parenting, working, juggling, breathing.

March 11, 2010 |  Category:   family favorite posts life parenting the biz



I’m not sure how we’re getting things done most days. Some things are definitely easier now that the girls are older, but in other ways it’s also harder as they both are commanding our attention in different ways. The older one mopes around the house like a teenager sighing that she’s bored. We realize that we need to schedule more playdates for her, but it’s been hard to commit to plans and host playdates when our schedules are so up in the air. The younger one freaks out every time Mark leaves the apartment, even if it’s just to throw out the garbage, so thinking up alternate forms of childcare other than the few people who she is familiar with has been stressful. Lately we’re feeling like our heads are spinning. I’m not really complaining even though all personal projects have been put on hold. I am working and with that brings relief, a bit of a cushion and being able to exhale as I’ve realized that I’ve been holding my breath for two months. But it’s hectic, always hectic.

Mark and I will start each day checking in.

“So, what do you have to get done today?”

Then we’ll circle around till we find some kind of child care configuration that works. Sometimes it falls into place and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t or if there is just too much to do, the work gets delegated to the evening after the kids are in bed. It’s like doing a 2nd shift of work from 8pm – 2am, but it’s 6 hours of uninterrupted work time. The day is not unlike trying to piece together a puzzle, constrained by time, appointments, deadlines, drop offs and pickups. We think in chunks of time: “you can have 4 hours here if you cover for me in the morning”. And this is how the negotiations begin.

When we successfully get through a day, we breath a sigh of relief. It’s like we beat the system by creating our own work schedules and careers without conforming to a black and white world of deciding between a full time job or no job. Sometimes it doesn’t make financial sense to work if all you’re bringing home is a paycheck to cover the costs of childcare. There are other reasons to work, of course – benefits (and for us, that would be a huge boon, obviously) and keeping your foot in the door of your career. But I guess those of us who decide that we can try to do it all – work, make money, conduct our own businesses, and build flexibility into our schedules so that we can chaperone a school field trip once in a while – make a choice. We trade in stability for flexibility, fund our own retirement and health insurance for more time with our kids, sacrifice free weekends and evenings to juggle 2nd jobs and multiple projects. But this is the price to pay for paving your own path.


I don’t remember too much the struggles that my parents may have had with childcare issues when I was a kid (as it should be since kids shouldn’t be burdened by the stress that you may be feeling). I do, however, remember being shuttled off to babysitters early on which was something that I dreaded and I used to hide under furniture, crying, not wanting to go (I had serious separation issues which isn’t surprising considering stuff that happened in my early years). Later, when my brother was born, my grandmother arrived from Korea and lived with us for many years which must have been a huge relief to my mom.

But I do recall one incident when my parents must have been in a strapped situation. I was around 5, although I can’t be sure. My dad took me to his store in Manhattan, I assume because there was no other choice that day. I don’t really remember what I did all day at the shop, but at one point in the afternoon he took me down to the movie theater 2 doors down from the store. Disney’s Cinderella was playing on the big screen. He asked the guard to watch me for the duration of the film, instructed him to call if I needed to be picked up, told him that he owned a store 2 doors down. And then he left. The theater was nearly empty and I was scared. I may have even started crying, quietly. It may have been the first time that I had ever watched a movie on the big screen (I think it was). But I do remember that as the movie started playing, I got totally engrossed in the film and forgot that I was scared. Right as the movie ended, my dad promptly picked me up and took me back to the store.

I wonder how different NY in the 70s could have been back then if my dad thought it was ok to do that. And I suppose the guard or anyone else in the theater thought nothing of it if they didn’t call the police or flat our refused to let my dad leave me there, but can you imagine? But I remember this one day so clearly, sitting in that dark theater all by myself watching Cinderella. I sort of laugh about this now when I think of all the creative ways we deal with childcare dilemmas while we try to push through our crazy days. Most times we succeed…and those are good days.


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  • Randy Pena March 11, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    A friend of mine just emailed me one of your articles from a while back. I read that one a few more. Really enjoy your blog. Thanks

  • Caroline, No. March 11, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Things were just so different back then, it feels like.

    Reading your post, and as part of a 2 full-time working team, I have to say that I think you’ve drawn the long straw with your way of life. Having the flexibility and not having to answer to anyone, or put in a performance every day at work (i.e. be fully on top, professional, gathered, even though you have worries at home) is by far the best position to be in.

    Although it can’t be easy either! I just think you can at least work flexibly and around your other commitments.

    Make sure to make some time for yourself too, if you possibly can!

  • Ivana March 11, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    You are doing it so well ! You have a great strong nice family !!

  • Jenna March 11, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Both routes are hard! There are pros and cons to both and we weigh them all the time, although this is just the direction our life has taken. Even though I freelance, I still have to put in a performance, perhaps not physically in an office, but most definitely through the work that I am being paid for by my clients. That too is a juggling act. You have to sometimes pretend that childcare issues don’t exist when meetings and deadlines are scheduled. But either way, whether you are a working parent full time, freelance, part time or in whatever configuration, it’s a juggling act.

  • lesley [smidgebox] March 11, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    this is such a thought-provoking post. i feel a similar combination of relief as my kids get older, but stress over the fact that our almost 2-y-o is also very finicky about being left with anyone, except our 2 very closest friends. it makes it very difficult to even consider any childcare alternatives, i’m sure she’d get used to it but in the moment, it causes such stress.
    i often lament the loss of some of the freedoms of my own childhood. i was allowed to go to the park on my own at a very young age, and lived in a safe and quiet neighbourhood. now, though i live not far from where i grew up, there is no way i could let my kids cross the street, let alone go to the park, on their own. i often wonder whether i’ll ever feel safe letting them go in this day and age!
    kudos to you on the extra work, and best of luck with the daily shuffle

  • Beth from Maryland March 11, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Beautiful post. It felt like a parents virtually hugging. My husband and I go through the same thing everyday as musicians. I have a full-time position and he freelances, so we’re constantly juggling schedules to care for our one-year old daughter. Childcare is my least favorite part of being a parent, but I love the rest of it. Thanks.

  • wendy March 11, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Thanks for your eloquence. I/we can 100% relate. The stresses of running a business can often cloud over the benefits of flexibility and personal satisfaction – though, it often feels like flexibility is difficult when you are doing the job of 5 people while also trying to ensure your children are getting a sound childhood experience. Love your Cinderella story – how scary and honest….parenting is hard…no matter the generation or situation. Tough decisions are made..some rational, some irrational…all the while hoping (with fingers crossed) everyone turns out fine in the end.

  • nichole Robertson March 11, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    This is our life exactly (yet, you already know that). We also have a morning “round-up” of to dos, scheduling, etc., and often put things off until the kids go to bed. I just said to Evan last week: “what is it like to end the day with a movie? a beer? an outing? Sometimes it makes me sad, other times, I think I am having my cake and eating it too by somehow being able to juggle it all. It’s stressful, but it somehow all works out.

  • unha March 11, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    i recently found this article on this issue.

    i grew up going to my mom’s studio, helping her sort stuff so she can work on her projects or ready fo school. all these “jobs” i did for her is one of the fondest memory from my childhood. I bet it’s the same for your kids.

    Jinu is getting to do all these user testings for the products these days. I’m trying to find a way to teach photoshop early on so he can put in some real work. 🙂

  • ChantaleP March 11, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    I love your blog Jenna. It’s a hardcore bare bones look at your life. I was reading everyone’s comments.. I fall into the 9-5:30-ish rat race pack & all day long I day dream about having my own biz and working from home. You’ve given me a reality check. lol. I still think you guys are doing an incredible job of both: business + parenting. It gives me hope! As for that memory, wow.. My parents used to lug me around to their store too but mostly, from kindergarten on.. I was a latchkey kid. I once forgot my key to the house and sat on my doorstep from when I got home til my parents came home. About 3 hrs. Those were the days I guess.

  • Lecia/A Day That is Dessert March 11, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    Oh my god Jenna your story about watching Cinderella breaks my heart for you and your parents. Raising a family is not for the faint of heart. You and Mark are doing such a good job! Thanks for your honesty and for sharing.

  • The little things March 12, 2010 at 2:14 am

    It is hard but I wouln’t swap the flexibility for stability any time. I like to be there when my children need me. It never feels enough though – as you say children don’t see it any other way and are very selfish with their time with you – after all to them they are the centre of their world. Still last night with loads of orders to get out and having sat in a theatre for three hours waiting for my youngest in a dance festival she still held up her duvet for me to get in for a cuddle before bedtime – how could I resist, just a quick one!

  • christine March 12, 2010 at 2:47 am

    I’ve just recently started reading your blog, and I just love it. (Sadly, I discovered Whimsy & Spice at one of the worst possible times — I gave up sweets for Lent! — but I can’t wait to order some sweets after Easter.)

    I especially love this honest take at life as a business owner, freelancer, parent, wife, superwoman. I have a 6-month-old and run my own little design studio from home, and I can definitely relate. Being a parent is hard any way you slice it. Running your own business is, too. Doing both, well, darn. It’s exhausting. Of course, it is all worth it. To have a child you love so much and a job that fulfills you. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I suspect you wouldn’t either.

    Anyway, thank you so much for the honesty and inspiration.

  • Rowaida Flayhan March 12, 2010 at 5:33 am

    Hi Jenna, you have a wonderful family, I am sure you and Mark are doing a great job. I love your blog, thanks for your honesty.

  • gizella March 12, 2010 at 10:59 am

    one of my jobs was to hang out with my aunt who was 11 years older than me and work with her and her wooden toy business…i suppose she was babysitting me now that I think of it. I had to hammer all the axels into the little wooden wheels one cent a piece went to me.

    But parenting is the hardest gig of all. Out all of my jobs in and out of the corporate world, this is the absolute killer. You are doing a fabulous job, and putting good things out into the world at the same time.

  • D March 12, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Hang in there. Personally, my husband and I both work full-time and my daughter has been in daycare since 10 weeks old! By now they are like her family members and at 1 years old, she barely bats an eye when we leave her each day. I am lucky to have a laid-back job, but there are those weeks when it feels like I haven’t seen her for more than a few hours. We all make sacrifices, my own Mom stayed home with me and my sister until we were in school, and I don’t remember it one bit. In my mind, she always worked. Go figure.

  • Kate March 12, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Jenna- I recently discovered your blog, and absolutely love it. Your photographs are amazing, and your honesty is appreciated. I’m a 9-5’er who dreams of working from home.. so I agree with comments above; thanks for the reality check. I’m trying to balance work and my art, and don’t even have kids yet!! yikes- so much to look forward to! thanks for the great post.

  • Bridgett || Perideau Designs March 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    I can totally relate to how you feel. We do the juggling on the weekends since he has to work different hours and I try to work on my business. I guess everything is one big juggling act.

  • bronwyn March 12, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    I can completely relate to this. I have a steady Monday through Friday job and my husband has a business and works from home part of the time and from his studio the other part of the time. He is home during the day with our 3 year old. I go to work at 6 in the morning so I can get home early enough for him to be able to get some work done. It is a juggling act and I can definitely see the pros and cons to both. I appreciate the benefits my company offers and I often forget to factor this in when I plot self employment. I also appreciate the steady paycheck when my husband’s clients are late paying him. We never know exactly when his payments will come in and it can be stressful at times. On the other hand, I would love more flexibility. I would love to be able to decide that I just can’t get up at 4am today and opt to do my work a little later. Or if it’s a day that my daughter wakes up while I’m getting ready and cries because she doesn’t want me to go to work, I’d love to be able to take 30 minutes and snuggle with her until she falls back to sleep. I also feel like there is a lot of wasted time when you work for someone else. I could probably plow through my work in 5 or 6 hours if it weren’t for pointless meetings and chatty co workers. Even if I do finish my work early, it’s not like I can work on personal projects at work or leave early. Either way, working and parenting is a juggling act. It seems like you’re doing a great job. Wow, the 70’s were a different time.

  • wendy March 12, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    I agree with everyone — you guys are doing a fabulous job juggling between work and family. It’s probably a lot harder than it looks, and I’m just starting to get a taste of it. One day I hope to be able to work from home so that I can spend more time with the kids.. and even though that seems like the side with the greener grass right now, I’m sure it will be stressful and challenging. My hope now is to just be in the present and enjoy the current stage of life, no matter how hectic and crazy it might be! This is an endlessly fascinating topic to me now — I love hearing about how other parents make it work. As usual, thank you so much for sharing Jenna (especially in the midst of your hectic day!).

  • Deepa March 12, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    See if you lived in Bay Area I’d totally offer to babysit C and M whenever you needed me to just so you could continue doing what you do but esp. so you continue finding time to write this lovely blog of yours:-) But, seriously, you should move to sunnier bay area and take me up on my offer!!

  • annie March 12, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Life was certainly different back then… i was lucky that my parents owned their business and took me there all the time, and if that was not the case my mom was at home… i thought it would be the same when I grew up… but like you we have the same struggle.
    We both have a more than full time job and I am in the process of starting my own business, we have a nanny but is hard to see your salary going to someone to spend time with your kids when you wish it was you.
    I don’t have an answer. but i can tell you that you meet people along the road that you learn to trust, play-dates become a salvation and neighbors saviours.
    I’ve been blessed/cursed with insomnia, so late night is my time to get things done.

    I know this might sound strange, but my kids are your kids age and we live locally… when ever you need a hand, just let me know… we’ll go to the park.

  • A Merry Mishap March 13, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    You’re amazing! I have no idea what that’s like right now but my husband and I have dreamt of a life very similar. With the flexibility without stability, a way to still follow after our dreams but not sacrifice time with our children or with each other. I admire you for making it work day to day, I can imagine it itsn’t easy!