Tolstoy said that happy families are all alike, but moms know that building a happy family requires at least as much creativity as writing a novel. Not only will no two families find happiness through the same strategies, but what works best for every family is likely to change over time. Not every family has the means to forego the security and benefits of a full-time job. But for these three moms, the side hustle has taken them on paths they couldn’t have imagined before they had kids.
Take Julie Kloss, for example. She was a middle school art teacher with plans to continue working full-time but couldn’t stand to leave her baby in daycare to go back to school in the fall. Over the years she stayed home with her kids, she sold handmade jewelry and she ran a bike shop/café in Ballard with her husband where work and parenting all jumbled together. She even had a job with a catering company for a while. Throughout it all, cooking was a common thread. She baked cakes for her jewelry sales, made food for the café and picked up the odd catering gig (including school events) over the years. Today, with a daughter in college and a son in eighth grade, Kloss owns The Miller’s Daughter, a catering company where she also teaches cooking classes.
“By 50, I finally found the job that’s satisfying and allows me time for all the different parts of my life,” says Kloss.
Kloss’ full-time business grew organically out of work she was already doing on the side. “You make your mark by following what you’re good at,” she says. That’s how photographer Shaylynn O’Neill got her start, too. O’Neill was happy to stay home with her two kids, now 8 and 6, when they were little. Friends were so impressed with the pictures she took that they started asking her to photograph their kids, too. She realized her photography could help pay off debt, making her choice to be a stay-at-home mom sustainable. But when the debts were gone, O’Neill didn’t want to stop. “I genuinely love working with families and providing them with these moments. I love when someone tells me, ‘I haven’t seen my son smile like that since he was a toddler.’”
Now that both of her kids are in school, O’Neill could go to work full-time at a studio, but she doesn’t need to. “Obviously, I love the flexible schedule and working from home. But I also love having control over the experience my clients get. You can build lifelong relationships this way,” she says.
When her motivation changed, O’Neill turned her photography side gig into a career, building a six-figure business in four years.
The Lego designer
But for Lego designer and artist Alice Finch, whose sons are now are now 10 and 15 years old, even a side gig was never part of the plan. She just liked playing Lego with her boys. She set out to build a better Hogwarts than the one in the Lego kits. A year and a half later, she finished the 400,000-brick structure. “I published the photos online and the internet noticed,” says Finch. Lego reached out to her, making her their first builder based outside of Europe. Now her builds are featured in several books, including the "Lego Star Wars Ideas Book." The former middle school teacher also leads workshops in schools and at Lego conventions, and even offers a Lego summer camp.
For Finch, the ability to keep work “on the side” is crucial. “My business is not lucrative, but that’s largely because of my choices. I’m still a mom, and I want to be as active at my younger son’s elementary school as I was for my older son. That’s a priority for me. I could do this full-time, and maybe someday I will. But I have no rush to consume my life with making money. I’m reserving part of my life for parenting,” says Finch.
Finding the right balance
Tolstoy may have a point after all, because there are common threads through their stories. “There’s no such thing as balance,” says O’Neill. “There’s juggling, and you’re always going to drop something. Give yourself some grace, ask for help, and let the laundry pile up.”
Finch agrees. “When I was starting out, I had no idea how to respond to press requests or who to trust. If you don’t know what to do, ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask to be valued for what you do.”
Work/life balance might be a myth, but control and flexibility are possible, according to Kloss. “My kids know if I don’t answer a question, don’t ask again. Either jump in and help or leave me alone. My dad had his own business, too. He says to get your kids working for you, and I agree. They gain independence and pride in helping you further your goals. When I’m working, I work 15–16-hour days. But then I might have a week off when we can do all the things we like to do together.”
Finch adds, “Primary caregivers are exceptionally busy, but find a way to participate in whatever fascinates them [your children]. It’s a totally different experience to interact as colleagues and see the world from their level. As busy as we are, I still recommend finding a way to build with your kids.”
For a lot of moms, the side hustle makes it possible.