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A balancing act: A guest post from a performing artist parent

Guest post from Camellia Nieh, who will be performing with TEMPOS Tuesday and Wednesday.

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photo © Dan Kim

A year ago, my husband I joined a performance group called TEMPOS, blending acrobatics, dance, and physical theater with live music. My husband writes and performs music for the group, and I perform acrobatics. Acrobatics is my passion…it makes me feel strong and alive. Music is my husband’s. We feel so lucky to have found an outlet that enables us both to work creatively together.

Our six-year-old son, Uzi, is less thrilled about our artistic projects. TEMPOS takes up a lot of our time. Friends and family support us a lot with childcare, and we have a fantastic babysitter whom he loves. But Uzi still wishes we would just stay home with him every night. Sometimes he cries when I have to leave for a rehearsal.

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photo © Ty Chance

I feel conflicted about the time I invest in creative pursuits. My husband is less conflicted. He assures me that it’s better for Uzi to see us dedicating ourselves to what we love. That it makes us happier, more balanced parents, and that it sets a good example, too. Fundamentally, I think he’s right. My hope is that when Uzi is older, he’ll look back and be proud of us for being performers. He’ll feel enriched by the evenings he spent hanging out backstage, tumbling with a crew of playful acrobats, or in the music studio in our basement, learning drumbeats and experimenting with the mixing board. Also, my mother sacrificed her personal aspirations to raise our family, and while we’re deeply grateful to her for devoting so much of herself to us, it was also hard always knowing that she felt so unfulfilled.

How do you balance what you love to do with the needs of your children? Do you feel conflicted about the time and resources you invest in doing things you love? Do you wish your own parents had invested more in their own passions, or less?


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I feel guilty mixed with enriched. It is essential in some ways though, where would you be without it? It always helps me to justify it because in some way it goes to the enrichment of my family. IE gardening will provide food. Can you do that too? I bet you are making some money performing which will help your family...

I feel guilty enough to have a ful time job. Having a full time hobby would cause more separation from my young daughters than I can handle. Right now they want to spend every minute wth me, when I am not at work. And to be honest, that is what I want too. But I do agree with your husband that it is good for the children to see us pursue our passion. I will do that too. But I will wait until they are older and no longer want to be with me all the time. When they are teenagers they will probably be happier when I am not at home :)

What we give to our families isn't always in the currency of time. Sure, money too - the obvious currency - but there is also role modeling, inspiration, well-roundedness, creativity, cultural exposure, and lots of others. It is worth the trade-off of time to have this balance.

All that aside, I am certainly a better mother when I am fulfilled and enriched as a person. That optimal amount of time is different for every Mama, but winds up being more fulfilling as quality time, versus higher quantity wishing we were elsewhere.

I also suffered from guilt going back to work when each baby was 8 weeks old. Then I realized I was becoming the martyr mother I didn't want to be. I did nothing for myself, was never away from the kids outside of work. I felt like I was going to be a terrible role model for my daughter. So I started writing and have been doing that for five years. They complain about my weekly writing group and celebrate when it gets cancelled. But I keep writing because I want them to know that parents can do more than just parent and go to work. And that loving something that doesn't earn pay (yet at least) is still a good use of time. Now that they're at 8 and 12, their dependence on me is shrinking and how awesome is it that I have something going on so I won't feel depressed when they leave the nest?

Wow, I'm glad I wrote this post. It's helpful just to hear that other parents struggle with exactly the same issues.

I think it's great that you have work that you are passionate about, and that is important for kids to see. I have recently fallen out of love with my job (or maybe with my whole career?), and I take pains to keep my lack of passion from my kids.

I want to be with them more than I want to be at work, is what it comes down to. (However, I can't just quit my job -- because of finances.)

On the other hand, I can see the dynamic that can develop when mom stays at home and dad works all the time to keep a roof over heads and food on the table (and that's certainly what my husband would have to do, if I quit my job). That's not a dynamic that would make me personally fulfilled, nor is the model I want my kids to see.

So, it's a tough one. I think it's pretty natural for a five year old to want to be around parents all the time, no matter what their job is. I would keep on eye on it as he gets older and develops some of his own friends and activities. If he continues to be resentful of the time you spend on your work/passion, then I think it's a conversation to return to.

Look for balance (i.e. the holy grail for many of us). I'm constantly looking at how I can better balance things to ensure I'm adequately present for my boys. I work full-time and am ambitious in my chosen field. It's definitely hard to serve career ambition AND good mama ambition. It's a constant struggle for me. One thing I would say is that you need to heed his tears. This calls for talking out feelings... and potentially altering *something* to make it better for him and you. It sounds like the current plan is eliciting sadness from him, and guilt from you, hence your post. Listen to those gut responses and act. Doesn't mean you have to entirely give up your career/passions... XO

Apologies for going off-topic! Camellia, my wife Keiko would like to get in touch about a Japanese-to-English translation project. Could you call her at 503.235.4419?


Tim Clark

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