I always knew I wanted to be a mom but the thought of doing both advertising and motherhood well seemed daunting to me — much like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and mastering quantum mechanics all in the same breath. And, believe you me, it sometimes still feels this way. I remember thinking of my colleagues and bosses with children as a novel breed of superheroes. How were they doing it? Were they popping magical mommy pills? Powering up with bowls of quinoa and green shakes? Getting cloned at a superhuman factory? It awed me. How did they find time to be mom or dad between pitches and late night pizza, client calls, travel, market research, managing multiple brands, mentoring young talent, not to mention crunching time sheets awaiting Friday submission? How does one juggle all that and a little one begging for the teet screaming “Mama”?
We all know advertising can be a tough business no matter how much we love it. And I do love it! Getting to problem-solve with some of the world’s bravest and most audacious creative minds and storytellers is downright invigorating. But you throw that into the mix with a parent and your little one Facetiming you and asking when you’re coming home. Dinner’s getting cold. You’re going to miss bath time. Again. That’s when it gets a bit hard. The juggle becomes a struggle that can take its natural toll on even the best of us.
So, before taking on this tremendous challenge of Mommyhood I asked anyone and everyone who would lend me their ear and words of wisdom, how the hell were they doing it? Suddenly, I felt like I was being invited into an exclusive club uncovering long-kept secrets of creative mamas and papas. From every angle, they had stepped into this mighty juggling act and had plenty to share on what they’d figured out. And one by one it was revealed to me how to simplify and tame this multi-headed beast called Mommyhood. Here’s some of my favorite advice crowdsourced from my most admired creative colleagues who mother and father and advertise like no body’s business.
Priorities rise to the top like foam in a good cappuccino
Yes, believe it or not, you find yourself prioritizing a little better, because time is so precious and every minute counts. You become your own well-oiled machine, efficient to the core. No energy wasted. No time misspent. And probably most important, you know when to say when. Being a creative director in healthcare, you know you don’t have infinite hours to brainstorm how to transform entrenched prescribing habits and get a much-needed medication into the hands of patients because your babysitter has a life to get to. Or your stay-at-home parent is going to go bat-shit crazy if you don’t return home soon. So you kill it in the time you have and you get it done when the clock strikes “pencils down.”
One of my favorite stories this brings to mind is the time my colleague was working on a project with a video editor. The creative team bombarded this editor with change after change after change after change. Seriously. Finally, the editor sent my colleague a clip of the movie Frozen with Idina Menzel belting out “Let It Go.” The song sent my whole body writhing in laughter. It made me realize sometimes we do need to let go or we’ll never gain true momentum or achieve a sense of completion.
Flexibility and freedom take on a new work form
Agencies that allow for the flexibility to be your best creative self and your best mom self are where you’ll thrive. That means when you have to, you work remotely. So maybe you take a client call while breastfeeding your baby. Or maybe you put your wailing child on mute when your strategist is speaking about how well concepts are measuring up against the strategic imperatives of the brand. Or maybe you leave a meeting a little early to pump because your baby’s gotta eat. Or maybe you step away to FaceTime with your kids before your partner puts them to sleep. Those who know, know it is a strange magic trick we do every day. Abracadabra and all! The trick is to be present whether at work or home or both.
And one thing I know from being on both sides is that just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean your colleague (who isn’t) can stay later or work later. They have lives too! It’s important to work out a schedule with your entire team that works for all of you: parents, singletons, caregivers alike. At the end of the day, respect and empathy all around is what it’s all about.
Carving out a piece of life’s pie for passion projects can feed the soul
One of my favorite mentors of all time is an acclaimed playwright and Creative Director. It astounded me how he’d stay the late nights with his team, go home and be the best dad to two kids, and was still able to be prolific in his creative endeavors, writing play after play. His secret? He’d wake up at 5 am every morning and write for two straight hours. I know what you’re thinking. The thought of 5 am makes me want to puke too, but he told me during this time, he would simply write. It could be pure genius or sheer nonsense. It didn’t matter which way the pen decided to bleed. What mattered was the discipline in just sitting down and committing to the art of writing.
Another mom Creative told me she puts her baby to bed, finishes her leftover work stuff, then during the hours of 11 pm to 1 am she creates her art. Yes, she’s bone tired and brain tired but it also energizes her to do work she loves. This advice continues to inspire me to do my own passion projects. Am I completely successful in the discipline? Truth be told, no. But to me it’s the pursuit of the discipline that matters. Some days I succeed. Most days I fall hard on my face. But I keep on trying. I make a conscious effort to carve out a piece of time just for me. Right now, my time is my 45-minute commute where I jot down ideas for comics in my iPhone notes. This teeny tiny action feeds my soul.
It’s the time in between giving my baby the biggest bear hug before closing the apartment door and swiping my work ID card to face being swarmed by hot sheets and unanswered emails. It’s the time I am actually using to write this very article. It’s that time in between, when I nest in the glory of my personal space. Doesn’t matter that a million New Yorkers are crowding up against me, falling asleep on my shoulder, or grunting about the person who smells like bad Chinese food behind them. It’s the time in between I feel most human and selfish – a good kind of selfish. It’s important to lay claim to something that is all your own. Consider it the modern urban version of Virginia Wolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” Reclaiming time not work-related, not mommy-related. Just “you” related. Easier said than done, I know. But how I love and embrace the time in between!
So here’s to every mom and dad who prove every day, despite the tired sleepless nights, you can make great advertising and still be a kick-butt parent. To be honest, now more than ever I think of moms and dads as superheroes (especially having become one myself). Bravo from one mom to all the moms and pops out there who make stuff happen…and to all the Creatives who encourage us to simplify and allow us the freedom to balance and bloom as we make stuff happen. All of you inspire me. Let’s inspire each other.