How Becoming a Parent Unleashed My Creativity and Led to My Startup

As with most people anticipating the arrival of their first child, I had little idea what to expect. You talk to others, read, imagine, but nothing prepares you. Warnings come about sleep deprivation, new responsibilities, physical changes. Yet looking back on the births of my four children, what nobody had ever touched on was the extraordinary, breath-taking upsurge in creativity that this natural event drove in my life. It was as if a parallel narrative was happening in my head along the lines of ‘you’ve created a new life; what’s stopping you?

As my belly swelled with my first pregnancy, I was in the throes of restoring a house. My partner would walk into rooms to find me at the top of a step-ladder reaching high to paint the ceiling. Horrified, he would beg me to come down, unaware that although it looked totally unstable, my baby belly and I were happily balanced. Along with the drive to get the house ‘done’, I was overseeing a huge, wonderful project at the design studio where I worked. It was one of the top moments of my career to date. I had to step back, leaving it in the hands of others, taking time out to have our child.

Three weeks’ later, back copywriting on the project, words were flowing out of me, written as my new baby lay next to me gazing up at a vase of daffodils. Visits to the on-going shoot at the photographic studio accompanied by a smiling baby were welcomed. And for the first months’ of her life, she came everywhere with me as I worked. The office, all meetings, shoots, research trips.

But that voice in my head kept on… you’ve created life, now create your own business. It was as if creativity was rampant across every aspect of my world. So I started a side hustle. New baby to look after – tick – house decoration to finish – tick – full-time job to continue – tick, and now a side hustle? My friends thought I was mad. But that surge of creative energy couldn’t be denied.

Returning from our summer holiday, a ‘don’t darken our door again’ letter awaited me. My company resented my side hustle, and were letting me go. The creativity that had created my baby, my nascent business, was now going to have to support me. And support me it did. I worked my socks off to build a small design studio that allowed me to shape my life as our family needed. Work came in, I sourced freelance designers, hustled, and nursed all at the same time.

And then baby number 2 was on the way.

Shortly after he arrived, we moved out of the city. So another house to make into a home. But I still ran my tiny studio, this time from a cupboard in the playroom. I was happy plate-spinning, with clients chatting to me on the phone as I had one child climbing up the back of my chair, another feeding in my arms. No one was telling me what I could and couldn’t do with my start-up. I just did. Inventive problem-solving was the norm. Whether that was around small children, design questions, client needs – all were grist to the mill.

And then I decided I wanted to design and launch my own range of home furnishing and garden accessories. All to be made from natural materials, by hand, using small UK-based suppliers. Was it just a coincidence that the idea’s conception, through its development right up to the business launch exactly matched my third pregnancy? I remember sitting opposite my assistant, who on realizing I was in labour at my desk, phoned my partner and insisted I head to hospital.  

On a hot summer’s day two years’ later I was at the photographic shoot for our expanding range on a Dorset beach. Enormously pregnant with my fourth and final baby, I smiled as the other three children ran wild across the sand, playing with our props and products. They were as much part of my growing business as the rest of my team.

Starting businesses and building them is a messy world. You have to focus on winning work and delivering work. You have to be the creative and the management. You have to empty the bins and ensure there is loo-paper. You have to work ‘in’ the business and ‘on’ the business. You are wearing all the hats and have all the responsibility. And with a growing family exactly the same patterns are to be found in your home life.

But what I have realized is that your work life should feed your home life which in turn should feed your work life. It is a rich continuum, a circle that energizes you, your team, your family.

When people talk about a work-life balance, it seems they put work and life at the opposite ends of a see-saw where if one end goes up, the other goes down, with each permanently fighting each other.  But when did ‘work’ not become part of ‘life’?  

Work and home are both rich parts of your life. And what the arrival of my children heralded for me was an unlocking of my personal creativity that allowed me to develop and intertwine both aspects fully and deeply.  I benefitted, they benefitted as both family and business thrived. I didn’t always get it right, and there were times when I forgot to pick them up from school as I resolved a work problem.  But starting and running your own business around parenthood allows you to creatively shape both the family and the work world you want.

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Erica Wolfe-Murray

I've worked across the creative industries as creative head & FD. I now run innovation studio, Lola & am director of fin-tech start-up Taxo'd & author of business growth book 'Simple Tips Smart Ideas'
  • UK