Raising Children as a Designer

As a working mom, my children have been a large part of my career journey.

I started working in the industry in 1989 when mauve toilets, clay tiles, soffits, drafting tables, mylar, and blueprints were the norm. I got married in 1990 and had my first child in 1994. Today, he turns 26, is a mechanical engineer for Specialized Bikes and lives in Santa Cruz, CA.

I started my own company when my second child was born in 1998 because I was making $11/hour and daycare for two kids was $10/hour. It was simple math to determine that it was time to start Amy Dutton Home. I worked out of the unheated front porch/playroom of our little cape with my trusty drafting table which allowed me to be home with the kids, earn money, keep my portfolio up and sleep very little.

When my third child was born, I rented an office above Beach Pea Bakery with my friend who was a graphic designer and had children the same age. We split the rent and made it work between meetings, kids, babysitters, husbands, driving, cooking and clients. When I think back on those years (yes, I raised 3 kids pre-amazon) they were hectic, stressful and fun. Juggling all the pieces at the same time meant that at any given moment at least one ball was going to drop, the key was having a community and family who was supportive and very forgiving.

At the young age of 7 my son and I would go on “dates” and he would help me measure existing conditions of new projects (then I would take him for ice cream). In an effort to build my business and invest in real estate, we bought 9 Walker Street in Kittery in 2006 where my office is currently located. The building needed to be flipped into commercial and completely renovated. My son was a more than happy to earn money and demo the basement ceiling that was filled with mouse poop – as I said, it’s been a journey – and paint pretty much every inch of the building. I’m still a reference on his resume!

My daughters have both worked for me learning how to publish blogs, post on Instagram, take inventory, organize tile, paint, cabinetry and countertop samples. I still take them to job sites when they are home from college, and they come up with ideas that I actually do take.

Now, white toilets and grey walls is the norm, CAD has replaced the drafting board (but I still have mine) and google provides research and design inspiration in the palm of your hand. But IP (Intellectual Property) is still mine… and my kids. I raised them to be creative, flexible, work hard and to think on their feet. I’m so proud of who they have become and am so excited to see where they go in life. They have taught me so much that I’m not sure who learned more from whom, but I do know that my career wouldn’t be what it is without having them on my journey with me.

Now that I’ve empty nested, I’m so glad that I worked while raising children. Turns out the design industry is perfect for working moms. Sometimes, it was just about paying the bills or updating my portfolio while other times it’s been about learning about the industry, business, CAD and developing relationships. As the kids got older, I worked more but owning my own business afforded me the flexibility to be home on snow days and go to track meets. For the most part, it was about surviving, being flexible and remembering to use humor whenever possible.

To all those working moms out there… you can do it! Work hard and be dedicated to your work AND your family. I don’t believe that you can have it all, that feels unnecessarily pressure-filled. But when I look in the review mirror, I see that collectively I did have it all – just not all at the same time.

The battle of self-guilt was sometimes magnified by the battle of working vs stay-at-home moms. I found this to be particularly disturbing, after all, we are all women and judgment only compounds personal insecurities. Parenting isn’t a competition, there is no such thing as winning or perfection. While our job is never done, the end result is that you work very hard for 18 years and your reward is that they leave you. And when they are gone, it’s an amazing feeling to wake up in the morning and know that you have a big huge life in front of you.

I’m looking forward to this next phase of my career now that I have time to dedicate to focus, creativity, clarity, clients, relationships and building a future on a very strong foundation.


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