Apr 252008

I just bought a new book.

I know, how unusual, and I even read it, and read it with much pleasure. It’s called “the creative family” by Amanda Blake Soule and with that title of course I had to have it. Also I love Amanda’s blog, I find it very soothing and positive and inspirational and it’s the same with the book. So before you read anything else you have to keep in mind that I really love the book, am about to read it for the second time in a row and just went out to get embroidery supplies to embroider some of my son’s drawing onto cloth even though I never liked embroidery before. I will make quite a few of her projects and am looking forward to do some “family drawing time” in the future. There was only one thing in the whole book that didn’t sit right with me and that started with the following paragraph from the introduction:

Given the creative nature of children, it is no coincidence that so many of us are led to seek a more creative life in their presence. Either an old creative passion or pursuit that has been forgotten is internally churned up, or we suddenly feel a need for something else in our lives when we’ve never considered ourselves creative before. Being around even the youngest children – and the purity of their rich creative energy – brings out our need for that same innovative spirit. They inspire us not only to nurture and embrace all of who they are, but to nurture and embrace our own creative selves as well.

(from “The Creative Family”, p. 2)

I know that my situation before having a child was quite different from hers in that I already was an artist then. I wasn’t exactly lacking imagination or creative spirit, only energy and sometimes time to make music, or write, or craft. Then I got pregnant and tired all the time and tried to record vocals for my husband’s CD while being out of breath, tried to help him mix the CD while being extremely sensitive to loud noises (and music), then had a baby, and was even more tired all the time while trying to parent, teach, and still make music on the side while helping my husband with his next CD, recording vocals during naptime, and once with a baby on my hip (oh no, on his hip, but in the same room, and it even kept quiet). So, while I always encourage people to be creative and while I have even written a series of posts about how to be creative when you don’t have the time, resources, or space for it there are several things about having children that don’t foster creativity for me.

Before I dive into list-making though I have to tell you that I really love my son and really think that he makes my life richer. He is a very creative and imaginative person. He’s fun to be with. So this is not about him, it’s about the daily things that come with having children.

  1. I’m tired. When I’m tired my body wants me to sleep, or eat and rest, not to spend energy making art.
  2. I have much less time than when I didn’t have a child even though I teach less. I have to spend a lot of time caring for my son or attending to household chores that didn’t exist before. For example ever since I returned from the hospital after his birth our laundry has been triple the amount than before.
  3. I’m being interrupted constantly. It’s much harder to find time to hear myself think.
  4. After talking with him for more than ten minutes I feel as if my brain is dripping out of my ears. Now, don’t get me wrong, he is an intelligent and entertaining human being, it’s only that after being talked at for an hour about robots, or building a submarine in the backyard, or going to the moon with his stuffed bunny in a LEGO rocket I usually need about thirty minutes of quiet time on my own to feel like I have any mental capacity at all.
  5. There is so much more organizational detail to attend to that my mind gets constantly drawn towards things like bringing money to kindergarten for the field trip, organizing baby sitting, searching for his rain pants, remembering that he had his rain pants with him when he went to that birthday party three weeks ago, asking the mother of his friend where his rain pants are, searching again because that other mother said her husband had dropped the pants off at our place, remembering while her husband might be sure that he did that I haven’t set eyes on the pants since my son left for the birthday party, making a note on my to-do-list to buy new rain pants at the second hand store, actual remember the rain pants when I’m near the store, go in, look for pants in his size, not finding any, make another note for another day, finally after three attempts get new rain pants, only to have him lose them at kindergarten the following week, start over. – And that was only one thing. And one child.
  6. Did I mention that I’m tired? Before I had a child when I stayed up late I just slept in the next day and restored my energy. Nowadays if I stay up late I have to pay for it for three days straight.

These things don’t make being creative impossible but it’s much harder. Even on weekends there is never a feeling of “open end”. Creativity has to be pressed into whatever slice of time is available. And for me that is partly the reason that most of my creativity these days comes out in knitting and blog posts, and there are no new songs written by me. That’s not to say that I can’t be creative with my son around but I have to say that I find it hard.

And I have found that there are different degrees of creativity for me. Things like knitting or sewing other people’s patterns, while fun, don’t fulfill my creative urge adequately (and neither would designing my own patterns, I tried). Writing blog posts is okay but writing fiction is better. Practicing guitar and playing other people’s songs is okay, improvising is better, and writing my own songs is best. But writing my own songs or writing fiction is neither “fun” nor relaxing for me. It’s hard and takes a lot of energy. I tried to find a way to make this easier but even when everything flows perfectly afterwards I feel like I have climbed a hill. And also my mind is entirely elsewhere. My son doesn’t like this. Nobody likes it when his mother has this far-away look on her face and doesn’t really pay attention.

The creativity Amanda talks about in her book is mostly the crafting type. And in the book there are mostly projects you can do with your children, which I love. But that’s just it. I can sit next to my son and knit, even while he plays or draws or even knits himself. (I’m so proud of him, he has knitted all of two rows on a scarf for his teddy bear. Of course after that he lost interest again.) Sometimes, very rarely, I’ll even play the guitar a little or sing while he’s with me but I can’t do more than that. Creating art requires your full attention and your child does too. Which is why even Amanda does most of her book writing and serious embroidery and sewing at night after her children have gone to bed.

Please understand that I am not saying anything against her or her book, in fact I strongly recommend buying it, it is lovely and very inspirational. That paragraph I quoted was only the starting point for me to say something that has been on my mind for a long time (and on my husband’s even longer). I find that I am not alone in this. I see a lot of musicians who used to practice for hours every day spending their evenings slumping in front of TV these days because they feel too brain dead after a day with their children. I also see people picking up something new through their children’s activities like the mother who started playing the guitar when her daughter didn’t want to any longer and who is now learning something she always wanted.

So, what’s your experience? Are you more creative or less since you’ve had children? (Of course, comments are open for people without children too…

  10 Responses to “Creativity when having children”

  1. Oh yeah another book on the ‘to read list’. Maybe in two years I’ll be able to get through some of them! I totally agree with you, I was a creative person before little H was born and I still am. But the way I think about my art has changed since becoming a mother. And I completely understand that it is much harder to actually sit down and create something now. There is planning involved when before it was much more whimsical and spur of the moment. Another great post. Thanks!

  2. I am creative in a different way, for example i didnt sew before children. I dont write as much now though and that used to be my thing. I feel though that i have been able to explore my creativity much more now that i do not work in a stuffy office. I once had a fab job working as a writer for textile books but it was short lived unfortunately. So i would say that i am not so much MORE creative as i have more opportunity to fulfil my creativity as i am at home, and although i am CONSTANTLY shattered, i do find myself having ideas and being able to draw them out rather than having my creativity squashed by mindless office gossip

  3. oh I was far less. But it is coming back now. It looks like a great book. But one wonders…how the heck does she find the time. She must have alot of help with the everyday stuff.

  4. I don’t know about the effects of children but since I started studying I find less time to just be, I am easily irritated and rarely feel like creative endeavors. One I don’t have the time to wait for her shy approach and two doing the work once she shows up seems like…more work.

  5. Well, after a long long break I restarted to knit in october 94. Did the last stitch on january 10, 1995. Then restarted september 2004. Guess, when my son is born? Right, january 11, 1995.
    I managed to restart with my choir very soon, but for crafting continuously there was no time. Nevertheless I had new ideas and projects. Not the time to track these ideas, nor to bring them to perfection. But I dont´t earn money with my creativity, so this didn´t hurt me so much.

    So I resume: creative ideas yes – time to finish them not

  6. I don’t think I’m any more or less creative than before children. I do have more public outlets, like blogging, now. I do like the theory though – much like Erikson’s idea of the “playing” or “child-like” adult.

  7. I agree with you. It’s harder post-kids to do the REALLY creative endeavors that take a lot of thought and emotional work.

    And I’m laughing at your numbers four and five. Because they’re just like what goes on in my life!

  8. Brain dead. brain dead. and then I worry that it won’t come back (though crazymumma says it does, eventually).

    Secondly, the lack of flow. The interruptions. Having to schedule “me” time. It seems so selfish.

    I think you hit it exactly right, that having children will bring out a certain type of creativity in non-creative types. But even for them, something had to give – they’re just not so sorry that they’re no longer working at a desk for so many hours or whatever.

  9. I go into that far away place when I am creating and my daughter is used to it but I find it much easier to be creative when she is in school and I have four hours to myself. I used to criss stitch and do other crafts but I found that I was not creating anything that was really mine and I gave up most of those hobbies. So you are right.. there are different levels of creativity and different levels of satisfaction.

  10. This is a very interesting topic, Susanne. I think it must differ from person to person. My husband and I are both artists in our souls. We met as actors. I ended my acting career a while back, but had always had a lingering passion for writing which I had never really pursued on any regular basis. Stop. Start. Stop. Start.

    Then we had children. True, we are really exhausted, but it has also inspired us to realize that life is short and that our children, hopefully, will be inspired by our creativity as we are by their’s. My husband is forming a theater company on the side (he does home remodeling for $ living) and I started my blog a year ago. I feel very creative and excited much of the time now, because I am doing what I always wanted to do. True, it might “just be blogging,” but it is the exercise of writing regularly that has been so powerful.

    I also think that your creativity can take on different forms. When I was going through infertility heartaches, I started painting with acrylics. I had never painted before and had quite a self-consciousness about painting or drawing. It was very freeing and I lost myself in it for a while. Now I am drawn to write.

    Ok, I’ve blathered, but I’m so glad to read about your journey here and thanks for the provoking thoughts!

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