This is the last in a series of topics that came from my discussions with The Council of Arty Cleverness. This one was Sharyn’s idea.
First of all, I just want to say up front that having to write this article at all offends me. Men are never called on to write articles about being Dads in the midst of doing their life’s calling, so the fact that women continually need to defend their work in light of also being a mom is supremely anger making for me. But here we are, nevertheless. I’ll just go ahead and persist, cause that’s what we women do.
Women have been sold a bill of goods: be perfect at everything regardless of what it does to your family, your health, or your soul. We cannot, in fact, have it all. Something somewhere has got to give. I think for many of us, what we sacrifice is our ambition. I know I did for a lot of years.
As I’ve gotten older though I’ve come to see it less as an all or nothing deal. I spent a season as the primary breadwinner in my family doing a job I was good at but didn’t particularly like or feel called to do. Then I spent a season as a full-time mom to littles, which I was thankful to have the resources to do. My current season is about me spending significant time developing my skills as an artist, exploring my calling to work in non-profit, while also being mom-on-call.
It’s a lotta hats, to be honest. I am careful about what I say yes to. I have a list of goals I define for my artistic practice every year and I refer to it when I’m approached about taking on additional commitments. Likewise, I’m currently serving as Board President for Global Women and upon assuming that role, I intentionally scaled back my involvement on church committees. And swirling among those things are always making sure there’s enough time for my kids, my husband, and all of our activities. I try to always use the filter of what matches my current work goals when someone asks me to participate in something new. Several of my current roles are for only a season. My presidency will be up in September 2017. My commitment to Get Messy will be up in January 2018. Sometime after my show opens in October, I will begin dreaming about and exploring what my future will hold for these two segments of my life in 2018. I have a sneaking suspicion that my art and my activism are going to get more and more tightly wound up. I’m actually pretty excited with that possibility. But whatever it is, I’ll be looking at the duration of the commitment and making sure there’s time enough around it for everything else.
What do I give my kids by being a working artist?
I give them the ability to see that they are not the center of my world. Kids don’t actually need to be the center of their parent’s world. They need to be loved and nurtured but making them the primary focus of their parent’s lives is a whole lotta pressure. Pressure to perform and live up to too-tall expectations. Pressure to be perfect and fulfill their parent’s emotional needs. I think it ties them too closely to me and makes it harder for them to fly free when the time comes.
I give them the ability to see that we are all capable of continuing to learn and grow. We talk about practice a lot at our house. My son practices the trombone. My husband practices writing. I practice art. My daughter practices archery. All of us have things that we enjoy doing and that feed our soul. Teaching them that practice is a life-long thing that allows for the acquisition of new skills and the improvement of old ones is a core family value for us. Also thinking in terms of practice to achieve mastery over skills is a particularly good thing for girls and women as we tend to see our abilities as fixed rather than able to grow over time.
I give them the ability to see me cope with success and failure over time. Both my husband and I talk about getting rejected in our artistic endeavors. He’s currently writing his second novel. He’s been sending the first one to agents and so far hasn’t had any bites on it yet. I recently submitted a piece of art to a show at my local museum. It didn’t make it in. I told them about it and we were all sad for a while. The next day, though, my kids saw me back in the studio working again. We are going to be told no in our lives. If they see me persisting in the face of that, they will learn to start enduring it as well for things they are truly invested in.
I give them the ability to see that good things take time and aren’t always a commercial success. Not many people are an overnight success, and fewer still are commercially successful overnight. My kids seeing that I am still doing what I love in the face of that is good.
I give them the ability to see that the pursuit of art in our lives can live alongside the other parts of our lives. If you are very lucky, what you do and what you love get to be the same thing. If not, making time for the things you love along side the other things in your life is particularly important. We skip a lot of tv around here. Skipping tv allows us to work on other things. We also have a pretty egalitarian division of household chores, in that everyone participates so no one (ME!) is stuck doing it for everyone else. This makes time for all of us to pursue fun stuff.
That’s my take on being an artist and a mom. Probably not so different in a lot of ways from other careers other moms have. I just get to foreground a lot of stuff I go through because my work space is in my home. We all wander in and out of the studio all the time. It’s a lot like the kitchen in most houses, I think. I like that, though. It’s good for them to see mom doing something other than cooking.