This piece is a guest post I wrote prior for my dear friends at The Perpetual Visitor.
The request was to write: how to find time for your own creative pursuits once you become a mother. Please share this with any moms you know who could benefit from it in any way. We’re all in it together. Thank you!
When I was a kid, I would fly into my imagination, and the world of make believe like a little animal. I would burrow in the corner of my parents’ house and lose myself for hours on end. I was curious and creative and questioning. I once heard that as children, we are either “Oh” children or “Why?” children. I was a “Why?” child. My parents say that any question that I asked, I would always respond to their answer with “Why?”. I like to think that this curious and insatiable loop of child interrogation was their birth control.
You’re welcome, Mom and Dad.
Once I had kids, this innocent and feisty side of myself began to atrophy and eventually dwindled down to a spec of dust buried deep inside. I felt like this was a sacrifice that came with parenting territory, and so I waffled between feeling guilty and depressed anytime it reared its playful head. I am fully aware of the perks of parenting allowing ourselves to become less selfish, but the problem arises when we are guilted into having any ounce of selfishness at all.
With that, my anxiety soared, and so did my alcohol intake. For some it’s Oreos. Others it’s Facebook. For me, it’s booze. Aren’t we supposed to think that healthy kids, a partner, and cozy home is enough? What more do you want? Back on the hamster wheel of guilt with the pop of a wine bottle. Every mom I talked to felt like “this” was just the way it goes. You make sacrifices. It must be normal, right? Well, the thing was, I didn’t like this normal. Not at all. Compromises? Sure. But, sacrifices? Hmmm.
So, I took time to sit with the uncomfortable feelings and explored them with care. I reminded myself of a question a friend had posed to me a decade before. Having just come down from her newlywed high she was dealing with the dilemma of: How do you become two and remain one? At the time, I was living in New York City, unwed, and free as a bird. I couldn’t fully grasp the magnitude of her question.
Now, it’s clear as can be. The difference is my question has turned into: How do you become four and remain one? As I quieted my restless mind and took this in, I realized that all of my anxiety was from fear. Every. Single. Bit. I hated the admittance that I was so concerned with what people would think that I was willing to people please and dismiss my inner creative tugs in hopes of replacing my voice of guilt with gratitude.
What I found out? It don’t work that way.
But as my gut strengthened and my throbbing head quieted, my childhood question of “Why?” and my adult question of “How?” merged into “When?” When am I going to stop apologizing for taking time out for myself? I’m not talking about “me time” vegging at a spa, clinking at a ladies night, or nuzzling up with a book on the couch. I’m talking about taking action; doing something for myself that doesn’t feel like doing anything at all. That soulful action that lights me up like a goddamn Christmas tree. That one thing that brings my childlike spirit to life and floods me with joy. Or as psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi simply calls it in his book of the same name: flow.
And that is when I privately dusted off a half-written draft of a screenplay I began years ago and got to work. Raising little humans gave me the courage to flip society’s connotation of selfishness (especially regarding women) on its head.
I needed to walk my talk: More intentional doing; less auto-pilot fat chewing.
I have no idea what will come of the story I’m creating. All I do know is that it brings me solid joy. I am sucked up into a vacuum of a pure timeless flow. It’s an off the charts electric feeling. Fifteen minutes, three times a week. That was my sweet spot of time to be enough in my comfort zone that I would show up and enough out of my comfort zone that I would grow up without the urge to bail. What happened was I found myself wanting even more time – scratch that – craving more time. It was the best déjà vu rush in the world. And, unsurprisingly it made me a better mom without any effort at all.
So, whether your inner itch is writing, painting, dancing, gardening, distilling, experimenting, picking, or peeling – do it for you; Not for anyone else.
Here is where you will find your original self before jobs and laundry and partners and laundry and kids and sticky floors and hands and nighttime routines and laundry. Then you may begin to embrace these mundane domestic moments in your life. Because the small cracks of space within where creativity hibernates, tend to shoot out beams of light while you’re folding underwear or washing dishes. The only difference now will be acting on it instead of sweeping it under the couch until it surfaces again.
If we allow ourselves to be honest and make it a non-negotiable practice to dedicate fifteen to thirty minutes to ourselves FOR ourselves WITHOUT APOLOGY, I fully believe that we will be shifting the world on its axis in the right direction. We are MOTHERS. We are CREATORS. Let’s not have birthing end with babies. Let it begin. We are role models and lovers and energizers and investigators and what if-ers and why not-ers. We are all of them rolled into one badass body, and it’s our time to turn self-care into soul-care.
Here are 3 steps to help reignite your soul and send you on your way.
1. Ease up.
Repeat after me: You are not a bad mom if you don’t preface everything with “I love my kids, but….” You can enjoy being on a solo road trip without having to share the playlist or spend time alone in a quiet house without feeling like people are going to judge you as a bad mom.
You know you’re an incredible parent. The difference is, once you permit yourself to do what you love without an emotional guilt trip, your visits from Martyrdom Martha and Resentful Rita drop to an all-time low. Amen to that!
There will always be an endless to-do list and exorbitant amounts of time to criticize yourself for not completing it. The goal here is to give yourself small reminders to practice self-compassion every day. It’s not about kicking all responsibility to the curb. It’s about making time for yourself as habitual as brushing your teeth. Yes, it’s that important for your health.
Plus, it’s like a little healthy affair with yourself; Only the “two” of you know about it, and you can see it every day. Find a wink-wink word you post on the fridge or a symbolic visual that you keep as your phone’s wallpaper to keep the momentum going. (Your kids will be okay not having their face as your lock screen wallpaper, promise. And, no, this does not mean you love them less, no matter what the voices inside or outside your head say.)
“Unlike self-criticism which asks if you’re good enough, self-compassion asks,“What’s good for you?
– Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself
2. Wake up.
Once you start committing to what you loved as a kid or that one feeling or idea that keeps itching your heart and won’t go away, you’re going to start waking up. You’re going to gain perspective and feel the rumble of excitement within. This is what I call the soul-stirrer or shit disturber moment; same coin different sides.
Your inner critic is going to have a field day and pounce on your every moment of joy. Its job is to be a buzz kill sucking every ounce of pleasure from the restored love of your inner creative life. It thrills itself on shaming you until you’re left trembling in the fetal position in the corner of a dirty floor. (Which it will then shame you into cleaning said corner.)
In a nutshell, it’s out to destroy every ounce of innovative hope inside. Don’t let it. Stop it in its tracks. Name your critic. Draw it out. Take a blank piece of paper (yes, the back of a Target receipt will do) and talk to your critic. Write to it. Draw it as a cartoon. Go abstract. Just get it out. Thank it for sharing and caring; as our self-critics are ultimately there to protect us even if it doesn’t seem it at the time. The minute you make it real, you now have the power back. And, that’s when you can get back to doing what you love.
Be honest with yourself. Start small and then go from there. Grab a small notebook and a favorite pen (because nothing beats a favorite pen) and keep it on you at all times.
Now that you’ve put your attention on it, you’ll glean moments of insight at the most inopportune times. The silver lining? You’re now prepared. The newfound friendship I have made with my car is one to write home about. I used to make a mad dash to any appointment barely on time. I’d be in my head; Email clients? Check. Dry cleaners? Check. Class snacks? Check. Dinner tonight? Shit.
Now, when I arrive early somewhere (that’s right – early), I will spend the time in my car creating dialogue or scenes or character backstory. Maybe it’s 5 minutes; maybe 10. These pockets of time strengthen and stoke my creative fire keeping it glowing and growing. You may even find that you secretly yearn for the “waiting” time. These are the moments that instead of checking out; you check in. Dentist’s waiting room? Coffee counter? Grocery line? They’re all game for sowing ideas.
If we give ourselves 15 – 30 minutes daily or weekly to do something just for us, then our kids and the world feel it. And they feel it on a deep vibrational level. We shine brighter than before. We’re more grounded in our bodies and vibrant in our space. We’re there. We re-find ourselves. Our kids see this. They bear witness to it. They respect it, and they become it. Together we shift the labels and roles that have been embedded in our society so that we can indeed create like a mother.