One of the toughest challenges when you have kids is time, or lack thereof. It’s easy for many things, including creativity, to get brushed aside. For years.
But having less “discretionary time” as a parent can become just another excuse stopping you from creating, said Miranda Hersey, a creativity coach, host of the blog Studio Mothers and author of The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Practices for the Early Years.
Hersey knows a lot about having little time. She has five kids, ages 5 to 22.
Yet, creativity has always been part of her life. For Hersey, “a creative life is full of passion, self-expression, intuition, observation, discovery, asking questions, learning, and making connections, with other people and the world around us.”
Writer and artist Suzi Banks Baum called creativity her “lifeline.” She’s been journaling daily since she was 14. “I wrote the day I gave birth and the day after.”
When she moved from New York City to a small community in upstate New York, she started knitting. “I felt really lonely and was verging on depression. I needed to do something with my hands.” She also joined a knitting circle and returned to Al-Anon meetings. “I began to see myself as an individual who had needs.”
When you nourish your needs, you also become a better parent. According to Hersey, “When you’re regularly creative … you’re happier, more centered, better able to deal with the inevitable stresses of life. When you follow your creative bliss, you’re also modeling something important for your children: doing what you love.”
Below, Hersey and Baum shared nine ideas for living a creative life when you have kids.
1. Do what you love.
Many people think they have to change their lifestyle to be creative, said Baum, also author of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. But you can simply “remember or find something that you love and do it.” Hersey agreed. “We can be creative at any opportunity—not just when we’re writing or painting or dancing.” For her, “being creative is synonymous with being in love with life.”
2. Take small steps.
When your kids are younger, you may only have a few moments to yourself. During the first two years of motherhood, Baum carried a notebook in her diaper bag. She’d journal, doodle and sketch early in the morning or in the park while her kids were asleep in their strollers. She’d capture everything from scenes of her city to palm trees when she was on vacation.
She also carried a small book of poetry. “Those ‘reading snacks’ kept my mind fed with stimulating ideas and language, which are areas that in the early mothering years can feel very limited.”
Those few minutes with her books also helped Baum soothe her anxiety and worries. “It’d bring things down from a full boil to a simmer.”
Interestingly, during these first few months of infancy, many moms are flooded with ideas, Hersey said. She suggested capturing those ideas by scribbling on a piece of paper or an index card at night.
When your kids get older, there’s usually more time to create. But “you may find yourself stuck between having a tantalizing snippet of time to do your work [and] having to stop on a moment’s notice and not feeling like you can have the time that you really want, at least not on your terms,” Hersey said.
She suggested remembering that some time — like 15 minutes — is better than no time. “Drop by drop, you can still fill the bucket.”
3. Consider a class.
When Baum’s kids started school, she took a mixed media collage class. “That one class changed a lot for me.” She loved learning the material and being in a “community of other mothers doing a creative task.”
The class also helped Baum shift her self-image. “I joined a community of artists and that allowed me to see myself differently as an individual. I had never identified myself as an artist until I took that class and realized that I belonged there.” Today, she collaborates with her former instructor – now a close friend – on workshops and exhibits.
She experienced a similar shift when she took a monthly writing workshop. She started seeing herself as a writer and was inspired to help other mothers tell their stories.
4. Find a sitter.
Sometimes you might want to leave your house to focus on your creativity. If so, Hersey suggested hiring a babysitter or swapping child care with a friend.
5. Be creative with your kids.
“Let yourself do what you love while you’re with your family,” Baum said. For her, cooking, knitting, gardening and attending museums are all important creative acts. So when her kids played in the yard, she gardened. When they went to coffee shops, she took out her notebook and sketched. She also knitted her kids’ clothes and hats. When they travel, they go to museums. “My kids love this. It makes for some of the most interesting times with our family.”
This also models to your kids the importance of taking care of yourself and nourishing creativity, she added. This way practicing one’s creativity “is not seen as something you do at a certain time with a certain outfit on.”
6. Think of yourself as “in training.”
Fatigue is a big challenge for creativity, Hersey said. “Whether you’re at home full-time, navigating a part-time job, working full-time out of the house, or some unique combination, most of us are exhausted by the time the day’s work is done and the last dish is washed.”
That’s why Hersey recommended thinking of yourself as “in training for your life.” That training can include eating foods that boost your energy, exercising, sleeping well and engaging in other healthy practices, such as meditation, she said. “Taking care of your well-being will increase your energy level and with it, your creative bandwidth.”
7. Get up earlier.
Before your kids wake up is a great time to create. Even if you’re not a morning person, you can try getting up 30 minutes earlier, Hersey said. “What would it take for you to make that work? What are you willing to give up for a regular creative practice? Chances are, you can figure something out that doesn’t involve sacrifice for your kids.”
8. Find people on a similar path.
Baum has found a supportive community of creative mothers both in person and online. These women have helped her see her own creativity and work through various challenges.
9. Focus on solutions.
When it comes to creativity, it’s easy to get stuck in the “if-onlys.” If only my kids were in school. If only I had a full hour each day. If only I could get up earlier. You can always find reasons why you can’t create, Hersey said.
She suggested focusing less on what you can’t do, and more on what you can. “The truth is that life is hard – and it will only be harder, the more that we focus on how hard it is. Let’s stop saying ‘I can’t’ and ‘This won’t work’ and start figuring out how to do what it is that we say we want to do.”
Hersey recommended the following books on creativity and writing: Writer Mama by Christina Katz; Writing Motherhood by Lisa Garrigues; and Use Your Words by Kate Hopper.
These are her other favorites on creativity: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp; The Zen of Creativity by John Daido Loori; and The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander.
She also suggested everything written by these authors: Eric Maisel, Danny Gregory, Keri Smith, Patti Digh, Jennifer Louden, Steven Pressfield, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg.