Balancing Art & Parenthood
When my daughter was a newborn and my son was 3, he went through a phase where he was obsessed with Moana. Correction, we were obsessed with Moana. And It MADE ME CRY EVERY SINGLE TIME. Because I felt just like her. Even though I was working as a therapist in private practice, I was still home alone with two young kids most of the time, and Like Moana, I had duties to my family while feeling called to an epic journey. But here I was, with two children I loved more than anything, drowning in a sea of diapers, Disney music, and guilt that I wanted more.
Before I had my first child, I balanced my therapy practice and painting practice beautifully. The two worked well together and fed each other - time connecting deeply with others balanced with time alone in my own world, painting. It’s hard to imagine having that much free time now.
I knew I would be tired and busy after having a baby, but assumed I would make time for creative work. Ha Ha. I didn’t. The baby and my clients used all of my psychic and emotional energy and I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to make new work.
It was sort of shock, watching Moana, smothered in young children, to feel the drive to create return. But the big problem was HOW. Two kid means less free time, less emotional space and less creative energy than even one kid
But I hit a point where it felt like if I didn’t grow as an artist and a therapist I couldn’t handle being a mother; the urge to learn and create felt like a NEED more than A WANT.
Being a Parent taught me how to be resourceful and how to show up even when I don’t feel like it. Once I took these lessons learned from parenting, and applied them to making creative work- I’ve realized that it’s possible that being a parent could teach me how to have a stronger, healthier relationship to creative work, as well.
There are no easy answers and I still struggle but here’s what I’ve seen work for other parents, and what has, for the most part, been working for me:
DISCIPLINE & TIME
Work when you can. Before you had kids, for the most part, you can work when you have the most energy and feel the most creative. It is a tough adjustment, muscling up the energy to do creative work at whatever random moment you have time. When you get an hour, you use your hour. When you get a half hour, you use your half hour. There's never a perfect time so you just have to do it anytime. And sometimes it’s really really hard to do work when all you want to do is veg out on your phone while your kids watch Blippi, and sure Veg out some times- but not every time.
LEAN ON YOUR SUPPORT & CHILD CARE NETWORK
Childcare is an incredible privilege, and if you can access it, do. Find a good babysitter, ask your partner for more support, lean on your parents. No one will do things exactly the way you do, but that’s ok. Your kids will miss you, but it’s also good for them to get to know other people.
LET GO OF PERFECTION
Part of having kids is learning to accept that you won’t be a perfect parent all the time. Inspired by British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, I aim to be a good enough mother.
The same goes for being a creative parent. What’s important is that you push yourself to make work, every time you do it enriches your soul and connects you to yourself as a human being. Even if just for five minutes you draw a little doodle, you’ve connected with that part of yourself for five minutes and that matters. If 30% of the work you do is decent, that’s amazing.
Be open to a new identity as an artist or even a new medium. Find things you can easily use around your kids, that are easy to clean up, or small. Do the best you can with the time and tools you have available.
DEVELOP A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT BEING A PARENT
I Put this at the end of the list, but for me, I wasn’t actually able to do any of the above suggestions until I went back to therapy, and worked through what had been emotionally holding me back from making practical changes. Having kids probably means having a huge shift in your identity as a person and an artist, and that can be a complicated web to detangle.
If you are finding it impossible to feel creative since you’ve had kids, there is probably something happening inside of you, potentially related to your own childhood that may be shutting you off from a creative part of yourself.
If you are completely unaware of what your kids are bringing up in you, It may be impossible to know or understand why some things feel so impossible, now that you’re a parent. You want to feel creative, but instead, you may feel overwhelmed with anxiety, the need to control and protect, or a series of other feelings that make it hard to create internal and external space in which you can feel and think creatively.
Consider seeing a therapist to work through what is coming up for you, or reading books like Parenting From the Inside-Out by Dan Segal. If you think talking to a therapist could help reach out and learn more about the process.
GO ON YOUR ADVENTURE SO YOU CAN RETURN HOME WHOLE
What I’ve realized is that, much like my best friend Moana, you’ve gotta make the effort to go on your epic journey and leave the island, if you are called to.
For me,(and I can only speak for myself) I am more present and loving with my kids when my creative, professional self is also alive and has had some room to breathe. I still have conflicting feelings about being away from my kids, and some days I feel sad or guilty when I spend time away. But even when I’m away, I keep them in my heart and when it’s time to come home, l know the way.