The Predicament of Parenting as a Creative Type

I can confidently describe myself as a creative type. I can also definitively call myself a stay-at-home mom. These two roles, I’ve discovered, can often be at tormenting odds. When thinking about it, I do find it ironic that creating a human being could make me feel so creatively stagnant at times.

Full-time parenting is loaded with complex emotions; the highs and lows can only be truly understood by someone who’s gone through them. The anxieties and insecurities are too many to count, and that special sense of satisfaction is too intense to describe. But this isn’t about that. This is about that added layer that a creative stay-at-home parent faces. It’s far too easy (and unfair) to convince yourself that what you’re doing isn’t meaningful enough (no matter what your personality type or title). Having a baby changes everything (no shit), and a dilemma between being a mom and being absolutely anything else is born with the baby.

My husband and I decided on making the sacrifices necessary for me to raise our daughter full time, which meant cutting back on the freelance work I had been doing before. This scenario actually worked spectacularly well and I was fortunate to be able to pull it off. Let there be no confusion: I am grateful for my situation. But… of course there’s a but. With no job to quit, no title to have one day and not the next, the lines dividing my professional life from my parenting were blurred from the start. I let workflow taper off and simply didn’t seek more while I gave all of my attention to the end of pregnancy and the start of parenthood. If contracts trickled in, I took them if I had the time without having much concern about when the next gig might be. I edited a 100,000-word book while breastfeeding (literally, with one hand on the keyboard and a newborn on my lap), designed a T-shirt during nap time, a logo after bedtime, and so on, but I never logged any serious or consistent hours. But there comes a point when the naps are a little more predictable, the playtimes a little longer, the supervision a little less taxing, and it’s at these times when it’s so easy to start questioning my choice to devote all my energy to childrearing. Could I be doing something else? Should I be doing something else? As easy as it was to put the brakes on freelancing, it would be just as easy to give it a little gas. But then where is the line crossed when I’m taking time away from my child and cutting into that all-consuming commitment?

Of course, creative productivity doesn’t need to be linked in the least to professional endeavors, even though some of mine has been (and I’m completely ignoring financial aspects because they don’t have a place in this particular problem). There are also the habits I’ve picked up over the years as creative outlets that have been stymied by becoming a parent. There aren’t myriad opportunities to play my drums with a baby’s ears in the house, let alone pull out paint supplies without worrying about them being eaten, or focus on writing when my attention needs to be divided among a pot on the stove and food being flung from a high chair (or any other combination of daily tasks).

As any creative person knows, if you’re not doing something you deem creative, you just don’t feel right. Depressed, awful, off, whatever. Creative types need to be creating. So, when you’re the parent of a young child, you’re very likely working harder than you ever thought possible in your pre-parent days, but you’re also likely to be kept from activities you view as productive by your old standards. It’s very confounding, and very common, for me to feel simultaneously exhausted from overwork and as though I’m just not being productive enough. Being marred in the daily routine of diapers, feedings, naps, and playtime (along with cooking, cleaning, shopping, scheduling, and whatever else needs to be done), I start to feel solely like a service worker while fiending to feed my creative urges but being sapped of the ambition and energy for doing anything else by the time my day is through.

I’m saying this because I have no doubts that it’s a feeling shared by many others, and while it’s usual/normal/understandable, it’s in no way trivial. There are days when I’m barely bothered by it (or not at all), and others when I’m in full-on despair. My solution is simple, if not necessarily easily executed: To do whatever it takes to create something, no matter how small, on a regular basis, no matter how infrequent. If I miss writing, I’ll open a blank document and start typing; if I wish I could be drawing, I get out paper; if I’m pitying myself for not getting any contracts to design logos, I make up a company and work one up for it anyway. The trick is to overcome the anxiety and push right through to just doing it, even if very little gets done at a time. I’ve found that the tiniest exertion of creativity can have a huge positive effect on me. I don’t need to be churning out works of art or being written huge checks for what I do or even like the finished products, I just need to let myself create.

And then I also need to remember that my hard work is creating something. It’s yielding a beautiful, brilliant little person who is learning everything she knows from me at a rapid and awe-inspiring pace, who goes to sleep every night and wakes every morning aware that she is loved, who will never go hungry or be put in danger, who makes the faces of everyone who looks at her light up, and no other project in my past or future will ever compare. I’d also be remiss to forget the fact that I have in her a muse and a collaborator.