My Balance: Jenna Park of Sweet Fine Day

Jenna Park writes the incredible blog Sweet Fine Day (don’t you love her photographs?) and works as a freelance graphic designer. She lives with her pastry-chef husband and two young daughters in Brooklyn. Here’s how she attempts to find balance…

1. What’s your work schedule?
During the school year the mornings are quite hectic: getting lunches made and the girls dressed and fed and out the door by 8:20am for school. We also walk our neighbor kids to school two days a week, and it can be like herding cats getting four kids to two different schools. As soon as I get home at 9:20am from dropping the kids off, I have my cup of coffee and respond to emails. Then the work day begins, and it’s often a marathon to try and cram as much stuff into 4 1/2 hours as possible, until I have to pick up my youngest from preschool at 2pm. Mark used to have a more flexible kitchen schedule, but he’s been consistently leaving the house at 6am to start baking. Sometimes he’ll get home by 3pm to pick up our 7-year-old from school. It’s a lot of juggling everyday where we’re checking with each other’s schedules the night before to see which one of us can pick the kids up from school. After the kids go to bed,we’ll both work again often until late at night. Then it starts all over the next morning at 7:30am.

School vacations throw everything off. There’s a lot of stress, cursing, juggling, drop off playdates and late nights, but somehow things always get done.

2. How do you handle childcare?
We used to have a part-time nanny two days (totaling 16 hours a week) from the time our oldest was three months old up until last year. This enabled me to have two solid days where I could schedule meetings and errands. Mark and I would trade off on childcare the other days. When our youngest daughter started preschool four days a week last September, we reluctantly decided to say godbye to our nanny of six years because we couldn’t afford both. We now rely on a combination of school and tag-team childcare to get our work done. It will get a lot easier this September because both girls will be in the same school full time with the same schedules.

3. Where do you work during the day?
On the couch in the living room.

4. What do you like best about your current set-up?
There are quite a few things I learned about myself after I graduated from graduate school eleven years ago.
1) I don’t like working in an office situation every day and I feel lucky that I can work remotely from home.
2) Flexibility is really important to me, and it became necessary when we started having children. It was really the only way I could “afford” to work while not giving over the majority of my paycheck to childcare, and it allows me to spend as much time with my kids as possible while still working full-time hours. Because we value flexibility in our lives, we’ll do most anything to protect it.

5. What do you find tricky about your current set-up? What would you change if you had a magic wand?
The number-one thing I would change, hands down, is better, more affordable healthcare for freelancers and small businesses. It’s almost criminal what we pay a month for a family of four, and I hate having to choose between better healthcare vs. cheaper premiums, but this is exactly what I had to do this year because our healthcare became unaffordable. Everything else in our situation runs fairly smoothly, for the most part. We’ve had more than seven years to figure out how to maneuver the freelance life with children. It isn’t perfect, and we’ve lost some projects and found ourselves in some hairy situations (like miscommunication about who is picking up the kid from school which resulted in NO ONE picking her up), but now that both kids are school age, I feel like we’ve won the lottery and we’ve made it through to the other side.

6. How does your husband contribute to managing the juggle/house/childcare?
Mark does everything. I often joke that he is a better mom than me. He does all the cooking for the family and generally handles bath and bedtime too. Usually when he gets home from work it’s my turn to work, so most days we split childcare and house duties into morning shifts (me) and evening shifts (him).

7. Do you have time for yourself? What do you do during that time?
I really savor the late night hours. I’m a total night owl and will head to bed around 2am. It’s the only time in the day when it’s quiet from both clients and family. I can actually design work done, or I’ll watch a movie on Netflix while editing photos and writing blog posts.

8. What advice would you give to other moms about how to balance work and life?
I’m not sure I’ve found the balance myself yet, but I tell myself that whatever challenging situation I find myself in now, isn’t going to be forever.

9. Do you ever wonder how other women manage the juggle? Do you think people are open about it?
I didn’t meet very many people who were in the similar work/life situations when my kids were younger, but I’ve been meeting more and more freelance moms over the past two to three years. It helps immensely to have someone to talk to, who can relate to some of your struggles and experiences. I don’t feel there is enough open discussion about it, however, and it could be because we don’t want to appear vulnerable or weak or admit to ourselves or to others that juggling a career and parenthood is often really hard. I do think that women need to talk to each other more honestly about it–we can learn so much from each other.

Thank you, Jenna!

  1. This is my favorite post in this series so far. I feel Jessica was really honest about her struggles and I liked hearing about the financial juggling, too– so much of the time I feel like we’re alone in our struggles, but that is not true! Of course, ours comes from making a different choice– having one parent stay at home– but I savor each of these stories because it’s so helpful to have these different perspectives. Parents are all in this together, and we can learn so much from one another.

  2. So, I do not actually believe it is likely to work.

  3. I’m REALLY enjoying this series from other freelancers like myself. It’s so nice to hear that other woman are working from home (in bed or on the couch) and finding unique ways to get it all done. Freelancing, finding affordable healthcare and enjoying some “me time” are all so important and discussed so little. Thanks for the thoughtful and inspiring guest posts.

  4. Love this. Love this serious Joanna.


  5. I totally agree with everyone that what makes Jenna’s blog so great is her honesty, her insight and her beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Anonymous says...

    I agree with Katie (9:58), : Jenna comes across honest and genuine, and doesn’t try to make her life seem perfect. (Jo too, for that matter).

    Some of that faux perfectness in a blog is tedious. I admit to only choosing the best pics for my family blog – that’s okay right? But how to get at the real stuff? I wonder if later it will seem too edited. Sorry if this is off topic.

    My mommy guilt: letting my kids watch too many TV shows while I blog about how rad they are.

  7. i love Jenna’s blog. she’s so candid and her photos are lovely.

  8. Jenna, thanks for sharing your insight in balancing life and work. My older sister and her husband both work full time. All day they run from work to home to avoid daycare. it can get very expensive with two kiddos but it’s also a stressful situation to see them in. To be honest I don’t know where my sister gets the energy!LOL

  9. Katie says...

    I adore Jenna and Sweet Fine Day, and I was thrilled to see her interview. One of my favorite things about Jenna is that she doesn’t try to make her life seem perfect; she’s an honest, genuine person and I think we all relate to that. Her girls are insanely gorgeous too.

  10. Thank you for your wonderful insight Jenna! I’m not close to married and don’t have children but it’s really inspiring to read about women like you who are striving to work independently and raise a family.

    I was raised by a single mother who worked hard to support us. I didn’t and still don’t feel like her working ever took away from our relationship and our time. Her working enabled us to do fun things and travel back to her hometown in Japan to see my grandparents in the summer.

    I’m now an adult but find it exciting to share thoughts and reminisce on my childhood. It’s wonderful to find out things about your mother that you didn’t realize as a child or were too young to understand.

    I think your daughters are absolutely beautiful. They remind me a lot of me and friends with their half Asian and half Caucasian looks.

    Good luck in your endeavors Jenna. Thanks to Joanna I will now follow you and your blog.

    A big thank you Joanna for including Jenna in this series. I read your blog almost daily and always find your posts cheerful, inspiring and fun!

  11. Noelle says...

    Regarding health care, part of the problem is that there is ZERO inter-state competition.

    We do not have a free-market system in health insurance.

    My agent would like to sell me a better plan at a lower cost that is available in a neighboring state, but not in my state. It can’t be done.

    This could be solved easily by changes in the law.

  12. thank you for your inspiring words. i’m happy to have discovered your blog today! love your girls’ haircuts :)

  13. Anonymous says...

    Jenna, thanks for being so inspiring and honest and for making me feel that I can crack this freelance life and make the most of working for myself.

  14. word on the healthcare part! and that last picture absolutely warms my heart!

  15. I agree this has been a truly great series. As someone who has had both the experience of working from an office and now, working from home, I can say that for me the key difference which makes the latter more viable is that I no longer work for someone else. The freedom of working for yourself ultimately outweighs many of the struggles faced along the way because it means that what you do is your ‘baby’ and every ounce of energy you put into it, is fueled with passion.

  16. Anonymous says...

    Great interview and the kids are sooo adorable. Reading these series makes me admire mothers so much more. It seems like a hard but very rewarding experience. Makes me want to get married and start a family of my own~! You ladies are incredible, smart, beautiful and inspiring.

  17. This is a wonderful interview and series. I do agree it would be nice to hear from people who don’t have the flexibility to work from home everyday – who have to be at the office, single moms, etc. It is nice to hear all perspectives, though. Every family’s situation is so different, and I find it so interesting to see how everyone manages the juggle. Thanks!

  18. This interview is such an inspiration for mothers and mothers to be. I love hearing how two parents juggle their careers and children all while remaining successful. Nicely done!

  19. I am immensely in love with this series right now. Gosh thanks for this profile because now I can go and follow her absolutely beautiful blog religiously.

  20. read her blog and find her simply amazing..great choices here!
    loveee this series…simply awesome!

  21. I am completely in love with this series; real moms, real kids, real stress, real struggle to balance life with motherhood. No matter what kind of mom you are (SAHM, WAHM, WOHM), we all struggle with balancing this thing called motherhood with that other thing called life. Bravo to all moms who in the end just want the same thing: to be the absolute best mom they can be for their kids, and best person they can be for themselves.

  22. i love this series. just want to say though that for those who say they want to hear perspectives from 9 to 5 women who work outside the home, i think that Joanna picked women who are like her and in the same type of designer/creative-y industries on purpose. it’s a perfect fit for her blog and readers who are into that sort of thing. if i wanted to read about moms from the law field, then i’d go find my favorite law blog and suggest they do a series on law moms and how they balance their lives. i’m not trying to be mean, just my thoughts.

  23. i just found your blog through little green notebook and love these posts. sometimes i’m amazed at how little i get done during the day with a 5 year old at home with me. i’m realizing i need to schedule my days better.

  24. THANK YOU so much again for such kind kind words. And for those of you who have commented on the late bedtime, my sleep issues are well documented on the blog ;)

  25. to @anon who left her design job: There have been a few times over the 8 years that I’ve been freelancing where I belabored over a few job offers that “fell” onto my lap. I never went looking for a job because I never wanted to tempt fate I guess. The things that would compel me to seriously consider taking a job is health insurance (obviously!) and other benefits like retirement and paid vacation. The second thing is a steady paycheck which, as a freelancer, is something that I can’t underestimate. In the end, however, I felt it wasn’t the right answer for my family. I had to cost out the difference between childcare costs and a salary. In the end, I felt like we could come out ahead because I can work “off” hours at night by freelancing and save on childcare that way, not to mention that I couldn’t bear the thought of taking an office job. It’s taken me 5 years or so to build a steady client base through referrals. I rarely need to seek work and I am grateful, but as I said, it takes a while to do. As designers, we are fortunate, in a way, to be in professions where we CAN freelance and work remotely. I think you can do it!!

  26. Miranda says...

    Love Jenna and her blog!

  27. Wonderful post. And thank you for the honesty. I know people say there is a place in hell for women who don’t help each other, but I feel the same way about women who are not honest with each other. So I applaud you for that. It is so important to keep reminding ourselves that we are all in this wonderful but sometimes hard life together. You have a lovely family and a wonderful blog – so glad to have been introduced.

    About the healthcare issue. I am so sad that you and so many others have to struggle with this. I feel ashamed of myself that I have doubts about whether or not I ‘dare’ make the transition to a freelance life, living, as I am, in Denmark where I never have to worry about medical bills. It is so easy to take things for granted.

  28. Great post Jenna, and I applaud you for doing what you love while you also raise your daughters. I was a single mom doing freelance work for years and it never seemed that there were enough hours in the day or days in the week. Now my kids are out of the home (one a PhD in Aerospace Engineering, another a student at University of NM) and they both say they learned from me that doing work you love is much more important than the alleged security of a 9 to 5 job. So be brave (and good luck with healthcare – mine is still crazy expensive with a high deductible. My defense is to stay VERY healthy.) and know that you’re doing the absolute best thing for you and your kids

  29. I am really amazed by these women who do not get to bed until way past midnight, yet are up at 6-7am the next day ready to take on the world- bravo, ladies!

  30. Anonymous says...

    Communicating and sharing your concerns and successes is so important! there are always others in the same shoes, experiencing the same things. Thank you!

  31. This is s a great series. It’s good to read about how other moms are trying to balance career and parenting. Thanks to Jenna for being so open and honest.

  32. great post! inspiring series. Thanks :)

  33. My husband and I deliberately decided to start our family in Europe. We are both Montessori teachers and there is just NO WAY we’d have been able to have a nice set up at home like we have here. It’s wonderful and we’re very happy in our life here. But it is so terribly SAD that paid maternity leave is not a legal obligation nationwide in the US. Good point, Anonymous!
    On a separate note, I am afraid, very very afraid to see that more than one of these My Balance posts mentions midnight or later (2 am?!) bedtimes. How on Earth is that possible when you have to get up and start all over again with your children at 7am?????
    My first baby is due in September. HELP! ;)

  34. Anonymous says...

    In a study from McGill University’s Institute for Health and Social Policy, the United States, Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea were the only countries out of 173 studied that didn’t guarantee any paid leave for mothers. Among the 168 countries that do, 98 offer 14 or more weeks of paid leave.

    How is this possible? The richest country in the world? This issue much like healthcare in the states will never change. So sad and frustrating that this will be one of the factors that will make me move back to Europe to raise children.

  35. Honestly, where have I been that I didn’t know about Jenna Park and Sweet Fine Day?? (I even consider myself an avid blog follower.) Under a rock, I tell you, under a rock. Well, I have found a beautiful new blog to read. Thanks, Jo!
    Jenna, thanks for mentioning the healthcare issue (aka racket) we endure here in the States. I’m a SAHM and my husband is self-employed, and we have two children. All too familiar with the high (and continually rising) cost of healthcare. And just when you’ve researched your heart out to find a plan that is tolerable price and coverage wise, in three months the provider will raise your premium (for no reason)! Ok, rant ending…
    Jenna: thank you for your honest words and Jo: I’ll say it again, thank you for this wonderful series!
    xo, Theresa

  36. Jenna is so honest and likable. I love reading her blog and I’m so glad you included her here. Great post.

  37. Ah, finally! Someone mentions the healthcare issue! As a mom and a wife to a newly self-employed husband, the responsibility of carrying insurance has fallen on me. It is the only reason I am sticking with my corporate job, something that takes serious daily motivation for me.

    My husband’s business could easily support our family of three, until we factor in the cost of healthcare. Unfortunately, extraordinarily priced healthcare has kept us from realizing our dream of working together.

    I find it sad and disheartening that grossly priced healthcare keeps people in jobs they despise. My husband and I want nothing more than to positively contribute to society, empower ourselves by following our passion and making what we love to do our work and, naturally, take care of our family. I constantly find myself aghast by the difficulties we face just trying to take care of our loved ones. It IS a crime that insurance is so expensive!

    I’m not sure how long it will take for things to change, but I hope, one day, our son can experience a time where more value is placed on us as a people, not as commodities. And where he can find the ability to actually follow his dreams, whatever they might be.

  38. Joanna – I have to tell you that I am LOVING this series. I am not a mom yet but I am a freelancer/work from hom-er / workaholic and have been thinking a lot lately about what it will be like when we do decide to have children. It has been quite educational and emotional reading about how these awesome ladies do it!

  39. I love these series, and I love Jenna’s blog, thank you for sharing these tips….

  40. thank you eline sağlık arkadaşım en güzel Yemek Tarifleri burda senide beklerim siteme beklemenin anlamı yok dunyanın lezzetleri bu adreste.

  41. I am really enjoying this series of posts…thanks, Joanna! I find these ‘sneak peeks’ into other working moms’ lives fascinating. While I am the opposite of the urban, freelancer mom–suburban, 9-5er–the struggles and day-to-day challenges your interviewees face still resonate.

    Jenna, your girls are adorable and similar ages to my children–my oldest is also a ‘Mia’ :) So glad for the introduction to your lovely blog! Also, thanks for sharing!

  42. I love Jenna and I love to see her here. Such a fantastic interview.

  43. Anonymous says...

    I hope your vacation is going well and you are not working too hard!

    Thank you again for sharing all these posts. They are excellent! You have all inspired me so much. Sweet Fine Day I really want to try your marshmallows, I will be ordering soon.

    For someone who is a new blogger any advise? Also would anyone recommend a blogger conference in NYC?

    Thank you Leigh


  44. Great JOanna! Great Jenna! Big idea to talk about motherhood. “we don’t want to appear vulnerable or weak or admit to ourselves or to others that juggling a career and parenthood is often really hard”

  45. Again, great series! I think it’s interesting that so many of us are drawn to the series and everyone seems to note how we need talk more about it. My girlfriends and I definitely talk about how hard it is to figure it all out.

    A friend and I joked last week that the feminist movement just made it so that now women have to do everything–work, cook, clean, raise the kids! While I enjoy working it is a constant adjustment to find the balance. Thanks for all the great insight from this series. And Jenna–I really enjoy your blog–it’s quite thoughtful and honest which is so refreshing. I read many blogs and it’s easy to feel like everyone’s got a better handle on things but your blog keeps it real!

  46. Anonymous says...

    Jenna, I recently left a comfy high paying corporate design job to work for myself, it has not been an easy adjustment as I now work 24/7 and pay for my own healthcare. I can’t even imagine what it will cost when I have a family.

    The thought of going back to a fulltime job depresses me so for now going to keep going even if money and the future is a worry.

    My question is when things get tough do you sometimes think of going back to a office job? or does the freedom make it all worth it?

  47. I have to say, even though I’m single and child-less I’m loving this series. I’m working toward quitting my 9 to 5 and at some point hope to be not-so-single and child-less, so it’s inspiring to see that it, in fact, can be done. Thanks!

  48. Jenna–
    I so appreciate your open honesty, your succinct eloquent expression and your insight. I just started reading your blog (thanks Jo for pointing me your way when she mentioned your breadwinner post!) and i really relate. I am hapa, a dramatic younger sister and a breadwinner. I imagine my parents were quite like you and your husband in the way you negotiate scheduling. I see my sister and myself in your daughters (we are 5 years apart, and though she used to write stories about “a pest living in my home” we are now best friends). And I relate to you as well. Thank you for blogging, though you have so many other things to do.

  49. Anonymous says...

    Jenna, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your thoughts with readers. My husband and I are currently trying to decide what to do in terms of having a child and we are struggling with the idea of healthcare. I am a freelancer and he has a fulltime job but his benefits are pretty pitiful (he is enrolled in something called a “Health Savings Account”) so it is putting a huge stress on our decision making process.

    I also read your post about being a breadwinner and it was such a relief that other people feel this way!

    Thank you again and you have a new reader to your blog.

  50. This is the best series of blog posts. I’m going to be a mum in January and the thought of juggling a full time design job, my blog and life scary to say the least. Good to hear from the mums on the “other side” of birth you really are all heros!

    Thank you.

  51. This post really resonates with me. I am also a freelance graphic designer and manages 3 Etsy shops and my children are about the same ages as yours… Yes, trying to coordinate every family member’s schedule can be quite stressful. When to pick up which kid and where? It is different every day!

  52. Just loving this series and great to read Jenna’s interview. I love her blog and she is a real inspiration to me and my blogging venture
    In fact this feature was my two favourite blogs rolled into one! I can totally understand the juggling and childcare tag – I live a very similar existence. But being in England we don’t have such healthcare issue. I can’t begin to imagine the pressure of finding and affording good healthcare for your family must be. This series however is giving us all hope, or at least a feeling that our hectic lives are in fact quite ‘normal’ in this day and age.

  53. There is a great book about professors and family life titled “Mama PhD”. I’m not an author or contributor, it just helped me understand the stakes of balancing work with kids in academia. And I’m loving this series- no kids for me yet, but I will surely bookmark these posts.

  54. I hear you on the healthcare! Our daughter was adopted with a cleft lip and palate, and she has had a couple of surgeries per year since. For the first year my husband was working for a large news corp, and we had terrific insurance, but now that we both work from home, the insurance costs are outrageous. It doesn’t seem like a fair tradeoff. People shouldn’t be discouraged from working for themselves.

  55. Laura says...

    In my family, we have a similar set up to these guest posts, only the gender roles are reversed. My husband is the freelance worker and handles most of the childcare responsibilities, and I work the more traditional M-F 9-5 job. While I enjoy the work I do, it is important for one of us to have this more traditional job mainly for the need for one of us to be able to get benefits, like health insurance and retirement contributions, through an employer. I can’t imagine trying to pay out of pocket for benefits on my own, and save some money for retirement as well. Kudos to those who have both working more independent jobs and are trying to do this!

  56. *great series! ;)

  57. Joanna, what a greay series! Thank you for this!

  58. i LOVE jenna’s blog! she’s always so open and honest about exactly how she’s feeling… it’s refreshing. she doesn’t paint that rosy, it’s oh so easy to be fabulous, picture and i love her blog for it. her gals are adorable and pictures and always beautiful. such a nice surprise seeing her here this morning :)

  59. this series has been wonderful. I feel like I’ve learned something from every single woman you have featured. I completely agree that as mothers who work, or honestly as mothers in general, we need to talk to each other more. It’s true, I think, that so many of us feel alone and/or isolated and often overwhelmed by all the responsibilities of our day-to-day and it’s helpful to have support from fellow parents who are in the same or similar situation.

    I feel so inspired by what all of these woman are doing and their advice on these posts is so helpful and honest. I feel a bit rejuvenated after reading these posts! Mostly bc I know that how I feel is okay and normal and like I can just keep going and figuring things out as I go along.

  60. I adore ‘Sweet Fine Day’! I’ve been following it ever since I saw them profiled on Ohdeedoh and I just love her blog!

  61. Hello everybody! Thank you so much for the comments. Thanks to Joanna for having me.

    Since so many of you so far have been interested in the health insurance issue, I wrote a post about why I felt compelled to switch carriers earlier this year, even if it meant less than ideal insurance for my family. Thanks again!

  62. This is my favorite post in this series so far. I feel Jessica was really honest about her struggles and I liked hearing about the financial juggling, too– so much of the time I feel like we’re alone in our struggles, but that is not true! Of course, ours comes from making a different choice– having one parent stay at home– but I savor each of these stories because it’s so helpful to have these different perspectives. Parents are all in this together, and we can learn so much from one another.

  63. Wonderful interview! I love how she can work from home so that she is able to spend more time with her family. The stress is all worth it! The husband sounds perfect. :) ~Val

  64. Your photography is beautiful as are your family (kudos on bagging a pastry chef husband and being so in shape) x

  65. Katy says...

    I love these work/life balance posts, and would love to see some from women who have full time jobs without flexibility to shuffle things from day-to-day–teachers, professors, business women–women with fixed schedules, who have to run errands in evenings, don’t get to go to coffee shops, etc…. And posts about single moms, or women trying to achieve balance who don’t have? Your blog is great, and I’d love to hear from more kind of us (creative, hard working women).

  66. Great to see an interview with Jenna–I love “Sweet Fine Day!” As other commenters have said, majorly agree about the healthcare thing. My fiance and I are trying to cobble together writing careers with day jobs and make sure we have our healthcare covered. I can only imagine how much more stressful that issue is when you have children to think about as well.

  67. I can’t even imagine having to worry about Healthcare, being in Canada we are so lucky that we don’t need to worry about that aspect.
    I’m seeing a trend of a lot of ‘late night’ working in all of these interviews…kudos.

  68. Aww..let me just start off by saying how adorable your girls are and the last photo melted my heart! I totally think that if we are honest and talk more about how hard it can get, it will benefit us all in the future. I don’t have children yet but after reading your post I’m truly inspired. Thanks, Jenna:)

  69. I couldn’t agree more about the healthcare issues that go along with families and freelance. Frustrating to say the least. ps..beautiful girls!