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Mothers in Motion

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How the crossroads of parenthood and a career in the motion design industry can make for a very bumpy ride

Thriving as a professional in the motion design field is hard. The concerns are myriad—the never-ending struggle to learn new software (those endless updates!), tap dancing through the proverbial minefield of tight budgets and deadlines, keeping on top of new technologies so you don’t get left behind, and much more.  But what happens when you throw motherhood into the mix of building a motion design career?

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You have the struggle to get pregnant, be pregnant, the unimaginable effort of labor and delivery, physical and emotional postpartum issues, followed by middle-of-the-night feedings, sleep-training (take a deep breath now!) not to mention all the trials and tribulations of raising children. Put all these struggles together, and you have an inkling of what myself and many other women in the industry are dealing with on a daily basis. Thriving as a professional in the motion design field is hard, but throw in motherhood? Wow!

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Yet, there’s hope for all of us mothers (and mothers to be) in the field. Despite the endless challenges, I believe that being a mother has helped me become a better professional in the field…and I’m not alone. As Maeva Pensivy—a motion designer/illustrator and mother to a 4-year-old in France—said to me, “The conflicts of working and motherhood are really important topics that we just don’t talk about...ever!”

So, let’s talk about it here:

One of the best ways to balance motherhood and motion design is to become a freelancer. Or, alternatively, there are many ways employers in our industry can mitigate these struggles to make a more equitable and enjoyable industry for all.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • Issues facing moms of young children in the motion design industry
  • What makes moms excellent candidates and employees
  • The need for a shift in our culture and government
  • Resources mothers can use in the community
  • My own personal journey into motherhood and motion design

Issues facing mothers in the motion design industry

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Changing diapers is the easy part.
Motherhood can be a taboo subject.

It’s unfortunate that most women in the job market are unable to call attention to their role as a spouse or parent. Most fathers in the motion design industry don't worry about how that perception can affect their marketability, such as the talented animator/illustrator Reece Parker. On his website, he proudly states:

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Once employed—for most moms—being one of only few (or the only) women on the team is the least of their struggles. It’s par for the course in an industry so male-dominated. The bigger challenge is in working hours that conflict with essential family commitments. A common complaint for many working women is that business hours don’t often coincide with school hours. I’ve heard many of my friends gripe that when their children went into grade school, their hours were not ideal for working—like say 8:00am-3:00pm instead of 9am-4pm. Some after school programs would end before the work day ended, or there were no options to do an early drop off in the morning to allow time for commuting and getting to work on time.

A FREELANCE SCHEDULE FOR MOMS:

Given the need for scheduling adjustments and mitigating childcare costs, it would be best if motion designers had the option to work from home with flexible hours and schedules and could avoid commuting. I spoke to a motion designer and mother to a 9-year old in Virginia—Ceindy Ton—who said that her working schedule since the pandemic started is 1pm to 9pm. This allows her to homeschool her son in the mornings, give him the afternoons for free playtime, take her lunch break during their family dinner, and then finish up her work day while her son is heading to bed. Would many employers allow for this flexibility? Her life as a freelancer has made this schedule work quite successfully.

Moms can be 5-star employees

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But what about the women who don’t want to be a freelancer and prefer to enjoy some of the many benefits of working at a full-time job? Moms sometimes feel like they’re not seen as ideal candidates because of their commitments to family and their homelife. In this case, I would implore employers to see things from a different perspective and allow for flexible work hours. While leaving the office at 5pm might not make your employee seem dedicated, it’s simply not the best way to view your employee.

Most moms know that at any time or any day they might get called upon to pick up a sick child. So, there’s a feeling among working moms that sitting and chatting around the water cooler is simply not an option. One of my clients frequently hires me because she knows I believe in GSD (Getting S&#! Done!). I have few hours to waste or be idle; school hours are short. Regardless of where I’m physically working, when I’m working, I’m working...and when I’m home, I’m home.

Compartmentalizing work and home is crucial to being a successful working parent. As many mothers I spoke to have said, motherhood has given them a resiliency—a focus and a purpose—that has coincided with making them better at their jobs too. Motion design requires incredible mental capacity at being problem solvers, in both technical and creative spaces. And most mothers are well versed in taking on emotional labor and a mental load that makes motion design seem like a walk in the park.

Moms are a new cadre of professionals

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For this article, I interviewed 10 women of children ranging in ages 1 to 16. Each of them made strong arguments about the additional skills that they’ve learned since becoming a mother that can be applied to their careers in motion design. Anne St.Louis spoke to me about the struggles she had early on with her son that taught her incredible fortitude, because becoming a mother was not something she could give up on. So, when she struggles with an animation challenge, it’s nothing compared to struggles in motherhood. Jessica Weiss, a single mother in Alaska, pointed out that receiving negative feedback or managing an inflexible client is nothing compared to trying to cajole a toddler to do something they don’t want to do.

Better at parenting = better at working

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Another working mom—Lilian Darmono in Australia—pointed out that she feels like the better she is at parenting, the better she is in her work. The strength and resiliency she learns from parenting is applied to her career; whether it’s learning to diplomatically say “no” to a client the way she would to her 4-year-old son, or “knowing where to draw the line in the sand.”

Children can also be a well of inspiration. Ireland-based motion designer and mom to a 5-year-old, Deanna Reilly pointed out to me that she finds her son’s perspective on the world to be a real inspiration. It has driven her desire to do amazing work so that her son sees her happy and can make him proud. Her career in motion design actually took seed during her maternity leave. It's never too late to start your career in motion design!

IT TAKES A VILLAGE; OR A COMMUNITY IS GOOD TOO!

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Another important aspect of motherhood and working, whether you’re a freelancer or an employee, is to realize the value in your community. In much the same way you built up your community of other new moms, it’s important to build up your support network of working moms within the motion design industry—or even within your niche: 2D, 3D, stop-motion, cel, etc.

Panimation is an amazing group of women, trans and non-binary friends that includes an online directory, Facebook group, Slack channel, as well as in-person or online meet ups. They even have a #parenting channel in their Slack group.

There is an important shift–a real identity change–that can happen when you have a baby. Meryn Hayes, a producer at Dash and mother to a 4-year-old, spoke to me a little bit about her experience of becoming a mom. She had support from other moms she was meeting and had strong connections with her co-workers, but there wasn’t always a bridge between the two. It’s important for working moms to seek each other out and provide a network of support to help with that transition of identity.

At Newfangled Studios, the founder and executive director are two women—married to each other with two young children; that’s two great role models! Or even Catharine Pitt in the UK, who co-owns her animation studio, Form Play with her husband, and are parents to 13-year old twins.

The need for a fundamental shift in our government and culture

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It’s not all wine and roses, of course, and mothers do need help...especially in the United States. I  had an interesting conversation with Erin Sarofsky (mother to a 3-year old), who—significantly—is not just an animator, but an entrepreneur as well. Sarofsky pointed out that the U.S. government and American society are not supportive of motherhood. Until policies are in place to support women in the emotional, physical, and logistical shifts that happen after a birth, employment struggles for working mothers will remain.

Women are led to believe for years that we can "have it all." But as Traci Brinling Osowski—an animator and mother of a 1-year-old and 3-year-old—said, realizing she can’t do it all is humbling. Before she had children, she was a work-a-holic. She used to be able to do a lot more in a lot less time. However, it is primarily through her incredible employer of the past year—Day to Day, with their generous maternity leave and unlimited vacation—that she’s been able to maintain her career at the level she has while parenting two young children. More companies should adopt similar policies.

Not just talking the talk, I’ve walked the walk

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There’s really no such thing as having it all. But for me, there is such a thing as having most of the things I wanted in life...with children and work. For the past 10 years, I’ve managed to have three children (now ages 3, 6, and 9) while transitioning into motion design and building a freelance business for the past six years. This has been possible in large part due to a very supportive husband.

The pandemic in many ways has helped to level the playing field for working moms in motion design. Remote work is much more prevalent now. The openness to having remote teams—or online networking events, or flexible schedules to accommodate virtual school hours—has finally become the norm. And it’s not just for parents of young children either. With many people’s parents and grandparents getting sick with COVID, people have had to adjust their work schedules to care for ailing relatives. Hopefully a lasting impact from this unfortunate pandemic is that everyone will realize the importance of prioritizing and valuing those who value their family and relationships.

On this Mother’s Day, for those celebrating their moms or are moms themselves, let’s remember that rising tides lift all boats. If we all support one another, we can Get S#*T Done together!

Sherene Strausberg, founder and creative director of 87th Street Creative, is passionate about helping businesses achieve their branding and marketing goals through powerful, effective design solutions. Understanding the value of communication and collaboration, she ensures clients are informed about the creative process and are thrilled with the final deliverable.