Creativity and Motherhood – My Experiences So Far

Creativity and Motherhood – My Experiences So Far

So… this post is about motherhood and creativity, but don’t be deterred if you aren’t a mum, you may still find the information on productivity and creating in the middle of life useful. If not, perhaps you will be more interested in one of these instead.

I have been working on the post for a while and well, it was becoming epic! So, I’ve decided to break this down into a series on creativity and motherhood. This first post will be about my struggles with this and some of the things I’ve been trying to address these struggles. Future posts will cover books, websites and movies addressing creativity and motherhood, interviews with creative mums and more.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the things that make me “me” and then how do I fit all  of these things in. I’m looking for life proportion (not balance, that’s a fool’s errand – Danielle LaPorte has a great article about this).

Besides doing all the practical stuff like menu planning and making school lunches the night before to help our home run more smoothly, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how creativity and motherhood can co-exist, to try and address some of the internal battles I’ve waged these past 5 years.

You see, for the past few years I’ve put my creativity, among many other things, on the backburner to become a mama to my two gorgeous kids who are now 5 and 2.5 years old. It has been the most amazing, rewarding, love-filled time of my life, but I won’t lie to you, it has not been easy. It was a decision my husband and I made that I would stay home and look after our children, but I didn’t truly understand what that all meant before children and I have found the lack of time to pursue my own interests very difficult to deal with at times. Recently I read an excerpt from Rachel Power’s book “The Divided Heart, Art and Motherhood” and it was a revelation. Things that I haven’t been able to coherently explain were all clearly expressed by Rachel.

The following excerpts really speak to me:

Like most adults, I’d spent years with little division between the intention to do something and the simple act of doing it. Now time no longer came free; every moment alone was bought, borrowed or stolen.

That is what I have come to understand about the nature of motherhood. It is irresolvable and confounding in its contradictions. And perhaps without it, I would have remained hidden to myself always — pristine and uncarved.

As they got older, I became more and more aware that those days when I sank into my children’s routine without resistance — when I spent hours building sandcastles or reading the same book over and over again; when I let them cook with me no matter the mess, or turned off my ‘adult’ radio station in favour of Raffi and Patsy Biscoe — were our happiest. Not just their happiest, but also mine. But it was a state reliant on the denial of that niggling compulsion to always be turning my experiences into something else, something more.

Ideas rubbed against the interior surfaces of my brain like grains of sand, chafing till I was raw.

The contradictions, the feeling that to do one thing meant neglecting the other, the raw, chafed feelings – all emotions I’ve experienced. The book goes on to interview other mothers on how they deal with their divided heart. I’m trying to track down a copy through my library, I’d really like to read this.

Last August, Robert Genn addressed this issue in his Twice-Weekly Letter (a treasure trove of information for artists. Consider subscribing, it’s fantastic). And he basically says – if you really want it you will find a way (read the comments too – so much useful advice). Which is true, we all know this, but actually putting it into practice can be challenging.

I have struggled with the compromises and changes in practice I’ve had to make to still be able to pursue my creativity. My jewellery making is a prime example – leaving trays of beads, wire and tools laying about just isn’t practical with little people around. So rather than leaving a project out to work on as I pleased, I needed to work while the children slept for example and then pack everything up in between sessions. Well, I wasn’t happy about that approach, so I just packed everything away in a cupboard and left it there. For 2 years. But I found this so frustrating!! I missed it and I found myself resenting my husband for being able to continue pursuing his interests with little change.

In my head I have known for a long time that I need to find ways to work in small snippets of time, rather than long stretches. But again, I’ve fought against this as I just want to do it my way, not compromise!!

So about 6 months ago I reached breaking point – I knew that if I didn’t find a way to have regular, quality time to create that I was going to lose my mind. I had started yelling at the kids and giving my husband the silent treatment – not because they were doing anything wrong or different, but I blamed them for my lack of time and opportunity.

Except, it wasn’t their fault. I realised that if I really wanted it I’d find a way. This was a light bulb moment for me – stop feeling sorry for myself and just get on with it.

So, I’ve been doing research and testing small changes to the way I do things to try and find a sweet spot for me and my family. This is still very much a work in progress, but at least I’m seeing progress. And everyone is noticing the change in me – I am so much calmer, at peace, and motivated.

I love reading the details of how other people actually do their thing, so I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve tried – or am planning to try – hopefully it will be of some use to you.

* Better combining of activities has meant I can keep the house cleaner and tidier without actually spending more time on housework. So rather than trying to do most of the housework at set times during the day (I had this weird idea that I had to do all the housework first before I was “allowed” to do anything else) I started grouping tasks. Pack tomorrow’s lunch while cooking dinner; unload the dishwasher while chatting to the kids over the kitchen bench about their day; when collecting their pyjamas for bath time I also choose their clothes for the next day. These things may only save a minute or two here and there, but it all adds up.

* Household planning. I’ve started treating my job at home in the same way I used to treat my paid work – plan, be organised, have systems. For example, I now plan our weekly menu which feeds into the shopping list. Each morning I look at my whiteboard in the kitchen to see what is for dinner tonight, then I plan when I need to start prepping and what can be done early in the day (e.g. chop veges while preparing lunch). And I don’t have that terrible moment everyday at 5pm – “what am I going to cook!!???!!” And I’ve set up a binder with everything I need to manage our home – look out for a future post on this.

* Carry a notebook with me everywhere I go. Rather than having all those ideas rattling about in my head and making me feel agitated, as soon as something comes to me I jot it down. Gets it out of my head and then when I do have some time I can just open my notebook and get on with it, rather than having to plan it out, then find I’m out of time and I haven’t actually even started yet.

* Put my creative work first at agreed times. I used to use the 2 mornings a week my kids were at day care to do housework and run errands. Now I spend 30mins (no more) on whatever is the most pressing household chore and then I get to work either making jewellery, sewing or writing.

* Go to bed earlier! I was staying up to all hours and then only getting an average of 5hrs sleep a night. It was not a pretty sight – I was so tired during the day (read: grumpy), then I’d get to 9pm when all my mum and household duties were finished and I’d get a second wind and start on a project. But I was so tired I would go around in circles, or stuff things up and have to restart. Those late night hours working were actually pretty unproductive. I’m actually finding I’m achieving the same or more during the day, in less time, and I’m calmer and less tired. All good!!

* Be present. I was finding that no matter where I was, I wanted to be somewhere else and it was doing my head in. I’d be playing trains with my son, the whole while thinking about the mess in the kitchen, or the bracelet idea I wanted to trial. Then when I was working on that bracelet idea I’d feel guilty and want to be spending “quality time” with my kids.  I’m trying, with mixed success, to just be where I am. Because I have planned out my week to try and include time for all the things I want and need to do, I just tell myself to not think about that other thing now – there will be time for that later. And because I know there will be time for it I don’t get so frustrated and focused on what I’m not doing and instead enjoy what I am doing right now.

* Stop saving my work for when the kids are asleep or at day care. I’ve just started “creating in the middle of life”. I pulled together projects that are appropriate to do with the kids around and when an opportunity presents itself I just grab something and do it, even if it’s only for 10mins before someone needs a drink, or a train track repaired, or a baby doll dressed. This doesn’t mean I always get to do what I’d really love to be doing, but at least I’m creating, which is still a good feeling.

My son has just started school, which is requiring a reassessment, but prior to that my week was looking like this:

  • Bed by 10pm, up at 5.30-6am. Have a quiet, undisturbed breakfast. Then get everything for the day prepared and squeeze in 20mins of stretches/yoga. If time permits before my daughter wakes I check emails, Twitter and Facebook. Any ideas that come to me during this time, but can’t be done, are jotted down in my notebook in readiness for later.
  • Kids in childcare 2 mornings per week. Work my butt off during these 2 x 3hr sessions and create as much as I possibly can.
  • One night per week my husband takes over as soon as he gets home from work – this may only give me half an hour to work, but it’s still something.
  • Include the kids in my well-filling, inspiration-gathering time. Go for walks, read, listen to music, write and draw – all together. Then when I have time to work I already have that inspiration to draw upon. And it has also become a lovely time to share with the kids.
  • Include the kids in the housework and provide rewards for helping out.
  • Sunday night is planning time – half an hour spent every Sunday writing out the week’s menu, shopping list, appointments, etc is proving to be time very well spent. I feel like I have a better handle on things, I’m not rushing about at the last minute so much and I can plan in time for all the areas of my life.
  • 3pm to 4.30pm is spent on fun activities with the kids – no distractions, just lots of fun. We go to the playground, bake, paint, read, etc.
  • Turn the TV on at 4.30pm – the kids have some quiet time watching age appropriate programs and I can get dinner cooked without (too many) dramas.
  • All other time is spent with the kids, or on housework, shopping, going to activities for the kids, meeting friends, reading blogs, a little bit of exercise.

I certainly don’t have all the answers – I’m still not completely satisfied with how things are going, but I’m pleased that this part of my life is noticeably improving. And I’m now even more motivated to keep working and get closer to my ideal.

Next week I will be sharing the routines of other creative mums.

So, Artisantopians – how do you combine creativity and parenthood? What has worked, or failed abysmally for you and your family? Please share in the comments.

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