
I used to be unilaterally focused on my business, but that's obviously not the case anymore. I've learned when to put my work down, thankfully.
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?
Ramona's still so young so it's hard to tell, but I'm personally glad we're able to spend more time with her because we're business owners and don't need full-time child care.
Is there something you hope your children learn from you by having a creative business?
Oh, I hope Ramona sees that there is real value and fulfillment in doing the work you enjoy and helping people in the way that it's important to you. I hope she knows that none of it is impossible!
What advice would you offer the mom who feels drained by the demands of motherhood and wants more hands-on creativity in her life?
I like to say that baby steps build the strongest foundation. 15 minutes of creative time each day winds up being almost 8 hours/month - and that's not chump change! Find those 15 minutes to play in whatever way is enjoyable to you, and make it a habit.
Thank you so much, Michelle, for sharing your thoughts with us today! You can find Michelle in the following places: