Janie was invited to contribute an essay for New York Metro Parents’ “Local Voices” column.
Pursuing a Music Career While Raising a Daughter in Brooklyn
How one mom’s newfound approach to life—discovered during pregnancy—allowed her to pursue a music career while raising a daughter in Brooklyn.
Mothers everywhere know the struggle of “having it all”—trying to achieve the perfect balance of pursuing a career while raising a family. One Brooklyn mom reveals how she was able to juggle her career as a freelance musician with parenthood—and it all had to do with embracing a parenting mantra.
I was pregnant when my album, Shake the Ladder, was released. Surprise! While my pregnancy wasn’t planned, my husband and I had always wanted children. So we welcomed the news, albeit with a bit of breathless naiveté.Four months into the pregnancy, we performed at a holiday party for a premier rehearsal studio in New York, with numerous appearances planned for the months ahead. At the end of the evening, exhausted, I said to my husband, “Maybe we have to rethink this schedule.”
Rethink. That word was to become our mantra in the juggling of work and parenthood. Yes, there was a master plan, reflecting the needs of two freelancer parents. But executing “the plan” meant embracing a mantra, plus several other bits of wisdom: Nothing is engraved in stone. Every challenge has its unique set of choices. And…be ready to drop everything.
I was offered the chance to go on tour when my daughter was just 3 months old. Would we hire a live-in nanny to help my husband? Would I take my daughter with me? We considered these options; then came another moment of recognition. Time to rethink again.
That rethink came in the form of an acknowledgment: I had no interest in being away from my daughter for weeks at a time. This clarity brought a kind of relief that surprised me. I wouldn’t wrestle with this particular choice, but how would I keep my career moving forward while being a fully engaged parent? There was no single formula.
My daughter loves the fact that her mom is a musician. As a little girl, when someone was singing on the radio or a CD, she would ask, “Do we know her?” But freelance life meant that my young daughter had a babysitter in place right from the beginning. The call to run to the recording studio could come at any time.
The babysitter—who, more than 20 years later, I still consider part of the family—was not always available. And my husband, also a freelance musician, was often out working as well. Sometimes I brought my daughter to the studio. The rethink: Maybe my colleagues at the studio will not mind…maybe my daughter will be easy-going…maybe this can be managed in a different way than my working mother had to manage it. She came to the studio and delighted all, while Mommy put the headphones on and sang. On several occasions I worked in the studios during school hours, ran to pick her up from school, ate dinner and did the bedtime routine with her, then headed back to the studios for a 10pm recording session.
During the elementary- and middle-school years, I came upon one of the most profound gifts to the working parent: the larger community of working families. My daughter had great friends, and those friends had great parents who “got it.”
I recall an afternoon, hanging out with friends two blocks over in Brooklyn, when the stress-inducing beeper went off. Mommy was called to the studio. “Sweetie, we gotta go in to town,” I told my daughter. Her response? “Mommy, how about I stay with Barbara?” Barbara was her best friend Julia’s mommy. I teared up. My kid had figured it out. Rethink in the moment: Be flexible. Look for other ways to ride with it. Help, and be helped. Spot the people who are also rethinking every day. Love their kids as they love yours.
On a late fall afternoon, walking from the subway to pick up my daughter from science club, I wrote the chorus to a new song in my head. She was 10 then, fully her own person, but she always hoped Mommy would be the one to pick her up. That afternoon I felt the surge of creativity that I knew was borne out of necessity. The old model: I need hours to do my best work, and my sitter to provide me with those indulgent hours. The rethink: Seize the moment! Flip the switch! Get on with it! It’s the advice I got from my cousin, a mathematician, who would work just one step of a proof while her infant daughter napped.
Moving into high school years, one might expect that I was “cut loose” from daily hands-on parenting. Few teenage girls want their mother in the trenches with them: “Get outta my face, Mom!” But my girl? Magically, she wanted me right there with her, at least most of the time. Time to rethink again. Just keep yourself in the game, keep expanding your skills, get ready (no, it’s not too late!) for the time when you will fully step away, and have that undivided time again.
As a working parent, I learned a lesson that I’ve come to understand is essential for a happy life in general—and it’s a lesson my daughter fully acknowledges she’s learned in our journey together: Be flexible, be ingenious, be ready to rethink. My daughter and I are grateful every day for the relationship that was borne from this fluidity.
Janie Barnett is a performing singer-songwriter in the Americana tradition. Her work and recent album release can be found at janiebarnett.com. She has been part of the New York recording session scene for many years, as well a producer/arranger and educator. Barnett is an Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, while maintaining her life in Brooklyn, where her daughter, Adrienne Hanson, was raised.