Business Partners Alita Kelly and Khara DeWit Discuss Motherhood
Alita Kelly and Khara DeWit are the co-founders of South East Market, a grocery market with a mission to increase access to healthy food options through dignified means.
A: My daughter was 9 when South East Market got underway but she’s been watching me engage with my entrepreneurial spirit her entire life. She pretends to set up a play store in her room and she asks me questions about how Khara and I manage the work together. She’s definitely watching closely the nuances of the market being built. She’s not short on suggestions for the market either!
K: My 3 sons were 12,10, and 6 when I accepted partnership to begin South East Market. A new school year had begun via virtual school as well. They each contributed to the set up of the store-building wire shelves, sweeping and mopping floors, stocking shelves, and lending their design layout opinions. They give the best critique of the market and our products and are the best young advocates for the work.
What are the biggest challenges in your life as a business owner and mother?
K+A: We started this business out of our care for others and a big part of that is because of our mothering, nurturing energy. It can be hard for our children to understand that caring for the community means we don’t have as much time and energy to be the moms they want us to be. Finding balance is so hard but one of the things we try to do is to include our children into the work and let them be close to it because we want them to truly understand why mom didn’t make it to dinner or why mom fell asleep during the movie. Knowing that they will understand why we do what we do one day doesn’t always make it easy in the present disappointment of the moment.
What inspires you in those really challenging moments?
K+A: Seeing how our children get excited or have keen insight into the work we’re doing makes all the difference. Also, the beauty that exists between the partnership of mothers and women helping each other is so powerful.
As mothers, we are able to be understanding of our family’s needs and that gives us the energy to do the hard work of building a business. Things get hard and we have to be agile to support our family and business at the same time. We are in a community with a lot of other brilliant, powerful and supportive mommas and it is an endless source of inspiration for us.
How does your role as a mother inform you as a business owner, and vise versa? It seems that the same skills can come in very handy for both roles.
K+A: We both call the store “our baby” and in many ways it’s just like having a child. Sleep is compromised, lots of cleaning and logistics to navigate, expensive…there are so many parallels. One of the most rewarding parts of being a mother is to see all of the love, care and attention you pour into a child take root in their soul and watch them go off and be great with it. While our store is still in its infancy stages, we’re so proud of how far it has come. Similar to raising children, the philosophy of “It takes a village” applies here as well. Part of our role as mothers is to surrender to the shape that the child must take on their own and watching the market evolve through our community is one of the greatest gifts.
What do you love about being a business owner who is also a mom?
K+A: We love how supportive and optimistic our children are with how far we can take our business. We’re normalizing for them that women are not just mothers but leaders, business owners, creators, trailblazers. We are capable of so much when given the space and opportunity to make moves in our community. They’ll go off to understand how possible it is to have a family and run a business. Additionally, it doesn’t require sacrificing our responsibility to advocate for others along the way. When women are given the opportunity to lead, the whole community flourishes. We’re grateful that our children get to be close to that truth.
What advice would you give other business owners who are also moms?
A: You can’t do it all. Asking for help does not make you weak. Being kind to yourself and exercising self compassion are not just essential for navigating motherhood as a business owner and vice versa but it is one of the best gifts you can give to your children and staff. Something my grandma said that always stuck with me was that children are not the icing on top, they are the cake. The space you make in your life for family should reflect that, emails can wait but their childhood is over in the blink of an eye.
K: Feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and overwhelm will be a part of being a working mom, in or out of the home. It’s inescapable. You can never be 100% as a mom and 100% at work, a 100% daughter or partner, and that is okay. Perfectionism is crippling. Giving compassion to yourself (in the same generous way you give it to others) can be an antidote to our self-imposed and loud inner critic, it will keep us motivated, and help us be more supportive and caring in all the roles we carry. And every new day we get to begin again.