If you’re a parent reading this post, you’re painfully aware of how much of your own work is invisible throughout any given day. We’ve talked here before about making invisible labor visible and also women’s hidden “office housework.”
Today, I’m so thrilled to introduce to you someone who is actively doing something to make the invisible visible, particularly for moms. Please meet my friend Anne, Kenny a brilliant illustrator and working mama (her LinkedIn profile is here), who has been hard at work creating a collection of cards to help moms feel seen through all the invisibility of motherhood– postpartum, breastfeeding/pumping/feeding, invisible labor, returning to work, raising the next generation. (I’ve been giddily sending her cards to my new mama friends lately!)
Why her passion for this work? Because caregiving is woefully underappreciated and can be very isolating. Especially in a 2-year pandemic. Drawing from 15 years of experience in user research and design, Anne illustrates her observations and reflections on modern motherhood to visualize and validate what others feel but don’t always say. She’s inspired by the joys and challenges of life with 2 littles at home, infinite-scrolling supportive conversations with mom friends, and a Masterclass in parenting by her own mother. She also gets an “itch” to visualize insightful or poignant things she hears from others to help promote and amplify their work.
This passion project emerged during the pandemic. But it has been ping-ponging in her brain much longer as a coping strategy for unexplained infertility and then (amazingly), her matrascense, including breastfeeding challenges, postpartum depression, and that elusive thing called work/life balance. It’s become the thing she craves, combining her values of care, flow & learning, her #unicornspace.
You can follow her work on Instagram @caringink for some self-care reframes, venting on pandemic parenting, and love letters to caregivers, everywhere. If you’re interested in collaborating with her, she’d love to hear from you at email@example.com.
I interviewed her so that you could get to know her better!!
Mindful Return: Where do you live, Anne, and how old are your little ones?
Anne Kenny: I live in San Francisco with my husband and two daughters, ages 5 and 3.
Mindful Return: Can you tell us a little more about your journey to working parenthood? What were maternity leave and return like for you?
Anne Kenny: My maternity leave was both blissful and much harder than I anticipated, even with support from my husband and family. I spent hours creating a perfectly designed birth plan (ha!). But I felt under-prepared for the postpartum experience.
My return to work was also a juxtaposition: I had supportive managers and coworkers, a top-notch pump room, andn company-provided lunches. And it was still challenging. I wrestled with small things like, “Should I put “pump” on my calendar?” and existential questions about my newfound priorities and worker bee expectations. When I ultimately decided it was time to move on, I wrote a letter to moms at the company called, “Are We All Faking It or Is It Just Me?”
After leaving our full-time jobs around the same time, Natalie Tulsiani and I kept asking, “Why was it so hard?”, which inspired us to write a series of research-based articles to unpack this question and identify how employers can better support working parents. I wish I had known about Mindful Return, and that more employers would offer it as a benefit.
In my dream world, employers and managers would welcome parents back from parental leave with a card similar to this one, share tips from other parent employees who have been through it, and connect them with the Mindful Return course & community. This would help parents feel seen and supported, and better equip them during their transition.
Mindful Return: Your art and creative concepts are amazing! When did you first have an interest in making art, and how has that interest evolved throughout your life?
Anne Kenny: Thank you. I enjoyed art as a kid, but re-connected with it as a practice about 12 years ago when I started painting the produce that arrived in a weekly farm box. As an introvert working in busy open offices with extroverted cultures, I loved the quiet flow of creating something analog. And slowing down to take in the intricacies of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
As a self-taught illustrator, I’ve learned through Skillshare classes, YouTube tutorials and filling up sketchbooks. I love Ira Glass’ quote about The Gap. I’m continually trying to narrow the gap between my aspirations and what I produce.
This year I started using Procreate, a digital illustration app. It’s been one of my go-to ways to recharge during the pandemic. With two young kids at home, it’s also more conducive to creating. I can pick it up and put it down without any setup or cleanup afterwards. Double win!
Mindful Return: Now that I’ve been thinking about it, our card options at the usual greeting card stores have a big gap when it comes to recognizing the aspects of parenthood that you focus on with your work. How did you discover this gap in the market?
Anne Kenny: Yes! Thank you for acknowledging this. I’ve always loved cards, likely because my mom has drawers full of beautiful note cards and could have been a writer for Hallmark. My strengths-finder assessments usually rank highest on empathy, with themes of “show me you care,” and “helping supporter.” So, designing and writing empathetic cards feels innate.
The greeting card industry has established card categories, and it’s been frustrating to hear that these cards are “too niche” even from stores that claim to have a card for everything. “Niche” seems like a euphemism for taboo because motherhood– including infertility, loss, pregnancy, parental leave, breastfeeding/pumping/feeding, returning to work, is invisible, misunderstood and stigmatized. It perpetuates the lack of support and isolation many caregivers experience.
But it’s not just the industry. Sadly, our culture doesn’t support moms. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other than one day a year in May, we don’t really acknowledge Moms. When a woman is expecting, the attention is often on the baby. I love babies, but I think we need to center mothers during their journey.
Mindful Return: What advice do you have for working parents who may be in a full-time role that doesn’t allow them to use all of the creative energies they may wish to be developing?
Anne Kenny: First off, I totally get it. I still struggle with finding enough time. But I’ve found that spending time creating and in flow helps me recharge, be more present as a parent and tackle what needs to get done. Here are three questions I like to ask myself:
- What did you enjoy doing before you had kids?
- What gives you energy? If it feels like another thing on your to do list, keep looking.
- What gets you in a flow state, where you feel “in the zone”, focused, fully immersed and enjoying the activity? It can be anything from tennis to sewing to writing to baking.
And here are 5 suggestions for you:
- Start small. Put 10 minutes in your calendar daily or weekly and do something just for you that’s not part of being a parent or a working professional.
- Make it a ritual. I make myself a pot of tea and listen to music or just enjoy the silence.
- Have a “bias towards action”. Spend time doing rather than thinking or over-analyzing. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it can evolve.
- Create a regular practice. Consider a 100-Day Project or join an X-day challenge that helps get into the practice of regular creation and often has a community doing it along with you, such as Ohn Mar Win’s class Daily Art Practice: 14 Day Challenge.
Read or listen to Find Your Unicorn Space by Eve Rodsky, which includes much more detail about some of the things I’ve mentioned above. (Good news for Mindful Return readers: Eve Rodsky will be with us for a book talk in May – register here!)
Mindful Return: Thank you, Anne, for being with us and for supporting moms so beautifully!
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave