From the idyllic perspective of days of yore (of privilege, mass media, a certain class…), summer is supposed to be a downtime of days spent hanging out at the beach or playing in the backyard, reading entertaining novels and having cold, fruity drinks on the patio with your neighborhood friends. If this is your reality as a parent-artist, skip the rest of this post. Or write in the comments how you’ve managed to achieve such a life.
My reality, which I admit is still privileged, is that I’m a WAHM (work at home mother) who tries to keep a creative practice on the side and has an elementary-school age child at home. It does not make financial sense for us to hire childcare, so I juggle work responsibilities with parent responsibilities.
And this summer — this hot, hot summer filled with angst and politics and anger and fear — makes me want to throw my hands up, run away from home and ignore all my non-parent responsibilities for the rest of the season.
Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: guilt. I feel guilty that I don’t spend enough time on my work projects because I’m trying to give my child my undivided attention. I feel guilty that I leave her to her own devices so that I can spend 30 minutes doing target market research for a client. I feel guilty that the only time I spend with my spouse is chatting over a quick meal in between cleaning up the day’s mess and tackling more research or writing work. I feel guilty that my creative practices get shuffled to the end of the list, which, let’s face it, means most days the creative stuff doesn’t get done.
This post was supposed to be about female artists creating work about Black Lives Matter, artists specifically working in that frame to raise consciousness in their small towns across the country. I hope to still write that article one day. I’m writing this instead because I wasn’t able to find many examples of such artists and ran out of time to do deeper digging. More guilt. Guilt that I’m not using my platform to help broadcast people advocating for justice and love.
Does this resonate with you, fellow parent-artist? Are you overwhelmed with guilt, with trying to be energetically available for your child(ren) while also maintaining your work and creative practice? Do you go to bed thinking about how much you didn’t get done during the day instead of enjoying all the things you did? Maybe these five tips will help:
Know You’re Not Alone.
I’m right there with you. As is my amazing friend Cheryl, who is a phenomenal artist-worker-creative-mama. She says on her blog:
When I am convinced that I’m the only person I know putting groceries away instead of making something amazing, I have to think of creative people I care about very specifically. I think of my photographer sister unloading the dishwasher and putting all the stuff that isn’t dry out on the counter. And a faraway musician friend jamming folded laundry in his son’s dresser drawers. And the graphic designer Board member who returned my call saying, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t hear the phone ring. I was cleaning the bathroom.’ I picture them, knowing that they don’t have naked families and they don’t eat on dirty dishes and they somehow feed small dependent people, and I am soothed.
Lower Your Expectations.
In Tim Ferriss’s podcast with Chase Jarvis, they talk about “setting your quota lower so you feel like you’re winning.” Rather than not doing anything because you don’t have enough time/energy/whatever, recalibrate what your minimum is and do that. I think this is why programs like the 365-photo project or 100-day creative project, or even the rise of “adult coloring books” are so popular: they don’t demand a huge time commitment to still feel like you’ve accomplished something creative in your day.
Define and Communicate Your Priorities.
What are the few things that done daily make you feel like you’re “getting things done” and aren’t falling behind? Not all the things, just a handful. The key here is to define those top few priorities, communicate them to your loved ones so they don’t undermine your time spent on them, and commit to doing those things every day. Everything else is gravy. Your list will not look like mine, or your parent’s, or your spouse’s, or your best friend’s, and that’s ok.
Pair this with “lower your expectations.” We all know the importance of a daily exercise regimen, of working up a sweat and burning out your muscles. Parent-artist, you work up a sweat walking out your front door to get the mail down here in the South. This tip is about getting over the “I don’t have enough time to run a 5K today” mindset and instead sitting on the couch all afternoon. Walk to the end of your block and back. Do three sun salutations. Swim one lap with your kid in the pool. Yay! You’ve moved your body. Congrats.
When I am overwhelmed and still trying to get in another Pomodoro, I wind up not eating well and then wonder why I am irritable and less mindful as a parent later in the day. I’m not a nutritionist: there are many different ideas about what is healthy, so I’m not proselytizing for any one way of eating. Just remember to eat healthy foods on a regular basis for your metabolism throughout the day, preferably healthy food that brings you joy. For me, that’s bacon for breakfast.
There are so many more: sleep more, be with people, turn off the TV, take a social media sabbatical. Don’t get overwhelmed trying to do them all. Self-care is, after all, about what works for you, to keep you healthy and present. Share your ideas, best practices and small victories with your fellow parent-artists in the comments below.