How can I balance being a parent and being an artist?

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Photo by See-ming Lee 李思明 SML, used under Creative Commons license.
I am a seamstress, photographer, painter, and whatever other kind of artist you can think of. I’m also a single mother of three girls (ages seven, nine, and twelve). I’m not in a situation in which I can un-school or home school, so the traditional public school system is my only option. Art in all of its forms is my life — and my children are my life.

I’m a horrible housekeeper, terrible at schedules and routines — but my kids need them, they thrive on them. However, every time I get us on a schedule I start experiencing an actual feeling of sickness — an extreme tightness between my shoulder blades that causes me to snap at my children and anyone else in snapping distance. I also fall physically ill if I’m away from my art, from creating for too long. I’ve tried scheduling my artistic forays, but that doesn’t seem to work, either.

It’s very difficult to be faced with two options: be artistic on cue, or stop in the middle of my inspiration to fix dinner, help with homework, or do a bedtime routine. The end result of all this internal conflict is complete and utter failure at both my art and raising my children in a healthy clean environment. I am curious: has anyone else out there dealt with this conflict? Have you found a solution that’s healthy for everyone? — FallynRaiyn

We’ve discussed being an artist and a parent before — and the interviews by Summer Pierre are definitely inspiring. What other advice do you guys have?

Comments on How can I balance being a parent and being an artist?

  1. Awwwww, that’s hard. Great of you to share an article. I look forward to reading other comments.

    Yes, I’m an artist (for a living) and a mom of two (9 and 11). I don’t love schedules either, but that is part of life with kids and it does help. 🙂

    I handle it by doing basic meal planning for the week (this takes the afternoon angst out of deciding what to make for dinner and leaves more time for art.) The kids and I have regular daily and weekly chores (this way I do them automatically instead of saying “ugh, later…”).

    I get to work in the studio or on the computer when they go to school. That’s my work time- hours of whatever I want. I really need that alone time to get lost in the zone, not be asked for anything. I stop when I get the kids from school. We play, snack, chat, and I make dinner while they do homework nearby, soccer practice, bed time, etc.

    After they are in bed, I clean kitchen and do whatever else I want with art/computer/reading/drawing/self time.

    It’s a loose schedule but it works, with large blocks of time alone and together.

    Maybe you can compromise on house cleaning by choosing the high priority rooms (Kitchen/livingroom?) and keeping those very clean and letting the others be more feral?) Do your kids all have chores? Clean their own rooms?

    Saturday morning, we take life slow, have a big breakfast. THEN it’s home blessing hour ritual (a-la Flylady). I make a list of house and yard chores need doing and little boxes for us to check them off. We set the timer for an hour and RACE the clock. Fun! They are done in an hour, but I usually have one more hour till I’m done with my jobs. House is nice for the weekend. It works for us!

    That’s my balance of free spirit creative time and keeping life in order. 🙂 I hope it gives you some ideas.

    • I think a flexible but *scheduled* schedule is key. Big blocks of time dedicated to art, but if I’m not feeling it, I can make a pot of soup for tomorrow and then work on art instead of cook. But both get space, and both get done.

      And you can learn to be an artist “on cue,” as it were, too. It’s not so bad. Inspiration is overrated, to be blunt. Good artistic work habits aren’t.

  2. I have thought long and hard about what I am willing to sacrifice for my art and, separately, what I am willing to sacrifice for my child. The housework was an easy thing to let go. The expectations of others were harder. The idea of being the perfect PTA parent had to go because all those activities and fundraisers and email chains and phone calls took too much time. Sometimes I let my personal appearance go too.

    I’ve also had to sacrifice some artistic things to being a parent. I can’t go to every poetry open mic in town. I can’t apply to all the residencies I’d like to or stay up until 4 AM drinking coffee and painting. I write slower now and I choose visual art mediums that are easier to clean up or that won’t be ruined if I’m interrupted.

    I won’t sacrifice my art, but I also won’t sacrifice my daughter’s safety, security, or self-esteem for the sake of my art. I hope I am modeling balance as well as passion to her. I hope she is learning independence and how to prioritize. I think we can do all that with a few dirty dishes in the sink.

  3. I agree totally with what Ally said (and am trying to implement something similar for me and my boys)!
    I would add too, that to make housework more fun, make it a game! Sing and dance while you do you tidy up it goes faster and that way you don’t have time to gripe to yourself or miss your art. ALSO make sure your cleaning supplies are FUN to look at (draw on the spray bottle if you have to!) and make organizing fun and aesthetically pleasing. It helps A LOT…but it has to be something YOU like not necessarily what others might,, or what is the ‘current home trend’.

    AND thanks for writing this! It really helps to know that I’m not the only one out there who struggles with schedules, being a free spirit, raising kids, and finding enough time to create so I don’t snap at people. 😉

  4. yes, Sassy, I’m enjoying reading all the comments and feeling a sense of kinship. 🙂 Great suggestions, thoughts and tips.

  5. I <3 my crock pot. Seriously. Yesterday it had teriyaki chicken, carrot and celery waiting for me and tonight there will be spaghetti with mushrooms. The only thing left to do at the end of the day is boil rice or pasta, but most of the times, nothing is left to do but eat the perfectly cooked contents. The hard work, like taking 5-10 minutes to pour everything in the pot is done some time in the morning before lunch. The kids can eat dinner and you don't have to interrupt your spontaneous creative mood for much more than dishing it up and getting them a spoon.

    I, myself, actually live on a schedule, but being pregnant, the end of the day I am so tired. I know once the little one arrives it'll probably be worse, but with my crock pot I know that my bigger one and husband will have something warm to eat and I won't feel like such a failure scrambling around trying to cook something good at the last minute.

    I spend about half an hour at the beginning of each pay period to figure out what recipes I want to make and then compile my grocery list. I have about 2/3 crock pot meals and 1/3 quick cook meals like tacos, so if the crock pot doesn't get filled on time, I have a back up plan for something fast and easy.

    Ultimately, as mothers, I think we give up a LOT to have a family. Even though I never paid much attention, my husband has pointed out several times how I’ve changed once I became a stepmom. He loves me for those changes, but laments that he was the one responsible.

    I don’t have any suggestions for you beyond dinner, but I hope that you find a good balance that keeps the parts of yourself that you need and still gives your family what they need.

  6. O m g. Are you me?! I was once a single mom of toddlers w aspirations of publishing children’s books! And now my kids are a bit older-and I feel so guilty when I take a little time to myself to create something-I recently introduced my kids to “real” art supplies and instead if sitting around the TV at night we sit around our dinner table-which really should be called our Art Table! Perhaps I should write a post on this! I did t know there were other mothers out there like me! (including the scattered schedule-and it makes me feel a bit impulsive-not to mention shamed)! But I’ve learned to get around that by including them and making it a family tradition!

  7. As a part time student working mother I feel as if I’m spread very thin. I hardly ever have time for any of my creative outlets. I keep up with my writing even if I just reread the last chapter I wrote in the break between semesters. I scribble sketch with ink or colored pencils instead of busting out the paints. The house remains a near constant state of clutter and most of the dishes and washing is done each day. Planning meals ahead helps, I use a crock pot and prep casseroles the day before. The trick is to pace yourself and let other people pick up the slack or get the kids to do some chores. I was doing chores at 8 and thought it was fun not work.

  8. Prioritize and scheduling is your friend. Learning to due art on cue will help you be a successful artist. I am not an artist (at least not more than as a hobby) but I am a student and I struggle with needing time to really focus on my studies. Small amounts of time are only helpful for me (and this is key to anything knowing your strengths and weaknesses) if I’m memorizing, understanding complex science material? I need to sit down for a few hours and work through it. I would suggest really looking into why you resist schedules so much. It sounds like you might want to see a therapist or at least some deep soul searching. Scheduling is hard and most of us struggle with keeping it, but to actively resist something you know will make your life and your children’s life better? That says there is a deeper issue at work here than just being “artistic”. (and I’m not saying this to be judgmental, I struggled with this myself)

  9. First off, I totally want to buy a crock pot now! Thanks for that suggestion Marie. And second, I agree with Impossible Mom about getting the kids in the action. Having family art time is a great way to honour your artistic urges when they hit.
    And I also think that given the ages of your kids, you could have a few simple meal ideas tucked away in the freezer so that the kids can make dinner themselves on the evenings that you are busy with art.
    So great to hear from so many other artsy mamas!

  10. I’m not a parent, but I totally understand the pain of being in total creative immersion then realizing there is a bus to catch, a meal to cook, or clothes to wash. My best advice is to teach your girls that you can schedule as much as you want, but sometimes life un-schedules itself. Teach them to be prepared. Make meals ahead of time that can be quickly heated. Make a schedule, but give yourself license to switch blocks of time around.

  11. My aunt (an artist and mother of 2 grown children) gave me a book called ‘A Question of Balance: Artists and Writers on Motherhood’ when my daughter was born. I read it while I nursed her and LOVED it. Reading how other artists/moms do it really made me feel like it was possible.

    That being said, my daughter is almost 2 now and the last thing I painted was a mural in her nursery before she was born. I know that these first couple of years are when she needs me the most and I wouldn’t trade my time with her for anything. But I look forward to easing back into my ‘artist self’ so she can know that important side of her Mama.

  12. hey…Im a tattoo artist and painter and mummy to Rufus and 38+1 weeks preggo to no.2!! I have had creative difficulties over the past 3 yrs since having Ru…my art has had to become slightly more of a job..ie more routined rather than impulsive and at first I felt constricted by this, but now am into my stride a bit and actually like the feeling of being more organised and less frantic…but its a change so took time to get my head round it.

    I basically sketch a lot with Rufus, alongside him and keep a sketch book of painting/creative ideas so when i get inspired a quick sketch or phrase will go into this book so i dont loose it..i find this helps and u can come back to it after bedtime and embellish the ideas.
    I only paint when Rufus isn’t here,I just cant concentrate if he’s around, he goes to nursery two days a week and is in bed for 8pm every night. This I am strict on otherwise I would have no creative time and will get depressed and become a shit mummy anyway so its best for everyone that bed is very routined.
    hope this is some help…dont beat yerself up and over anaylise i think us creatives do that far too often at the end of the day its good to go with the flow and be not too set in your ways but for me bedtimes is a must for me, to then put my proper art hat on and go mess around with my paints. xx lizi

  13. I’m an actor/director/playwright and the mom of a 7-montg-old. The acting & directing are pretty much gonna be on hold at least until he stops having “where’s my mommy” meltdowns whenever I’m gone. Having my son has actually forced me to refocus on my writing, which has been a tremendous gift – I opened a new play a month before his birth, something I simply wouldn’t have done if my creative itch was being scratched in other ways. I do look forward to collaborating with others again – my goal is to get back on that horse no later than his third birthday.

  14. Hello all! And thankyou thankyou thankyou for all the truly wonderful comments, suggestions and ideas! I was going to reply to each one individually, but read through them all first. In the process of reading through them, and through the lense of working through these issues for the past month or so, I have hit on a couple of epiphanies. The first is that I need to take the time to actually teach my girls how to be responsible. We went through a pretty desperately bad relationship breakup, I say we, because the girls really did go through it with me, even if they don’t know all the nitty gritty details, and I never realized how long it is going to take for all of us to really recover from that. I expected a year or two, but it’s been nearly 4. I’ve been through counseling and therapy for quite a few years, as have the girls. It helped with the emotional stuff, but the actual day to day gears and procedures of every day life were never addressed. Now that my mental state is in better shape, everything else is coming to light. Including that I really haven’t taught my girls anything in all the years they’ve been alive. I spent 12+ years in the absolute depressive darkness of a rather abusive relationship, and now that I’m coming into the light, a LONG process, and very hard work, I’m realizing the hardest work is yet to be done. All the things I should have taught them as babies and toddlers were neglected. It was not a great childhood for them, and not a great time of motherhood for me. But now, we’ve come through the emotional nightmare of our previous life and the really hard but fulfilling work can begin. I am finding that I really know nothing of keeping a house or raising children. I’ve tried Flylady. It hasn’t worked. There are a few other organization things I’ve tried as well, with equal “unsuccess”. Laura I believe said that she thought there were deeper issues at work, and I believe she is right. But my creative drive is one big issue. It isn’t mearly an issue of being “artistic, or creative” It is a huge drive. I don’t know if it’s a “normal” kind of artistic. It’s an urge that I MUST express myself.
    I REALLY love the practical suggestions. People will probably underestimate my ability to know how to keep a house in the first place, then add that with the artistic thing, and the children thing, and we really do have a mess on our hands!
    Right now I am focusing on adding long awaited joy and happiness to the kids lives. And I really do appreciate the suggestions!

    • I could write for a long time about this, as all parents can about their lives and their kids and how to balance it all. Alas, in reading your (the original poster’s) response the comments, I will just add a few things.
      First of all, thank you to all who posted. I am a stepmom to an 8 year old, and I have a two year old and to hear other parents’ struggles and triumphs is encouraging and supportive.
      My experience with chores: My 8 year old thrives on schedules and knowing what is expected of her. She went through a rough divorce period and had a lot of abandonment and trust issues surrounding her mom and her dad’s breakup. What I do is I give her two chores a day, if she does more than two she gets a sticker, if she gets 25 stickers she gets a special big day things (example: Her next 25 sticker prize is a in-home spa day complete with nail painting and face masks). So, she knows when she comes home from school to get a snack, do her homework, do her two chores, then it’s her free time to play with her little sister or do what ever she likes. This has been really successful because regardless of my schedule, she knows hers. Now, sometimes things come up, we have an evening appointment, or what not and the schedule changes, but overall it is mostly the same. And learning to cope with the changes is good too. She is an enormous help to me in doing those two chores and she feels really good about contributing. She also keeps learning more about how to take care of our home.
      I am attempting to teach my two year old how to pick up after herself (hah!). I know this will be an ongoing learning process, but just knowing that her older sister will be a good example gives me hope.
      I think that creative time/emotional space awareness is very important. For example: I like to be artistic for 1-3 hours at a time and then I need to take a break. My partner needs to be artistic for at least 3 hours to get any work done. So we have balanced our schedules to make sure that he gets bigger unbroken chunks of time, but less often, and I get smaller chunks. I think once you know what you need in order to be successful, through trial and error or intuition, you can then start problem solving to figure out how to create those opportunities for yourself.
      As always, remember that your kids want you to be a healthy adult, not just a mom or a dad. You want to show them how to become themselves, not just parents, and therefore we must continue to try to balance our own needs as humans with that of caregivers and guides. This is what I tell myself at least. 🙂
      Also, on the cooking front: My 8 year old has been helping to cook me since her dad and I got together when she was 4. Now she can cook a handful of simple meals on her own, and can help me with prep. I like to let her look through cook books and pick something she hasn’t made before and we make it together with the goal that she should be able to cook it on her own someday.
      Thanks again! Hope that gave a few suggestions.
      -Alycia

  15. I have a 3.5 year old and a 22 m old boys any specific advice to getting through the toddler years without losing your artistic brain? Everytime i look in my studio i want to cry because at the end of thebday my brain is so numb from just getting through it there is no way i could have one original thought. Yet my heart aches to create…

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