Some people think that motherhood extinguishes your creative life. Several years ago, The Atlantic published an article titled “The Secret to Being Both a Successful Writer and a Mother: Have Just One Kid.” When you become a parent, your time is no longer your own. You don’t have hours to wonder and wander, giving yourself the space for ideas to bloom and creativity to slip in. Your attention is pulled in many different directions, mostly away from your creativity. There’s only so much room in your brain and it’s typically taken up by the details of the day to day. Laundry, homework, doctor’s appointments, cooking, feedings, sleep training. You have more responsibilities and more stressors.
Some people think that motherhood is a boon to creativity. For instance, in this interview, author Sandra V. Feder noted that when her kids were younger, they provided plenty of story ideas for her children’s books. Plus, motherhood keeps your creativity on its toes. As Feder said, “motherhood is an inherently creative activity that lends itself to creative output. Mothers are always improvising. Finding ways to meet the needs of one or multiple children requires a lot of creativity. So, to me, motherhood and writing are naturally linked.”
I think it’s what you make of it—like anything else. It depends on how you look at it and what you do. Yes, our time is limited, and, yes, our attention is split. Yes, we’re more tired. But motherhood also can inspire and energize us. It doesn’t have to be an either/or. It can be a both/and. Because life is complex and multilayered, and it’s rarely all or nothing. Below are seven ideas on using motherhood to enrich your creative life:
- Explore themes of motherhood in your art—whatever that art might be. Take photos of your children, as they grow and change every single day. Write poems about small moments. Paint portraits of yourself, exploring your different thoughts and feelings about motherhood over the years. Or write about these thoughts and feelings. Give these thoughts and feelings to a character in your next novel.
- Explore how your identity has and hasn’t changed since becoming a mom—or since becoming a mom to multiple kids.
- Think of challenges around motherhood and creativity, and brainstorm wacky and not-so wacky solutions for them.
- Do what you love with your kids. For instance, when her kids played in the yard, writer and artist Suzi Banks Baum gardened. When they went to coffee shops, Baum took out her notebook and sketched. When they travel, Baum and her family visit museums. “My kids love this. It makes for some of the most interesting times with our family,” she told me for this piece.
- Alway have a portable creativity kit with you. According to Miranda Hersey, when gathering supplies for your kit, consider these questions: “What kinds of things do you like to do that lend themselves to going on the road? What media are easy to take out and easy to put away? Are there things that you like to do on a large scale that can be broken into portable elements? What can you ‘practice’ on short notice?”
- Think about life through your child’s lens. How do they see different objects? How do they perceive the sky or grass or a squirrel? How do they see abstract ideas? What do they think love means? How might you make this perspective into art?
- Use your imagination to make each day—or most days—magical for your kids and for you. How do you define “magic”? What might make your days more fun or more playful or more interesting? Where could you go? How can you make snow days or rainy days into a blessing instead of a curse? Flex your creativity muscles in all sorts of ways.
Creating amid mothering can be complicated. There are many, many interruptions. It’s tougher to focus, to quiet your mind long enough to produce meaningful work. Still I prefer to look at motherhood as igniting our imaginations, as feeding them. I prefer to look at motherhood and creativity as complementing each other, as two partners, walking together through life, side by side. Yes, there’s conflict and miscommunication. Yes, some days are difficult, and there’s crying and sadness and overwhelm. And life is richer, too. So much, so much richer.