Christina Myers was a journalist who is now a freelance writer and editor. She has written articles and stories for magazines, newspapers and anthologies. Recently Christina edited the Anthology BIG: Stories about Plus-Sized Bodies. She also written a story in this fantastic anthology. I have my book on order and can’t wait for it to come! You can scroll to the bottom of this post to get links to the book.
I’m so lucky to have her living in the same city as myself. I have met her. I’ll tell you a secret, she’s fantastic! You can check out her website here: https://christinamyerswrites.wordpress.com/
She’s here talking about creating while having kids. What a great time to have this discussion. Right now many parents are home with their kids and for many the situation is difficult. Christine has some lovely words that will help you feel better about your situation.
Juggling Act: Kids and Creating
It’s said that Grace Metalious – the author of one of the best-selling books of all time – routinely sent her kids out into the neighbourhood, locked the door, and let them fend for themselves so she could spend the day writing. Neighbours would give them snacks and they’d spend the day wandering; meanwhile, Metalious was holed up in her rundown cottage, furiously typing away.
Ultimately, the approach worked: her book was picked up by a major publisher and then became such a phenomenon, it was eventually spun off into a tv show, an Academy Award-winning film, and then a sequel. It sold more than 12 million copies and made its author into a very wealthy woman. To this day, Peyton Place is considered one of the most widely read novels ever published.
The concept of “carving out space for yourself” was not yet around in the 1950s but if it had been, Metalious would certainly have been an extreme version of it.
In truth, for every Grace Metalious who ignores kids in favour of writing, there’s a million other parents (usually mothers) at the far opposite end of the spectrum – ignoring creative passions, because of the demands of parenting. The day fills up easily with a million small and big tasks, from feeding to diapering when they’re babies, to the juggle of activities and schoolwork later, and then on to the emotional upheaval of puberty and beyond.
It’s well intentioned, of course, but fueled by a culture that expects mothers to be selfless and perpetually available in order to ensure their children are happy, healthy, thriving and successful (but that conversation could be a lengthy post all its own.) The result of this pressure on parents is countless people who want to write, draw, sing, design, paint, play, or otherwise create, but who set aside their passions entirely – and once abandoned, those passions are often impossible to return to later.
The best path, as is so often the case, is the one that exists somewhere between these two polar opposite approaches – but finding that path can be tricky. To have interests and hobbies and pursuits beyond our own children, even when we logically know they’re good to have, can spark intense bouts of mom-guilt (or simply increase the ever-present level of mom-guilt). Somehow, setting aside time for ourselves feels wrong, even if most of our time is devoted to others. (This is the same flawed thinking that leads so many of us to easily indulge in new clothing for our children, while we carry on in the same 10-year-old jacket with holes in the pockets.)
On top of the emotional side of this equation is the practical aspects. Even if you want to pursue your own goals, you might simply not have the time, depending on the dynamic of your own family, how many kids you have, how much energy goes into your work either at home or the office, and even financial limitations (most writers can afford a notebook but things get trickier when you’re looking at art supplies or instruments.)
For most of us, “carving out space” is both a mental and physical task, in equal measure. I’ve spent years trying to figure out the balance between feelings of guilt and limited time, sometimes successfully, and sometimes not – and here’s a little bit of what I’ve found helpful:
Letting go of the guilt is easier said than done, I know. But every single time that feeling crops up, look at it objectively and critically: what’s making me feel like this right now? Is it valid? What’s another way I could approach this? Are my children clothed, fed, happy and healthy and if so, what is it exactly that I feel guilty about? Imagine what you would tell a friend feeling the same way? How much more gentle and kind would you be to a friend than you are to yourself? Better yet, imagine what you would say to your own child if they felt “guilty” for enjoying an activity that was special to them. Speak to yourself the way you would a best friend, your spouse, or your children. Find a phrase or quotation that helps you re-focus, something as simple as saying “I’m allowed to have my own interests” to start re-shaping your internal dialogue.
Ironically, most research shows that parents who have their own interests and hobbies tend to have happier, more balanced households. Their children grow up in a family dynamic that models what it looks like to allow room and time for everyone to pursue what makes them happy. Imagine if pursuing your own passions also makes you a better mom in the process? Instead of feeling bad, think of the benefits: we know intuitively that most of us feel more relaxed, calm, and content when we have time doing something we love, whether it’s a creative pursuit or gardening or working out.
Finding actual time and physical space is an equally challenging task. To find time, think about what you’re willing to trade: don’t drop your favourite TV show but if you watch things that you’re not adoring, maybe consider swapping one of them for a bit of time working on your projects. Do you usually spend the time at your child’s karate class alternately watching them and surfing on your phone? Bring along a notebook and jot down ideas, images, or other inspirations. Even those small allotments towards your craft may feel challenging when your brain needs downtime (which every parent needs especially as the end of the day approaches) but you may find the creative activity gives you more energy in the long run and the satisfaction provides a different kind of relaxation. Creating room for yourself as a parent rarely means an actual room – if you’re lucky enough to have a spare space, it’s probably full of toys, games, and crafts. Maybe you can’t set up a desk for your writing or a room to paint, but you can start with a corner somewhere – or use a common space at a quiet time during the day.
Find support for these things in community – search out online groups for artists and writers, or get involved in a local organization. Joining events like Spring into Writing create both a network and a sense of guidance and deadlines to help stay focused. Talk to other writers with kids the same as age as yours, to commiserate – and talk to writers with kids who are older, so you know what’s coming (for example, I can tell you that my kids almost always sleep in on Saturday mornings now, even though they were 6 a.m. risers for years – guess what I use the extra time for – at least when I’m not feeling guilty about the laundry!)
Finally, forget about perfection – in your parenting or in your art. Perfection kills possibility. Write imperfect drafts and learn from them. Make imperfect plans and try again if it doesn’t work. Be patient with yourself – and your kids (if they don’t sleep in now, I promise they will someday.)
BIG Anthology (Canada Only): https://caitlin-press.com/our-books/big/
BIG Anthology (Everywhere Else): https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/big-christina-myers/1132740881