Juggling Careers and Mommyhood – 3 Women Break it Down

Cara, owner of Paradise Baby Co., and her daughter, Daysha.

Ever dream of having the best of both worlds? To be able to work and get your creative juices flowing, but still be around for your child’s school drop-off and pick-up? Breezy Mama Contributing Editor Robyn Lass interviewed three women, in three very different fields, and found out how they made that dream a reality. Meet Cara Ballard, of Paradise Baby Co., Heidi Ferrer, a Hollywood screen writer, and Erin Taylor, the owner of two successful retail stores, botanik and Amelia Jane.

From Robyn. . .

For any parent the act of managing family, work, and personal life can feel as precarious as juggling knives. One false move and oops! Breezy Mama found inspiration from these three smart and successful moms who have found unique ways to build on their dreams while still making their families a priority.

For Cara Ballard, being married to a surf film maker not only allowed her to travel but it also gave her insight into how difficult it can be to travel with kids. Her personal experience led to the launch of Paradise Baby Co., which rents baby and kid necessities on her home island of Oahu. Here Cara shares her story of inspiration and success.

How did you become a business owner, was it something you always wanted to do?
Living where I do on the North Shore of Oahu it is really a difficult place to make a living because of the lack of jobs available. Growing up here, I always saw that a lot of people really had to get creative with how they made a living. There were artists, surfboard shapers, fishermen, pro surfers, shell divers and farmers. I always thought that these jobs were more my style, work for myself and have freedom.

How did you get started?
After my daughter Daysha was born in 2005 my husband had to go to Australia for a surf film job when she was only three weeks old. Of course he was not about to leave us behind so we took her passport photo at four days old and prepared to leave. While I was booking our hotel I found a company that provided baby equipment for rent. We used the service for a bassinet, stroller and car seat. Everything was delivered and waiting for us when we arrived. With the stress of flying with the baby, having everything taken care of on that end was wonderful. I knew that we needed the same service on Oahu. The summer before Daysha started kindergarten we launched Paradise Baby Co. serving the entire island of Oahu with baby equipment rentals for visiting families.

And how old is Daysha now?
She just turned six years old this January. Enjoying those years before she started Elementary was so important to me. Now that she is in school everyday it makes my time with her very special. That also means that I have a lot of work to get done before 2:00 pm everyday. I am still able to pop in and out of the office because it is in my home. I pick her up almost everyday from school, we do homework, make a snack and then I do office work while she plays until about 4:30 pm. Then I usually check out of the office and head to the beach for the afternoon or take her to yoga or tennis.

How do you juggle your work life and your family life?
When we first started the baby equipment rental business, it was hard for me to check out at the end of the day. I was having a really hard time managing it all. Being a wife, mother, daughter and business owner can be very overwhelming. I was cutting out all the “me” time and stopped exercising, spending time with girl friends or even just sitting back and reading a book. Finally, I just said something had to change so I started going to yoga and sometimes beach walks in the morning after I dropped my daughter off and just decided work has to wait.  It really helped me in many ways mentally and physically. Now I make exercise a top priority in my day and it really helps give me energy and focus while I work.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned  with balancing work and family?
Get a house cleaner! No, just kidding I haven’t got one yet but boy do I need one today. The most important I have learned is that you really need to know how to shut it all off.  Family is the most important thing and my kid is growing up so fast I just don’t want to miss it.

What advice do you have for other parents who are considering starting their own business?
If you have an idea that you know would be a great small business then go for it. Build a strong business plan and see what kind of time, money and resource you will need to make it happen. Sure it is going to very very hard and you may not succeed but it certainly is worth trying.

Heidi and her son, Bexon.

Working in Hollywood sounds glamorous doesn’t it? For Heidi Ferrer it wasn’t all glitz but she has definitely has a film-worthy success story. This working mom managed to navigate through the shark-infested waters of film and moviemaking and make it as a successful screen writer. Heidi shares some of her experience and expertise on building a career while building a family.

How did you first get into screen writing?
Oh, I had always written poetry and short stories growing up, and once won honorable mention in an international short story contest in Seventeen Magazine.

My sister Laura told me I’d be a writer, but I didn’t think it sounded like a glamorous life at all. I was a nerdy weird kid, but I loved movies and dreamed of being an actress. I moved to Los Angeles from Folsom, Louisiana, which is just outside New Orleans, to pursue acting one month after graduating High School.

I packed up my light blue Chevy Blazer and drove the 10 West Freeway alone all the way to Los Angeles without knowing anyone in Hollywood. I ended up segueing into writing a few years later, when I found out the joke was that even the busboys in Hollywood had screenplays under their arms. I figured I’d give it a try!

Was it something you always wanted to do?
Nope, my father was a theater professor in my original hometown of Hays, Kansas and he introduced me to theater, movies and a love of Broadway shows. My sisters and I were always cast in the children’s roles of the local college productions of the plays my Dad directed. It was awesome fun as a kid. I did theater during high school in local community theater productions, then auditioned for The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Houston, and was accepted for their program in Pasadena.

So at age 18, I moved out to L.A to study acting, worked as a pie waitress in a polyester peasant girl uniform and got a manager. I started getting sent on auditions for really badly written movies and TV shows, I wasn’t getting in for the highbrow stuff, believe me. I was horrible at auditions. I started thinking “Hey, somebody got paid to write this. I think maybe I could do this.”

How long had you been in the screen writing business before you started your family?
I co-wrote my first “spec” screenplay at age 22, with my then boyfriend and now husband, writer/director Nick Guthe, who was already writing scripts but hadn’t sold one yet. (“Spec” is short for speculation, which basically means that you write a script for free in the fervent hopes that someone might pay you for it.)

I actually ended up selling one before Nick, even though I didn’t even have a college degree. I realized then that in creative fields, people don’t necessarily care about that. Not that I’m endorsing it, that’s just the way it happened for me.

I had an idea for a thriller script and Nick asked if he could co-write it with me. I had read books on screenplay structure, but it was still confusing to me until we sat down and wrote one on the computer with Nick typing that first attempt.

Next I wrote a romantic comedy on my own, but I didn’t know how to type, so I wrote in longhand on yellow legal pads. I eventually began typing with one finger “hunt and peck” style and accidentally erased the first 20 pages, which was 20 hours of work because I typed so slowly!

It took four years of writing basically every day during the hours I wasn’t waitressing or working as a hostess, until I sold my first script to Fox Studios and producer Arnold Kopleson.

I had my son Bexon at age 37, so we waited a while. That was on purpose, I wanted to be ready to be a mom, but I don’t think you’re ever totally ready.

How old is Bexon now?
Bex is currently three and a half and he’s the absolute light of my life.

How do you juggle your work life and your family life?
I try to make lists and get in a little exercise in between writing, play time with my son and to fit in, you know, showers. Those things we have to carve out time for as Moms. “I’m washing my hair today, it’s on the list.”

I like to run little errands, to the grocery store or to Target. When you work from home, even a little human interaction in the outside world makes you feel more human, and it forces you to get out of your pajamas, which is a good thing.

We’ve all heard rumors about how grueling it can be working in Hollywood. Do you ever find it hard keeping up while still managing your mom duties?
I’m lucky because other than meetings, both my husband and I work from home right now. He’s an exceptionally involved Dad. Also, Bex is now in preschool, so that allows a lot more time to get stuff done than when he was younger.

As far as grueling, there is some “swimming with sharks” as they say, but I think the hardest part about screen and TV writing is the emotional aspect. Before you have kids, your scripts feel like your kids because you pour your heart into them and it all feels so important.

But the nature of writing is re-writing, so as William Goldman once wrote, you have to “kill your darlings” and change things you love sometimes when you’re a professional. You’re being paid to deliver what your employer, meaning the studio executives and producers and director want, and fair is fair, they’re paying you. You don’t have control over the final outcome of a project.

The trick is to hopefully give them what they want and also write something you love, even when you get a lot of different opinions in a meeting room at once.

Then of course, a Hollywood writer’s existence is like the life of an actor, it’s full of constant rejection and you have to “audition” for every job. But it’s nice work if you can get it and it pays very well.

It’s very exciting to see actors say your words out loud on a movie or TV set. That part is kinda magical. That said, there is nothing more magical (or harder) than being a mom, and that is the truth. And once you have a child, you realize those scripts were not your babies, there is no comparison to your actual baby!

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned with balancing work and family?
That balance is key in life and that parenting is not a game of perfect. If you figure it all out, please tell me how!

I think it’s important not to give up what makes you, you. But I definitely don’t believe you have to work outside of the home to be fulfilled. I have the highest respect for stay-at-home moms because we all know it’s the best but hardest job in the world.

What advice do you have for other parents who are considering starting their own business?
You know, I recently started a little blog myself (www.GirltoMom.com) and I’m a newbie, but I love writing it. As a result, it’s been growing and I think it’s because I’m putting that kind of energy out there. If you’re excited, people can sense your enthusiasm.

So I would say the biggest thing is of course do something you love, because every business takes work. Baby steps, just start doing it. Go for your dreams, because I’m a small town girl from Kansas and Louisiana with only a public high school education. If I can do it, anyone can.

Erin

Erin Taylor is the owner of two unique and successful businesses. Her first, a successful garden and design shop in Summerland, California called botanik, grew out of her passion for horticulture. Inspiration for her second, the adorable baby and toddler boutique Amelia Jane located adjacently, came from her passion as a mom. She’s found rewards from both and still manages to keep her family her top priority.

How did you become a business owner?
Unintentionally. I began taking a floral design class for extra credit in high school. I had a knack for it, inspired by a lifelong passion for flowers and all things “garden,” I progressed quickly and began volunteering in my teacher’s flower shop. I was then asked by family and friends (and then friend’s of friends) to do flowers for parties and weddings.

I went on to get a degree in Environmental Horticulture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo all the while doing flowers for weddings and parties on the weekends. After graduation I moved to Santa Barbara to stay with my dad for a few months. One thing led to another and I began working here. I opened botanik with the idea that it would serve as a “showroom” for the event floral design business…after 14 years of event floral design, I began to grow weary of the pace and ephemeral aspect to the work. It was then that I noticed that the shop had really become established and I could phase out of floral design and focus on retail and garden design.

So, my passion lead to a career, but more than that, it was a willingness to work really hard and to hold fast to the motto, “UNDER promise and OVER deliver!” Consistency and integrity have served as the foundation for all of my business decisions.

And you’re a mom. How old are your kids?
Yes, I am a mom!! I have a daughter (Makena Amelia 2 1/2) and 2 stepchildren (Manon 13 and Logan 11). My step kids are with us Wednesday through Saturday. By far the hardest job EVER!!! But, the greatest part of my life! Nothing in my professional life compares to the joys or challenges of being a mom!

You opened botanik in 1998? Was this your first retail store? How did you get started?
Yes, botanik was my first retail store and like I said earlier, the retail aspect was not really meant to be the focus of the business. It was just a natural and fortunate evolution!

And Amelia Jane came next. Did owning one business help you open another?
Owning botanik for 11 years prior to opening Amelia Jane was a massive reason why Amelia Jane came to be. I would not have taken on such a task at the time (young kids) if I did not have an extensive background in retail as well as an established location (Amelia Jane is next door to botanik).

The economy is not yet back in full swing and there would have been far too many variables that would have compromised my family had I not had the experience. Even with that, I still sometimes wonder how I pulled it off!

How do you juggle your work life and your family life? What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned balancing work and family?
Juggle work and family…Ha! Does any woman really do that with the grace and ease she may seem to posses! I would love to meet a fellow working mom who doesn’t end the day exhausted and wishing she had done at least one thing a little better or differently…and we won’t even talk about the HUGE list of things that didn’t get done at all!!!  The trick for me has been to put my family first and try to not sweat the small stuff. I have found that if I set my husband and children as my most important priority, I never have any huge regrets. The choices and commitments I make professionally are never as important as the ones I make personally. That helps to keep things in perspective. As well as adopting a new professional perspective of “good enough for now!” I was always such a perfectionist when it came to my job. Now, I am just pretty good and that, is just fine with me! One day, when the kids are older I can shift my attention back a bit more to work…not today though, it’s time for a cuddle and some books!

What advice do you have for other parents who are considering starting their own business?
Parents starting their own business…well, it’s like building a house. Nothing ever goes exactly like you planned! Have a very strong staff! Surround yourself with trustworthy, hard working people and learn to delegate. Be realistic in your expectation of yourself and those around you.

PUT YOUR FAMILY FIRST!!! Even though you may be “doing this for your family’s future” you may do more damage than you think today! Be present and mindful of the needs of your children and GET SOME SLEEP! Rome wasn’t built in a day!

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Comments

  1. Fantastic job with this, Robyn! I love reading about women entrepreneurs, especially those with the added challeng of juggling a family. It’s definitely still a dream of mine to be among them in the next few years – each of these ladies is very inspiring.

  2. Great article!

  3. Thanks ladies! It’s always nice to know when friends read something you wrote. 🙂

  4. So many of this type of article are repetitive and pretty superficial, but this one was interesting and had a pretty wide scope of women- except no successful employees? Maybe we have to own our businesses in order to have enough control to balance everything and not have to fit into whatever an employer demands!

  5. i do feel like it has to come down to owning my own business to find that balance… that’s the only way i see it happening for me. working on making that a reality.

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