By Jami Ingledue — BEHIND DOMESTIC LINES
So we moms have another new catchy word to define us, this time in the realm of business — ”Mompreneur.” The best of everything! Motherhood AND a small business. Loving caregiver AND hardworking innovator!
But entrepreneurship, like business in general, is still a man’s world.
In fact, the combination of “mom” and “entrepreneur” is especially tricky, because we are combining two paradigms that demand a near-complete sacrifice of our own needs: capitalism and motherhood. Capitalism tells us that our only value is what we produce. Motherhood traditionally tells us to sacrifice ourselves completely for others.
This can be a dangerous combination.
The nature of capitalism is that it puts profit over people, and therefore families. And it treats workers like commodities, rather than human beings (with families). The patriarchal structure was set up so that the woman would stay at home and support the family — doing loads of unpaid labor — so that the man could go out to earn money. Both are labor. Only one is paid.
And the paradigm of motherhood, that are we are really just beginning to reckon with, has been one of complete self-sacrifice and denial of our own needs.
So when we start businesses as moms, it’s easy to pile a whole heap of expectations onto ourselves.
Motherhood in itself is a full-time (though unpaid) job, even if our culture is in denial of this fact. Traditionally, moms have made it through by leaning on circles of women. Women who shared the load together, whether it was laundry or babies or aging parents; quilting or harvesting, mending or planting, celebrating or mourning, singing and praying. We minded each other’s wandering children and helped each other through illness and childbirth and death.
We know in our very bones that this is how it’s supposed to be. That as a social species, especially as mothers, we are wired for a village existence.
So here’s a new paradigm to try on:
Can we recreate these circles of women with our businesses?
Can we recreate circles of women while also creating new economies around them, so that we help empower each other not only personally but also financially?
Can we find a new way forward for Mompreneurs and small business owners that, instead of ignoring the unpaid labor we do as moms, the needs of our family, and our own needs, helps us solve these problems while allowing us to earn an income?
Can we continue doing what women have always done — creating community and honoring connection and nurturing the ties that bind us — not in spite of having businesses, but because of it?
This certainly has to be part of a bigger change: transforming our view of women and the value we bring to society. It is deeply embedded in our cultural narrative that women’s work and mother’s work is not valuable. It is so often invisible and thankless, yet it’s what keeps the gears of society moving. Successful businesses have always depended in some part on the free labor of women who raise children and keep everyone fed and clothed and healthy. This work is so very devalued in our culture that we are expected to do it all for free. There is often a backlash when we ask to get paid for our skills.
And we DO have skills. We are the ones who Get Shit Done. We are also the nurturers, the caregivers, the connectors, the healers, the bringers of peace. Our capacity for connection and empathy is our superpower.
So maybe we are the ones that are best suited to lead the way in rejecting the old paradigm and carving out a better way, a way in which we honor our own needs and the needs of other women and mothers. In which we express our own values through our personal lives AND with our businesses; a way that doesn’t seek to destroy competition and extract the maximum of money from our community, but that instead grows and flourishes by lifting others up and helping them grow, by creating greater connection and stronger bonds. Instead of a paradigm of self-sacrifice and ruthless competition, can we shift to a more community-minded model that will lead to thriving for ourselves AND our communities? Making that the whole point of our businesses?
There are many ways we can do this, and I see many of them in my own community; indeed it’s not really new, but closer to the way communities made up of small businesses have worked in the past. It might sound like a naive business model, but the reality is that these businesses are fulfilling a need for community and connection that our culture is desperate for. And if we build it, they will come. When customers feel welcomed and valued, feel true connection with their neighbors, feel folded into a warm and supportive community — they will come back. It is fulfilling a need they might not have known they had. A hole that they weren’t even aware of, because we haven’t experienced enough circles of women in our modern lives, holding our hands and lifting us up. I’ve seen this happen in my own life and community, and it’s magical.
There are many ways for businesses to fit this model that I have observed:
– Co-ops of all kinds. Artists’ co-ops, Makers’ Markets, child care, local food stores, Community Supported Agriculture.
– Shops for creating and gathering: fiber shops where knitters and embroiderers sit together and work on projects, fabric shops, coffee shops that display local art, restaurants, art creation spaces, local bookstores.
– Businesses based on sustainability and the environment, focusing on products that help rather than harm our communities.
– Coaching & mentoring businesses: for women in business, for specific business niches (like soapmaking); but also using our parenting skills and our natural intuition to help other women shift the narratives in their own lives.
– Fulfilling any need women have that is not being met in our culture, and there are many: from good nourishing soap (my own niche), to knitting lessons, to specific needs for support and guidance. Our nation’s first self-made female millionaire was Madam C.J. Walker, an African-American woman who saw an unmet need that women had for good hair care products and set out to meet that need, and helped women feel worthy and connected.
– Creating more circles of women: leading women’s groups and retreats, creating support groups, forming outlets for women creators, leading mastermind groups, teaching classes. And yes, we should be paid for these efforts.
– Working with other small businesses in our community in ways that help support them (when I sell my soap wholesale to other businesses and they sell it for a profit, I am helping them create revenue they did not have before).
– Sharing business resources like marketing, graphic design, technical skills, accounting, and business advice, through classes or trainings or even co-ops offering bartering of services.
These kinds of businesses can create a ripple effect — our customers and community members feel more invested in our success, but also more connected to their community and neighbors of all kinds. This rebuilds the village, and helps create peace.
And perhaps most importantly, our kids see us honoring our own needs and skills, as well as those of the community. And this is how we change the script about business and how we change the world.
Originally published at thewildword.com.