Having It All
Posted on October 11 2019
A few years ago, I was watching one of my favorite shows, Parks and Recreation. Sickened by all the judgments women face on a daily basis, Leslie Knope was in the middle of delivering a stirring speech. In response to the question, “Are you trying to have it all?" Leslie exasperatedly says, “That question makes no sense. It's a stupid question. Stop asking it. Don't ask it.”
While I wanted to take Leslie’s advice, that question interrupted my thoughts on a daily basis. My husband and I were finally ready to expand our family and start having kids, and more than anything. I wanted to have it all. Desperate for a comforting response, I wished some fairy godmother would come down and tell me, “Yes, your art career will be fine if you have kids. Yes, you’ll keep creating. Yes, you’ll be happy.” But fairy godmothers don’t exist, and I was left alone with my desire to have children while simultaneously fearing the changes that would come with them.
Fast forward three years later, and I have two kids and an art career. Would I say I’m having it all? Um, sort of. A more accurate description would be that I’m having it all in small doses. For me having it all doesn’t mean I create art every day, but it also means I create art consistently. It requires a balancing act, and it’s taken me a couple of years to find the right schedule so that neither my children nor my creativity feels neglected.
So how do I do it? Here’s my advice for someone trying to have it all:
*This advice comes from someone who wanted to be a stay at home mom and give the majority of her time to her children. Women’s aspirations and desires are as diverse as women themselves, and I would never presume that all women should follow the path I chose for myself. But if you are either a stay at home mom or a mom working on a career outside of art, these tips might be helpful.
1. Consistency over output. Before having kids, I made art full-time and dedicated hours upon hours to my art career. I made A LOT of art. Now that’s not feasible without paying for daycare, and working full-time no longer appeals to me. Yet, if I don’t create, I’ve learned the hard way that I will become depressed. So, what’s a busy mom juggling potty training, sleep training, and all the other trainings supposed to do? For me it came down to consistency. I didn’t need to make art every day, but art needed to be a part of my weekly routine. Having the assurance that my creative time was a prioritized, guaranteed part of my schedule was enough to dispel my depression. The amount of time you spend creating will look different for everyone. Spread over three afternoons, my studio time amounts to about eight hours a week. Some parents can only set aside one hour a week. That’s great! The amount of time isn’t important. What’s important is that mothers have the assurance that they will feed their creative spirit consistently. Will you make less art as mom? Yes. Will your creative spirit still feel properly fed? Yes. Both are simultaneously possible, but as I mentioned earlier, that creative time needs to be an absolute guarantee that doesn’t get shoved out of the way by the chaos that is parenthood. Which leads me to my second point…
2. Get help. Some moms can wake up at 5 am and make art before their kids get up. Other moms work during nap times. Even more moms create alongside their children. While all of these options are insanely admirable, none of them worked for me. Needing undivided attention, I can only create when I know there won’t be any interruptions. But has a parent of young kids ever experienced a day, an hour, or even ten minutes without some kind of interruption? Perhaps my children are especially precocious, but they love interrupting more than juice. That’s why I realized I needed outside help.
Outside help can come in many different forms. Perhaps you have a relative nearby who’s willing to watch your kids once a week. Maybe you know another mom, and you can take turns watching each other’s kids. There are endless possibilities.
With family on either side of the country and us living right smack in the middle, we opted to get professional help with my first child and hired a professional nanny. By my second child I realized hiring high school students worked even better. By connecting with some students in our neighborhood, we found our favorite nannies yet. High school students tend to look for flexible, part-time jobs and don’t expect anything above minimum wage. Even though they’re younger and less experienced, this doesn’t concern me because I usually work from home and can come help out if anything drastic occurs. They often have more imagination than the average adult and have invented unique games for my children that would have never occurred to me. Overall, they’ve proven to be pretty incredible.
Let’s say you don’t have a big budget and that the other options I listed don’t appeal to you. Even hiring a professional nanny for an hour a week would only cost between $10-$20. That’s nothing compared to the guarantee that you will keep creating and keeping your artistic practice alive! Even if it means trimming your budget in other areas, I think sacrificing $10 a week is more than worth it.
Whatever you do, get help and get making!
3. Never have a zero day. It’s easy to feel unmotivated when most of your time goes to your children and not your artwork. It can seem like your art career is moving at a glacial pace that will never amount to anything. To avoid discouragement, I’d suggest doing something for your art career every day. Before this becomes overwhelming, let me clarify that I don’t mean make an artwork every day. Doing something for your art practice could be something as small as sending an email, posting a picture of what you’re working on, applying for an exhibition, or listening to a creative podcast. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose, time-consuming act to count. For example, on the days I don’t spend in my studio, I’ve been writing a couple of sentences for this blog post—a couple of sentences, not the entire post! There’s a saying that by small and simple things great things come to pass, and that certainly has been true of my small, daily efforts to strengthen my art career. If nothing else, it helps defeat the helpless feeling that I can never get enough done.
4. Don’t lie to yourself. My last piece of advice is to be honest with yourself about what actually works and what simply doesn’t. There are some moms like me who fall into a deep depression if they don’t keep creating. There are other moms who find their creative pursuits exhausting and unfulfilling at this point in their lives. That’s okay too! There’s not a wrong answer! Just don’t ever let another person’s expectations—even your own—prevent you from doing what actually makes you happy. Don’t let this blog post persuade you to do art if it’s not adding to your contentment. Again, in the words of wise Leslie Knope, “Do both, or neither, it doesn't matter. Just don't judge what someone else has decided to do. We're all just trying to find the right path for us. As individuals. On this Earth.” Find your path and don’t let anyone persuade you it should look exactly like their own. That’s just narcissism.
If you are looking to make art part of your crazy, chaotic life as a mother, I hope these suggestions help! If you ever want advice or just a chance to talk to another artist mom trying to make it work, you are more than welcome to reach out over email or Instagram. I’d love to hear from you!