- Comedian Jen Fulwiler says being a mom of 6 has helped her career, not hurt it.
- She thinks one of the greatest gifts parents can give their kids is "the gift of a happy parent."
- Fulwiler says it's important for parents to get help in the day-to-day, and not to compare their parenting to what they see on social media.
Jen Fulwiler knew there was an audience for her particular brand of comedy. She'd been gaining an online fan base for around a decade, building her name with a radio show on Sirius XM, and honing her craft at local comedy clubs near her Austin, Texas, home.
But when Fulwiler, a mom of 6, tried to head out on her first national tour, she found no comedy clubs would book her.
"They hadn't heard of me," she says. "But I thought there was a need for comedy from this perspective, because there aren't a whole lot of women in this field, period, let alone bringing a big-family, minivan-driving perspective."
So instead of giving up, she doubled down on her dream and financed her own tour (at significant personal risk). "I actually googled, like, 'rent theater in Columbus, Ohio,'" she says. "I would cold-call that theater and say, 'Can I put down my personal credit card to rent the theater?'"
Thankfully, the gamble paid off. On that tour, 12 of her 14 shows sold out—some in a matter of hours. And for much of the tour, she brought her kids with her. Her 12-year-old delivered paperwork to theater managers, while her 10-year-old ran her sound checks.
"When people say, 'How did you do that with all those kids?' I would say that's how I got through it," she says. "Everything I've done in my career—I always see it as a family project."
Succeeding by failing
Fulwiler knows a thing or two about balancing kids and career: She had 6 children in 8 years ("no twins!" she tells audiences). And she didn't wait to grow her family until she was established as a comedian.
"I quit a stable job that provided benefits for my family of 8 to do stand-up comedy right at the beginning of the pandemic," she jokes.
Her unique work-family situation has also led her to become a sort of poster mom for working parents trying to balance it all. Fulwiler's message to those parents? Don't worry about being perfect (and don't compare your parenting to what you see on Instagram).
"You are going to do it badly. You are going to fail by our modern society standards," she says. "But if you genuinely love your kids and love your family and do the best you can each day, whatever that looks like, I truly believe it's all going to work out."
Finding your village
Fulwiler is also a big believer in the importance of asking for help. An anthropology major in college, she sees how isolated parents are today compared with earlier times, when child-rearing was a communal effort.
"We weren't meant to raise kids in isolation," she says. "If it feels hard, it's because it is hard."
Fulwiler held back on asking for help for years, because she was worried about anyone seeing the messy realities of a household with 6 kids.
"For years my carpet looked like a modern art experiment," she says. And when she tried to donate her couch to the Salvation Army, it was so stained that they wouldn't take it.
But she finally decided to hire a couple of local babysitters from the neighborhood to help out at times, and eventually hired someone full time to help manage her household, from childcare to helping with her podcast. She credits that help with allowing her to fully pursue her ambitions, while making sure her family doesn't take a back seat.
"This is part of modern life that is a necessity," she says. "Having help—it's a necessity, not a luxury."
Happy parents, happy kids
Today, mom and family are thriving—even if their life doesn't always look like other families' lives. Fulwiler is on another tour, and one of her stand-up shows became a video special. And Fulwiler appreciates her chance to be a role model for other parents.
"The social/cultural environment I grew up in said to women, 'If you have kids, get ready to let go of all your talents, all of your passions, and get ready to be boring,'" she says. "There was almost this feeling of—if you're having too much fun, you are probably not doing this the right way."
But Fulwiler says she's found the exact opposite to be true. "Life can be even more fun, and just as interesting, when you become a parent."
And although touring life can take her away from her kids, she thinks it's good for them to see her fulfilled.
"One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is the gift of a happy parent," she says.
Fulwiler's excitement for her new career energizes the whole family. And the kids? They're proud of mom.
"They're like 'Yeah, get out there!'"