How do you deal with unsupportive family members?
People who enthusiastically criticise the lovely thing you make to “keep your feet on the ground.”
Who are reluctant to help you even in the most minimal, could-you-pick-up-my-business-cards-from-the-printer kind of way.
Or people who hurt you by subtly (or openly) throwing shade at your progress.
Creative people need support.
That’s because to make art is to make yourself vulnerable – sometimes excruciatingly so.
Combine that vulnerability with earning a living in a society that wishes you were something much less troublesome than an artist – a quantity surveyor, perhaps – and there’s a huge, ongoing need for external help.
I asked the makers in my Sell Like An Artist community and they had a lot to say on this subject.
Here’s a selection of their experiences and advice. Some names have been changed.
My husband claims to be supportive but all the everyday little things he does to undermine my ability to work scream “unsupportive.” Probably should save this for my therapist (which I now do) but it is horrible to hear him question everything and make cutting remarks about my business.
It’s no longer worth my energy so I stopped talking to some family members about anything business related and will continue to do. They had a tremendous impact on me – I felt incompetent, unworthy, no belief or trust. Especially when I was young (I was always making and trying to sell). Unfortunately those feelings still creep up from time to time.
My dad still asks me if I colour-in for a living and says mean things about getting a “real job” (even though I had a US bestselling picture book this year, lol). My husband appears to measure most things based on their financial return. I learned to eye roll and move on and remember I’m not responsible for their feelings.
I think some kind of counselling can be extremely useful because it helps you not to let any of this negativity filter into your marketing or social media behaviour, or art choices as an artist. It can make you defensive or too people-pleasing or too ‘needy’ and that affects how people view you and your art.
A lot of it very often stems from family experiences for many of us. Lately, I’ve noticed a people-pleasing streak in myself and I don’t like it! But a wise mentor (and also a look at the enneagram of personality) is helping me separate these things out and hopefully grow to the point where family comments roll off my back.
I have wonderfully supportive in-laws, husband, sister, extended family. My own parents? Absolute disinterest. They don’t ask what I’m up to, they don’t buy, they don’t refer friends to me, they don’t share my posts or tune into online fairs. And I do tell them. I just get little or no response.
After lockdown my mother posted asking if anyone knew if the local garden centre was open because she needed to buy some greetings cards. I’d spent so much of lockdown sharing not just mine but other makers’ work, trying to keep wolves from as many doors as possible. I know she saw those posts, I even replied “Your daughter makes cards!” No response!
Mostly I laughed but I was a bit annoyed. Sometimes I think it’s lack of understanding, but it’s not that hard to understand. I don’t really have an emotional relationship with them, particularly my mother, so I’m probably expecting too much. I am grateful I’ve never experienced the passive aggressive put-downs that other people have.
But I do find this weird, and most of the time it doesn’t bother me because I’ve always just been left to get on with it but once in a while, seeing other makers’ relationships with their parents or their own children, I realise how strange it is. It make me a bit sad but I don’t think it will ever change.
I’ll tell you what helped me but first I agree this is a horrible situation to be in. Especially when you’re working really hard or have achieved something really special. I find the support from the makers around me in my community an absolute lifeline – not only do they rally around for each other but they really understand what it is to do this work. Accepting that I can’t fix it (and actually now, don’t really want to, I can’t be bothered) has helped.
Once when trying to express my thoughts on how difficult working for yourself can be, my sister said “You’ve made your bed, so lie in it.” I can laugh about it now but that was the last time I tried to discuss my thoughts and feelings with my family. It was 8 years ago.
I called my partner out for lack of support it’s funny, because he thinks he is very supportive because he’s given me lifts to a few fairs and helps me unload. But what was getting to me was that every time I tried to talk to him about any aspect of my work I could literally see his eyes glaze over and his attention wander until I shut up. I pointed out to him that *I* may not be interested in the intricacies of what *he* does (which he shares / vents to me constantly) but I listen and support him because I care about *him*. The penny seems to have dropped after that.
I’m lucky to have a supportive husband but my in-laws think I make thousands in my business. I’m a sole earner so I already feel the weight of all the financial responsibilities on my shoulders. The other thing that has surprised me is that family refuse any discounts which is lovely, but I have friends who expect big discounts or free items. They think what I do is not a ‘real job’ and constantly tell me the importance of their work in comparison to mine.
Thankfully, we’ve a really gorgeous and supportive community around here. I’ve made some fabulous friends whom I treasure very much. Everyone keeps an eye out for each other.
Loving yourself is vital when you’re a creative business-owner. It’s rough out there and you’ve got to have your own back. But you need love and support from other people too.
That’s because we can’t conjure up everything we need from inside ourselves. We need other human brains to help us make meaning from our experiences of the world. It’s a shared, ongoing project.
If those close to you can’t or won’t do that, find people who will.
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