Including Your Family In The Ins & Outs of Business From the Perspective of Connie Matisse of East Fork Pottery
Consider this a virtual cup of coffee.
If there is a common thread that binds us all as makers and especially as parents it's that no one (no matter what social media tells us) has it totally figured out. We can rest in the confidence that there are approximately 1 million (we counted) other people out there asking the same questions to their friends and colleagues as they try and balance the world that is work and home. The good stuff comes when you are willing to examine what works for you and yours and what doesn't. We checked in with Connie Matisse of East Fork Pottery to give us a rundown on what running a successful business and being a mom of two looks for her like during a regular work week.
My task at hand is to come up with some pointers for doing the whole owning and operating a creative business while raising small children, and before I get going on it I want to voice a couple “big things”. First, I believe that the concept of Work-Life Balance is a myth invented to make you feel inadequate. I could write a book about it, but I’ll leave it at that. Second, if there’s one piece of parental advice that I would like to pass along it is and always will be this: “be very wary of people and companies quick to doll out bits of parental advice as if those bits were capital T truths. I’m going to tell you what’s been true for us—and what’s been true for us is unlikely to be true for you. All of us are different—we have differing networks of support, differing work responsibilities, different requirements for sleep, different boundaries, and we all know our kids are all different, too.
Context is important, so here’s my situation in a nutshell. My husband and I are two of the three founders of East Fork, a ceramics manufacturing and lifestyle company in Asheville, North Carolina. We have 35 employees and we’ll have 60 by the end of next year. When Vita was born, I wasn’t working full-time for East Fork. She and I had all the time in the world to go bang sticks together at Kindermusik, take luxurious walks through the forest, and make intense eye contact while nursing. With Lui, I was answering customer email from my phone, naked on an exercise ball, between contractions at 8 centimeters dilated. So both of us work full time outside our home. We have a 1 year old and 3 year old who are cared for by a a devoted nanny, at a drop-off daycare, and an amazing public preschool. It takes a village, ya’ll.
Because of our financial privilege, we have access to quality child care in a way that a lot of our friends do not. I didn’t grow up like that, and I’m still learning how to feel grateful for having help instead of just guilty. Still, I don’t feel like I’m able to get my work done during “work hours” and do a lot of work after the kids are asleep. Growing our business has been really taxing on my physical and mental wellness, but we made this bed ourselves and I don’t regret it.
Lately, though, I’ve been really wanting to figure out how to tip the scales a bit and devote more of myself to my babies. We’re in a bit of a sprint right now at work, but I’m trying to get us to a point where I can duck out at 2:30 1 day a week to take Vita to ballet and have some one on one time, and really be ready to completely disconnect when I get home in the evenings. Deeply involving my kids in our work life has been a part of an effort to bridge the distance between work and home. I think how much you include your child in your work is a deeply personal choice, influenced by your ability/desire to multitask, the nature of your work environment, their age, etc. My work is 90% behind a computer these days, and no toddler wants anything to do with that.
Anyway, with all that in mind, here are some thoughts on getting your kids involved with your work as an owner of a business that’s now responsible for paying 35 paychecks.
+ Help your children understand what you do: Back when Alex made pottery everyday and I took photos of pottery, it felt easy enough to tell Vita (now 3) that “Dada makes plates and bowls and Mama takes pictures and sells the plates and bowls.” Now, the truth is more like “Dada is East Fork’s CEO and is dealing mostly with investor relations and Mama is the CCO and is developing our marketing strategy for Q1,” and that doesn’t really roll off the tongue so well. Of course Vita doesn’t entirely understand what my job is—most of the members of the East Fork production team couldn’t tell you what I do on a day-to-day basis! But she knows that East Fork makes and sells beautiful pottery. She know it’s a team effort and she knows she’s a part of it. When we drive past the store she says, “There’s our East Fork! That’s where we work.”
+ Set up a workstation: Vita loves visiting the factory, but it’s a busy, hectic place where real work is being done. She’s still a little young for this idea, but I’m really excited for it. I’ve set up a little workstation next to my desk where she can do her work—there’s a little mound of clay, a couple sticks, crayons, paper, and cup for water. I’m looking forward to encouraging her to focus on her project while I focus on mine.
+ Introduce them to everyone: From birth to around 6 months, I brought Lui to work with me every single day. She slept in baskets under the table in the store or in the bathroom with the vent on for white noise. Of course, once they start moving around, things get scary. You can’t have a 2 year old in a shop full of only things that shatter when tossed on a polished concrete floor. But they come to every party and event, travel with us for shows and functions, swing by the store on Saturdays to say hi to the sales associates, and both know how to ham it up for the camera.
+ Use your work at home: Let your child interact with your work. One of the greatest joys of being a parent is watching our girls interact with the objects we dump so much energy into. When we go out to dinner, Vita’s the first one to notice the restaurant uses East Fork.
+ Know when to shut it all out. Easier said than done! Alex and I talk about work at dinner, while we’re giving Vita a bath, over Moana while driving. For months I responded to email every time I sat down to nurse. Vita was the first person to call us out for it—she used to say “STOP TALKING!”—succinct. I’ve finally started listening to her. I had pretty crippling insomnia for most of 2018 and the only thing that’s helped it is turning my phone off before I walk in the house after work.
+ Practice radical forgiveness and empathy: I said this in a recent interview and I’m gonna say it here again: Having children and running a business at the same time is going to require a lot of compromise. You’re always going to think that you could have done something better if only you’d been better rested/less distracted/had more time. No matter how hard you try, sometimes you’re going to let yourself down, your partner down, your kids down, your mom down. Your partner is going to let you down. Your friends are going to let you down. Forgive yourself. Forgive your partner. Forgive your friends. Forgive your kids. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself.