"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> urbanMamas

Art and motherhood: A difficult combination?

At Wordstock last month, I sat in on several readings and discussions by writer mamas, and recently I've been very closely following other mothers and writers on Twitter and Facebook. I'll admit to a fascination that's part curiosity and part ... jealousy? longing? ... as I watch them juggle motherhood and their art. From a distance, it seems they're doing it better than me.

I've finally gotten to the point where I believe I could finish my book proposal any day (really!) and I'm finally having a essay published in print this month. After years writing online, I'm coming into this artist-writer bit, slowly, with lots of squeaking and complaints from my family. It's been hard, especially on those nights where my oldest has decided to go off melatonin, a gentle sleep aid we'd been using to good effect, and I must restart the process of coaching him on calming himself. For three hours.

A friend Tweeted she was locked in her bedroom this weekend, finishing a few last chapters of her book as her husband wrangled her boys. Another acquaintance, a writer dad, seems as if he's frequently out of town on book readings and fabulous events, trading off childcare duty and glamorous writer things with his poet wife. I asked an author I admired at Wordstock how she managed to write with children -- and she's a single mother, having adopted a little girl internationally. "Very expensive childcare," she answered.

Then yesterday, I read in the Oregonian about this fabulous couple here in Portland. They're both visual artists and she's an accomplished writer. They're gorgeous and cute and funny and successful. They have a three-month-old baby. I'm so jealous! (On the same page: a story about the Decemberists' guitarist and his lovely girlfriend, Seann McKeel, who've started a series of concerts for children and parents to help entertain their three-year-old child. She's also an artist. Oh!)

In my house, juggling art and motherhood don't go that well. A two-year-old literally hangs from my arm when I'm in the middle of typing an especially inspired sentence. I go to a coffee shop to write for three hours, and when I come home, the slow cooked meal I'd begun has burnt and homework hasn't been done -- my husband was focused on the littlest and his nap, the laundry...

Are you, too, trying to combine some passion -- whether it's writing, art, a political or non-profit endeavor, or a really rewarding job -- and motherhood? How have you managed? Do you sometimes feel that everyone but you is doing great? Or do you have secrets, tricks of the trade, that make it all come together?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Nice post Sarah. I was just last night commenting to a friend about another friend who seems to be able to do it all! She works full time and has 3 little boys under the age of 6, yet still somehow finds time for scrapbooking, painting and fun little craft projects for each season. I'm lucky that I do find little pockets of time for sewing and such, but I always feel like I'm "stealing" a few minutes of time away from either my boys or my household chores to cut a few squares or sew a few things together. I constantly have ideas for new things I'd like to try to make yet never quite get to it. My oldest (celebrating his 5th birthday today!) has a lovely scrapbook up to his 3rd birthday. My 2nd child has a shoe box collecting photos and momentos and an empty scrapbook waiting to be put together...isn't that such a classic story though?

I'm schooling, working, and taking care of my son so someday I will have that rewarding job. I think of my grandmothers, smart capable women, who didn't have the opportunities that we have now. I wonder, what would they belike if they were born now? I think about my son watching me as he grows up working hard to be a good mom for him but also be a good me, for me. Even though I sometimes get the crazy eye from taking on so much I think it is totally worthwhile.

My children sleep 10 hours. I sleep 7 (but wouldn't mind 8+!). My husband goes to bed at the same time as the kids (9:30) since he gets up early. That leaves 3 hours every evening! One hour is for miscellaneous housekeeping (plus the bits I do here and there throughout the day). Two hours is for my "art" which happens to be Hebrew, torah study, homeschool prep, and music. So that's how I carve out that uninterrupted time.

It was hard to write when my kids were little. Really hard. I'm not a night person and so the only time I had was naptime. And there were plenty of times when all I wanted to do by 1pm was throw myself on the couch and stare at the ceiling.

I don't have any answers really, except that if you want to do it, you find a way. Even if the writing gets done on the back of an envelope at the playground because that's when the perfect sentence assembles itself into your mind. I found that it helped to write every day. Not the 3000 words that you always hear "real writers" talking about. But something, even just that one sentence.

I have it so much easier now. The kids are in school and I have all day at home to write. But you know what? It's still hard. And somehow, it's not always as satisfying as that hard-won sentence scribbled on the back of the envelope used to be.

Two words - childcare swap. Find a good friend that also needs some time sans kids and swap on a regular basis. It will not only be good for you, but for fun for the kids as well.

I personally know the couple ( Laini and Jim) in the Oregonian article.

I am interested also how she keeps up with the writing as Clementine gets older...toddler days are rough!

Right now they are in NYC as she is a finalist for a National Book Award..with their baby in tow.

I think us moms can do anything, but it's hard I gotta say. My brain is so mushy most times I cannot even imagine writing a book...even though I have a great one in my head now just waiting to be written...what have I gotten myself into?! ;-)

I don't buy the myth that we can do everything, unless the myth means we can do everything half-way. I just can't divide myself that much because then I'm not really present for much of anything. I have found that after 5 years of mothering, I am finally breathing and creating again. During the past few years I have found creative outlets, but certainly not to the extent that I had before, and they are things that can be done in smaller periods of time. Patience, knowing your priorities (however you define them), and breathing are my advice. You may not be able to do everything now, but you certainly can do something and that may just have to hold you for awhile. As with so many aspects of mothering, it's temporary.

I don't know the couple in the article, but I do remember how much more I could get done with 1 3-month old than with the 7, 5 and 1 y/olds I have now. (Of course, when I just had the one, it seemed quite difficult to find enough hours in the day. Looking back, I had so much down-time I could have taken advantage of. :) )

I struggle with the balance of my passion (work and non-work political action and online writing) and my kids and my marriage and my extended family and my friends and my poor cats! It's hard. I sleep less than I'd like. I exercise less than I'd like. I rarely chat with anyone on the phone. Trade-offs, right? hate 'em but can't avoid them. As for the ppl in the articles, we all look better in print and professional pics. I am definitely guilty of comparing myself, but no longer to the glossy cover-ups! Thanks, Sarah, for saying what so many of us clearly struggle with, too. Esp. as my kids age and it gets more - not less - complicated.

I read the article and was jealous, too. I worked as an editor for the first nine months of my daughter's life (taking away my maternity leave), but have been largely unemployed for the past year after we moved halfway across the country for my husband's job.
I need thinking space and creative energy to write. Somehow I was able to find this space in a noisy newsroom, but I can't find it with a pleading toddler in the room. Even the sound of her in the next room, playing with her toys, is too distracting for me to get much writing done. Which is why we are looking for space in our budget for part-time child care. Mama needs to start working again. That, or my daughter needs to start taking longer naps.

I have a dozen ideas relating to my various passions percolating in my head at any given moment but by the time in the day that I have any time to address them, I'm too tired. Suddenly it's 1 am and I'm looking for a quick intellectual fix by catching up on my research (aka reading my favorite related blogs). And not writing/creating anything of my own. Perhaps it's because I'm the only one I know with (for many reasons) zero childcare. Sigh. Someday.

I feel pretty flat these days. Whenever it gets to be too much, I set my alarm for 2am -- when everyone is asleep -- and get up and do my art/sewing/soapmaking/homework. And then everybody suffers with me the whole next day!
My Mom is a writer, and mother of three. I remember falling asleep to the sound of a typewriter most nights, and sometimes waking up to it as well.

Thank you so much for this! Now I feel like a real person again!!! Struggle struggle....write write....tend tend...love love....it's hard...but the idea of giving up a dream is even harder!

I've often wondered why it looks easier on the other side of the fence...but maybe it's not. Baby steps and sticking with it...it does get a bit easier the older they get.

Great post, thankyou again!

I've been working at finding time to write since my child was an infant...I have a 2 year old. I desperately have wanted a nanny and/or a housekeeper and/or childcare, but none of it is affordable for me at this time. The biggest helps have been getting up 1-2 hours earlier than my daughter, working during naptime, and having a very supportive husband that takes over once he gets home from work. Truly we're stretched to our limits but I think I'd go cuckoo if I wasn't writing. For us it's better to be stretched and creative than not. And I agree with the woman that says a little bit each day is better than a bunch all at once! I just try to do what I can and fantasize about how with every milestone I'll likely get just a little more time to write!!

There is a good article about creativity and parenting in the current issue of Hip Mama. It made me feel better about the ways that I am still able to be creative with two little ones by helping me recognize what those ways are. I almost feel like being creative is more important to my mental health/happiness now than before I had kids. Maybe that's because I used to work full time and had more varied interests and activities. Now my world has shrunken to my children and things I can do cheaply in my home during naps or other downtime. I find one area that *can* feed my creative energy is cooking which surprises me. Other time it can be a complete drag, of course. But, I definitely find my self with ten different half finished projects going at all times. I tell myself it's more about the process that the results.

I struggle big-time. I think my full time cube-job (that I happen to feel passionless about) zaps more energy than my 4 year old. But put them both together, add a house that teeters on this side of chaos and a stay-at-home-musician dad who also needs time for his art and weeks can go by before I take a stitch or write a word.

I do my best to stay positive, I struggle to be gentle with myself. The upside is I make much better use of my free time than I did before I had a kid. The downside is I haven't achieved the things I'd hoped to by 41. (Um. Mid-life crisis anyone?)

And I'm definitely guilty of comparing and becoming a bit envious of those who seem to do it better, easier and younger. Occasionally I become alert enough to see that comparing just makes things feel worse...and that I have much to be grateful for.

Lastly, to put things in perspective Sarah, I have a lot of respect and admiration for how much you get done, your writing and what you've achieved.

I spent a few years believing that my husband and I could not afford to be creative, that it would take an army of servants to bring us our former lives back. Then, I went with a few simple things:

Child care provided by a friend who loves my children(!) 3 hours a week, in trade for treats/baked goods/ small gifts when I can make or afford them. Bless this woman. I reached out, though and told my friends what I needed.

Having a journal to jot down my creative ideas, so that they didn't get lost or buried during the day. Also,I find this to be inspiring to help me make time for myself at night.

A schedule, written down, for everyone. Sure, we go off of it, but I like having it to turn to when things get off kilter.

Giving each other designated breaks, in which the little ones in question had to be removed from the house.

Finding time to spend in the creative community to maintain/make contact, and just be around that energy helps me.

The post and comments remind me of a Tshirt I saw recently; It said "School. Theatre. Sleep. Pick two."

When I was younger, I heard from many people who lamented about the demands of Marriage/Children/Work, and how it had been years/months since they had done anything to satisfy their creative endeavors. I wondered at the time if being an artist meant choosing the lifestyle of a Monk or a Nomad.

Jillian, Zinemoma and anon, I can identify with your modus. When I bemoaned to my (then) wife about finding time to draw/paint, she simply said "Make the time". So I did. Got up at 5AM to go to work early, and put in an hour at my impromptu basement easel, before starting work at 7. Lunches were usually spent at the desk, working on whatever project was going on. After work was the usual non-stop chore-a-rama, getting the kids bathed-fed-and-off-to-bed. Afterwards, would sometimes return to the "studio" for an hour or two, or quietly sketch for an hour before going to bed, usually between 11 and midnight.

Yeah, it was a candle burning on both ends, but looking forward to at least an hour each day to create (or just think), was the light at the end of a very busy and cluttered tunnel. Ironically, productivity went up, in the sense that since time was limited, a little planning was called for. Casually waiting around for the muses to show up wasn't going to cut it anymore. It was a hard (and physically exhausting) lesson to learn, but ultimately it added some tenacity to the equation. It seems being an artist sometimes requires as much discipline as someone who goes jogging at 5:30am on a cold, rainy December morning.

Can look back now. Kids are a little older, and in school full time. They have there own friends and activities going on. But I remember those early days. And reading these comments prompted a few flashbacks. Those hazy, crazy times... It does get easier folks. You'll see.

Obviously no easy answers. It's still a work in progress. Good luck to everyone, and thanks for allowing me to comment.

The comments to this entry are closed.