I was in San Francisco for an event with Decorist last week and was chatting with a few women about being working mamas. One woman said something that resonated so much with me that I jotted it down in my notes so that I could elaborate on the topic here. She said that one of the things she finds most difficult about being a working mom in a creative field is that the creative energy that it takes to do her work and the energy it takes to hang with her kids feels like it’s tapped from the same source.
When she said this a light bulb went off for me. I work in studio five days a week. My hours are usually 8AM until around 6PM and everyday I’m bobbing and weaving between any number of creative endeavors: painting patterns, designing furniture or rooms, writing blog posts or presentations, working on books, styling vignettes, designing marketing collateral, concepting campaigns, etc. Since Jason is a stay-at-home-dad and cares for her all day long, by the time I get home he usually needs a break, and since my studio is just a couple of blocks from my house I get home almost immediately once the work day is done. Once home I spend the next two hours hanging with Ida before she goes to bed, usually around 8PM.
Ida, who just turned four, is in this serious stage of imaginary play. One minute she’s a veterinarian caring for her pet cheetah, then she’s Maria from The Sound of Music, then she’s a ballerina, or a kitty, or a dinosaur etc. etc. When she is in these roles, she assigns roles for me to play as well. If she’s the doctor, I’m the nurse. If she’s a ballerina, I’m her ballerina student, if she’s Maria, then I’m Mother Superior and so on. If I break character, I get an earful. And while on the weekends I can hang, have a blast, and can usually stay in character for a good amount of time, when I get home from work, my brain hurts. I can read her books, sit there while she takes a bath, or even make dinner (although Jason usually does that) but when it comes to games that require that I keep up with her creativity and imagination, I find myself feeling super tapped out.
As you can imagine I feel guilty about this quite often. As it is most days I don’t see her for the bulk of the day, and then I’m so spent creatively from my work that I don’t feel like I’ve spared any of my creative energy for her. While I know she has plenty of other caregivers in her life that engage with her creatively (her dad, grandparents, nursery school teachers…) I feel bad that it often feels like I’m ‘giving’ most of my creative energy to my work instead of to her.
It could just be that I’m tired when I get home (tapped out all together), and not that I have a certain quota of creativity that is running on empty, but I do wonder…Maybe if I spent the last couple of hours while at work doing admin stuff or other tasks that don’t require as much of my creativity if I’d feel like less of a zombie when I get home?
I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic and am pretty used to giving my all when it comes to my career — but now that I’m a parent I do feel like I need to keep some reserves of creativity, of that time of discovery and exploration that I’m used to dedicating to work, for Ida.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m sure this is not just as issue for parents working in creative fields, or for parent-entrepreneurs either. We are all spread pretty thin these days I think. I see it in the faces of other parents. I also only have one kid — I can’t imagine how those of you with more children are able to keep up with their wild creativity and imaginations?!? How are you all managing? Do you have any tactics or ideas for how to manage and distribute your creativity between work and family?
Photo by me of Ida and her wild imagination at the Moorten Botanical Gardens.