We can't say enough amazing things about Rachel LaCour Niesen, a business owner, entrepreneur, new-ish mom and friend of Little Nest Portraits. You might know her from her amazing Instagram account+ blog, Save Family Photos. Their mission is to save and share family stories, one photo at a time.
Rachel's creativity and deep connection to family resonates in every word she shared with us. It was truly a pleasure to hear her thoughts on modern motherhood + the stories of family today.
Pictured above: Rachel with her son Edward at home.
Tell us about your family:
We are a little family of three – me, my husband Andrew and our 7-month-old son Edward – living in a small city within a big city. Our city, Decatur, Ga., is a quirky, progressive community of about 30k residents. Since we’re technically an “intown suburb” of Atlanta, our community feels more urban than suburban. We have restaurants, shops and schools within walking distance of our house. Yet we can also be at the airport in about 15 minutes. Those are two big reasons we chose to lay roots here – it’s a neighborhood with proximity to big city conveniences that still feels like one big, southern front porch. In fact, the unofficial mottoes of Decatur include, “Mayberry meets Berkeley” and “it’s greater in Decatur!”
Pictured above: Edward and Andrew en route to Berlin, Germany
What does a typical weekday look like?
Great question, especially since we are anything but typical! :) Since my husband and I both work from home (we’re both photographers and also run a software startup), we take turns being the “primary caregiver” for our son. My mother, who recently retired, also helps us a few times a month. She has also graciously traveled with us to professional conferences and extended photo shoots. Honestly, our days feel fluid – which we love! If I have conference calls, or shoots, Andrew will take the lead with Edward. And if Andrew is traveling for shoots, then I’ll hang out with Edward. We feel very lucky to be able to spend so much time with our young son; he keeps our creativity churning. And he reminds us why we are working so damn hard! That said, our lifestyle also presents us with unique challenges: we don’t have a normal schedule. We don’t necessarily have a ton of structure. Any “structure” we have is essentially dictated by Edward’s sleep times. For now, that means we wake up around 5:30am so we can get ourselves duly-caffeinated and focused on the day’s tasks before Edward wakes up around 7:30am. And we work more efficiently than ever before because we need to get a lot accomplished during Edward’s sleep time. I’m sure all of this will change, probably sooner than we think! That said, Andrew and I are grateful that we get to spend Edward’s first year watching him discover the world from front row seats.
Pictured above: Edward at work!
How do you think motherhood today is different than our mothers' generation?
Our family is a good example of how expectations of motherhood have changed and progressed. My mother was a stay-at-home mom until my brother and I were in school. That said, she went back to work (as a school teacher) soon after we started school. Seeing her pursue her dreams and use her professional gifts to serve others was really influential for me as a girl. Andrew’s mom also had a career after her three kids were in school; she went to seminary and became a Presbyterian pastor. Having role models of mothers who pursued their professional callings definitely impacted Andrew and me. Andrew and I truly view ourselves as a parenting team; we are equally involved in Edward’s life. That said, I still feel like we each bring unique gifts and roles to parenthood. Maybe in that way we are more “conventional.” I tend to be the one planning and preparing family meals. Andrew tends to be the one managing the budget and planning for Edward’s potential childcare expenses as he gets older. Even though we may divide-and-conquer when it comes to household management, we sincerely support each other’s creative drive and entrepreneurial spirit. Neither one of us is wired to be a 9-5 employee; we are more fulfilled when we take risks and steer our own ship. Being a mom and a business owner keeps me energized and exhausted all at once. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. :)
How do you approach mothering challenges when they come up?
I’m still pretty new at this mom thing, so every day feels like a new challenge and a new opportunity to learn about my son, my husband and myself. I had my fair share of meltdowns during the first few months of Edward’s life. Motherhood is the hardest “job” I’ve ever had, yet it’s also the most creatively fulfilling. There was an article in The New York Times recently entitled, “Why can’t great artists be mothers?” For a long time, I thought I couldn’t balance my photographic and entrepreneurial passions with motherhood. Then, I realized that I would never know until I tried. I had waited a long time; I was 38 when Edward was born. When he was born, I discovered something about myself: I really *couldn’t balance art and motherhood. But you know what’s interesting? I found that balance didn’t matter as much to me anymore. Balance was no longer something I wanted to achieve. I leaned into the messiness, the emotionally-raw, the often chaotic creativity of motherhood. And I thrived on it. When I stopped trying to be perfect at being an artist and a mother, I actually started being better at both. That’s because I was more present – present as an artist and present as a mom.
One of my favorite quotes from that New York Times article is from fellow mom/photographer Cig Harvey. She said “Art is mirroring and life became more complicated and richer in my opinion after Scout was born.”
Complicated and richer – I can’t think of two better words to describe juggling being a mom and an entrepreneur.
What's the most important value you'd like to pass onto your children? What lessons learned from your own childhood do you take to heart?
I want to teach – to demonstrate – to Edward that there’s no such thing as normal. Growing up, I was a curious, creative, unconventional kid. Whenever I felt like I didn’t fit in, my mom would gently say to me, “Normal is a cycle on the washing machine.” She knew I needed to hear those words and she always smiled as she shared that simple statement. Looking back, her lighthearted words reassured me that no matter how quirky I was, or how unusual I felt, “normalcy” was relative, maybe even irrelevant! Though the phrase was said in a casual tone, my mom also said it with sincerity and love. She made me take myself a little less seriously, which was a good thing for a girl who spent a lot of time in her own head! As I grew into adulthood and started to think of my quirkiness as an asset, I couldn’t help but repeat my mom’s words! She knew, even when I was a confused junior high kid, that my unique perspective on the world would serve me well later in life. And here I am now, an entrepreneur and an artist who has started and sold businesses. My unconventional approach to life has actually helped me problem-solve, take big risks, and have confidence in my ideas.
I think moms have a special role to play in their children’s lives, especially when it comes to honoring their children’s unique gifts and perspectives. I’m so grateful for my mom’s influence in my life and I hope I can be a similarly strong influence in my son’s life.