So I came across this article by Kim Brooks on Parenthood and Art, and more specifically the question of whether or not parenthood is the enemy of creative work. That is the question, isn’t it?
I’ve been called an overachiever at various stages and for various reasons. But when called an overachiever at the hospital, the idea takes on new dimensions. My husband and I went from 0 to 3 kids in 15 months; there is no time for training wheels, this thing parenting thing is real.
And as parenting has plenty of its own hurdles, why would anyone ask to complicate things? But if you are a creative, there is little choice— you must create. The thing that is rarely discussed is how to make time for creative work as a parent. Any “non-essential” work, really. Creativity is considered a luxury of sorts, and the only justification for prioritizing such a thing is if it creates cash flow for the family. Apart from that it seems… selfish. And no mother wants that.
Before kids art was my lifeblood if not my occasional livlihood, and I still tried to make space to paint after there was only one infant to contend with. I’d set the pack and play up out in the garage with me, or invite a friend over to bounce the baby while I painted. But the long stretches of focused work were essentially gone. (Don’t they instruct you to nap when she naps? Not happening.) Honestly, even when I did make a good chunk of time to paint I was always checking the clock to see when it was time to make dinner or relieve the sitter or feed the baby.
Let’s say that the span of time was good theoretically, but the activity was far less productive than the clock would imply.
When I would mention my efforts to continue to create despite— or in spite, of new motherhood, they would look surprised and impressed. Good show, they seemed to tell me, making an effort at the life you knew before. But it won’t last. It can’t. To others who had gone into the abyss of parenthood before me made it perfectly clear that It’s hard enough just to keep up with the house. Sadly, true.
“‘We do motherhood differently now than it used to be done. We do it in a way that’s problematic for having an adult life, much less being an adult who wants to create art.’ Much less, I think, an adult who wants to create art but who has no way of making money from said art to pay for child care to continue art-making.” Link to article, Is Parenthood the Enemy of Art?
Reading this made me feel so relieved that I am not alone in this predicament. But the overwhelming question — even now as I have my kids sitting in front of Charlie and Lola, knowing in the back of my mind that soon enough the disc will end, (the disc will ennnnd!!) I try to hurry and do the work that I can do well and quickly, as well as think ahead to keep things running smoothly around here. Just for a few hours. And anyone with multiple kids know that a few hours is sometimes asking a lot. Not always a possibility.
My biggest frustration, though, is that few would question my motives if “work” was going to a “job.” My schedule this week is from 7am- 3pm, I’ll be back after that. Right. Bravo.
The boss wants me to stay late this week, do you think you could handle the kids for a few extra hours, or should we see about a sitter? Normal. Proud of you!
I would love to be working in the studio from 8-noon every day to get as much painting done as possible before doing everything else for the day. What?! You can’t do that, who is going to take care of your kids?
But there’s a bigger problem here, if you agree with the article: “we do [motherhood] in a way that’s problematic for having an adult life.” Can I get a witness? Shortly after our parenthood load tripled, we made the conscious decision to move to Peru. My primary motivation to relocate south of the border was the affordable cost of a nanny. They say it takes a village, but the natural village is long-gone. Yes, I am their mother, but I do need to function as an adult human apart from my sometimes awesome, sometimes not, children. (Even strictly stay-at-home moms need much more support than they get, but that’s an issue unto itself.)
Since this adventure we have come back to the States, and now that we are back, I see the same issue as when we hightailed it out of here. Parents, primarily mothers and grandmothers, being enslaved to the “needs” of their children. It’s problematic when I see mothers isolated with kids, alone in the squalor of their houses, surfing Pinterest and desperate for a “play date” when in fact what some of us want is stimulating intellectual conversation. Where we can wear real clothes (cough). Or to be a part of a meeting where my contribution matters. Or to host a gathering where the topic is not ever cupcakes or potty training. I mean, give us a literal break.
And here’s where the guilt creeps in. Sure, I like my kids. Heck, I like cupcakes. I like spending time with them, and planning meals for our family; I’m not some unwilling, unhappy domestic. So what’s the big deal? we ask ourselves (God knows other people are thinking/saying the same). The big deal is that I should not become a hollow shell of who I once was. The simple joys of mothering or crafting do not and should not replace a soul bursting creative calling that has been set to the side “for the sake of” our children. What kind of message does that send? I would be a fulfilled human, were it not for you, Jimmy. I just can’t seem to be able to find the time/ energy. Oh YOU can be anything you want Sally, but I can’t. I wanted to be an writer, but you know, you kids came along and… you know how it is.
So I would raise the argument, if not for ourselves, do it for our children. Make time to create to set a right example for them. We’ll have to work out the “how” together, but I know that I am kinder to my family when I have had quality time to myself, all the better when that time has been spent painting. And they deserve that. I deserve that.