Like many creatives¹, I spent a lot of my younger years lost in a swirl of daydreams, fantasies, and surges of creative expression. I could set pen to paper whenever the mood struck. Skills practise never felt like work; it was only the refinement of a project in progress. There were no deadlines, no expectations other than my own — a piece was done when I called it done. And if one piece sat unfinished while I explored other ideas, so be it. Time was not a commodity.
Of course, the utopia of youth never lasts, and all too quickly there are bills to pay, responsibilities that never give you a day off, and for some of us, loud, clumsy little people who are in constant need of our undivided attention.
Finding the Time to Create
When children come into your life, two things become a coveted luxury: sleep and alone time. I can count on one hand the number of showers I have had all to myself since my children were born.
Having virtually no time for yourself can be trying for anyone, but for a creative, it can be soul crushing. We need time to breathe and think and dream and express — time to allow the worlds we see behind our eyes to grow and flourish.
This time can be found in various ways, depending on the age of your children. When they are babies, naptime is your very best friend. For the first few months of my daughter’s life, I horribly misused naptime. I would spend it cleaning or doing laundry or sorting through masses of baby clutter.
It took me too long to realize how precious the few hours of naptime really were. If you are not dead-on-your-feet tired², then naptime is your time. Cleaning around an active child is a bit of an artform in itself, and there is plenty of time to master it. Those quiet moments, when no one needs you, should never be squandered on something as menial as housework.
Sit down. Read a book. Daydream. Draw a picture. Write down your ideas or thoughts or wants. Or just grab a pen and vent whatever needs to come out.
As kids get older, and you start getting a full night’s sleep once in a while, then it becomes easier. Naptime, bedtime, “go play outside” time — all are yours for the taking. If, or more likely when, you find yourself back in the workforce, then commuting time can also provide you with a precious few minutes to dream and create.
If you drive, open your voice recording app, and just talk. If you use public transportation, then a notebook and a pen are all you need to doodle, write, jot down ideas or just zone out and scribble randomly. A pair of earbuds with the plug tucked into your pocket will usually keep strangers from intruding upon your creative time.
Also, don’t be afraid to impose upon friends and family. A Saturday or Sunday away from home here and there will be good for your kids and good for your well-being. This can give you the time to work on larger projects without the threat of sticky fingerprints, stolen supplies, and torn pages.
Destressing with Kids
Stress is the mind killer. It also hunts productivity and your overall bodily health.
All over the internet you will find suggestions and ideas for how to increase your creativity and productivity through stress relieving techniques such as meditation, exercise, and even just having a hot bubble bath. I know that when my kids were babies, I used to look at these lists and just roll my eyes. When exactly was I supposed to do these things? You can’t go for a run at naptime, and a bubble bath is considerably less relaxing when you have to gather up toys and scrub tub crayon off the walls beforehand.
So, how do you relax when you are surrounded by screaming, squirming, sticky kids?
Make use of the playpen. Grab a couple favourite toys, and put the munchkin behind a soft mesh fence. Inside or outside, they are contained and hopefully entertained for a while.
If your kid is like mine, and screams at any sense of confinement, then grab a pair of earplugs, and pop Bubble Guppies on the television. 20 minutes of TV in the afternoon won’t melt your child’s brain, and can give you the time you need to sit, breathe, meditate, or get in a bit of exercise — both yoga and tai chi can be practised easily in your living room or back yard.
Child too old for the playpen? Include them. My daughter loves to do anything that I am doing. From stretching to meditation to yoga, if I am doing it, she is willing to give it a try. Kids are masters of copying what they see.
Raising Creative Children
The very best way that I have found to balance my own creative needs with raising children is to encourage their creativity. My kids have been drawing since they could hold a crayon and understand that it isn’t for eating.
We buy cheap notebooks and printer paper when school supplies are on sale, and when I pull out my sketchbook, we also pull out paper and pencil crayons for the kids. They spread out on the floor while I work in my chair, and the more enthusiastic the praise they receive, the more excited they are to keep going. This can give me an hour or more to work on my own projects while I am at home alone with them.
I love to see the colourful expressions of my kids’ imaginations, even when it is occasionally on the pages of my own forgotten sketchbooks. If I have learned anything since becoming a parent, it is that if I don’t want my kids to add their artistic touches to something, put it up out of reach!
Living as a creative doesn’t have to end when parenthood begins. Sometimes the simplest answers are the right ones.
¹ – A Creative refers to a person who is creative, typically in a professional context.
² – If you are dead-on-your-feet tired, have a nap. It’s right there in the name: naptime. Trust me, you have earned it.