The amount of information and solidarity for caregivers with creative careers today blows my mind. When I had my sons in early 2000’s, there was nothing. I had just been downsized, found out I was pregnant, and the internet was really starting to gain traction by many as a way to promote their new businesses (there were so many people being downsized then). But there were few creatives in the beginning (many were still using the giant doorstopper annuals at $1500 a page), primarily male, and the creative women who were online were childless, and at least 5-10 years younger than me. After having my first child (those are my two guys, above, although the older one thought of the younger one as more of a pet), I had to navigate this vastness kind of, by myself. It’s like, you want to go on the cruise, but not be the only one on the ship, the ocean is big and lonely. Companies did not care that I was a WFHM (Work From Home Mom), I was getting paid so I had to power through spit up, and diapers and nursing and whatever. Because I was home, some of them felt I could be even more productive, after all, I didn’t have a commute, right? So for all those new moms out there, you’re all really pretty fortunate, there’s not only a lot of support and information for you, people are interested in what you have to say about work/life balance and how you feel. Having a career and raising a tiny, writhing creature are both full-time positions. If that career is creative, it’s even more challenging, because you can’t just pluck and idea out of the air when you need it. When you’ve had little sleep, a lot of stress, and guilt because you’re not playing with your baby every moment, or you had to use formula this one time and the mom from the playgroup just really didn’t need to be so snarky to you about it, that really will atrophy the creative process. And it’s very much a process. It’s not cause and effect, like other careers, there’s a lot of problem solving, experimenting, and mistake making. If there’s a disruption of any part of your process, you’ll be missing key steps to solve that problem. If there’s interuption of any part of your process on a regular basis, your body will automatically expect it, and that’s a very difficult thing to undo. Because part of it is what a mom does instinctively when taking care of her baby, you can’t ignore some of those interruptions, but it can make you confused and unable to complete creative things, especially when you’re on a schedule. I have many, many unfinished pieces.
Now, my sons are in middle school. I’m a Creative Parent Of Tweens/Teens. I wish I could tell you, it gets easier. Well, okay, it does, with some things, but, our kids growing up comes with its own problems as well. The parties you throw and attend, volunteering at school, field trips (I can skip work this one time). Oh, you need a ride to the pool, okay. And McDonalds? Oh, your friends aren’t going now. You want to meet at a park now? What time? You don’t know? What? Oh, so-and-so has a phone and you don’t and you’re only twelve? Yes, you will deal with this. The haves and have mores, and of course you’re reminded by your child that they never get anything good… Seriously… You never imagine arguing with your kid, oh, but you will. Adolescence. They’re going to push you to your limit. Even my husband, who is very even tempered and thinks things through, has yelled so loud that even I seemed soft-spoken, when dealing with one problem or another. Starting in about 5th grade, they need a ride here, or kids are coming into your house without you knowing they’re going to come into your house, and your dog is barking and going crazy, and you’ve just received an email that there’s missing homework, oh and here’s this fundraiser form thingie. And the band concert, and oh, I need a blue tie for that, and it’s actually tomorrow night not next week, and don’t forget the open house that’s that night, like right after your husband usually walks through the door, so you’re rearranging dinner even though you told your AD that you’d have those sketches done by 5:00, their time…
I guess what I’m trying to say to all you fantastic creative new moms (or WFHDs too), is that each stage of development will have its challenges, and when we have creative careers, we have to constantly find new strategies to achieve and accomplish goals. When we have kids, it’s what we sign on for, all the unknown things, the unexpected. The ball is always under a different cup and those cups are always moving around. I do have a few habits for CPOTs to help a little. They work for me, for now. For today…They may change tomorrow.
Calendar: We have three calendars in our house: A magnetic, week-by-week rotating, dry-erase calendar centrally located on our fridge, iCal, and a printout of the iCal in my studio. The rotating calendar always shows three months at a time. It starts on a Monday. So does our iCal. This is important because it’s how people live and arrange activities. The weekend is “two days together,” it’s much easier to keep track of things when your calendar is set up this way. Whatever digital calendar you use, be sure anyone with a phone in your house also uses this calendar and you’re all sync’d. I have a separate color for each person, even our dog. The colors are cohesive with the fridge calendar. No one can say they don’t know when my deadlines are. Everything goes on there, including when I’m planning website updates, or when I have things in the evenings. I also have Kidlitart on it, and a critique group, although the boys haven’t been cooperative so far since school started, but still, they know about it. Just know, they will likely argue with you for the hell of it.
School Calendar/Sites/Announcments: Get it, and then transfer everything to your calendar. Days off, half days, late starts, whatever. We put those in orange, and everyone pays attention. Also, if your school offers auto emails of morning announcements, or your school band has a site or whatever, get on all of those too. Your child will not remember to tell you stuff. I’m not saying you should plan everything for them and enable them not to remember. But, when they do come to you the day before, you’re already on it. Less stress, that’s the key. They don’t need to know you knew ahead of time. If they don’t come to you, then, it’s up to you whether or not you want them to suffer natural consequences, or do it for them.
Lists: I don’t need to tell you about lists, but you do need to explain them to your kids, and, they need to make them. Even if it’s something they’ve already done, get it on it and cross it off. Kids like to feel accomplished, but they also like to feel there’s a finality to the stuff they need to do so they can get to what they want to do. You can’t keep doing everything. When their chores are written down, then they have more control and know what is expected. Despite the fact they know everything, they actually can’t read our minds, and it will seem a lot less like we’re piling on if they can see things on paper. They will still argue with you.
Chores: Did I mention you can’t do everything? Yeah, they need to do them. Paid and unpaid. Our unpaid ones are just taking care of their corner of the planet, walking the dog, folding and putting away their clothes, taking out the garbage, family stuff. Paid work is bigger. We pay our older son for major yard work and snow removal. And not like, a dollar. We value his work, so we pay for that value. It does establish a work ethic, but you’ll still get an argument about it.
Menu: Please, make a menu. For the love, and your sanity, do it. A menu doesn’t mean fancy dinners every night, it just means that you’ll already know what you’re having each day, that makes things much less stressful. We make our menus Sunday morning. The Mr. gets doughnuts and coffee, and we all go over our “master dinner list” and we pick things from that for Monday-Sunday. We take into account deadlines, if there’s an after school thing, Book Fair, band concert, whatever. Then, we can make the shopping list, and it has saved us a ton of aggravation, money and time. My husband and 13yo usually go to Joe’s, and they split the list and it’s done in half the time. A master dinner list is nothing more than everything we like to eat for dinner…
Say No: This was one of my biggest obstacles as my kids were going through grade school and that left me really bitter. The internet makes us think that we should be “that” parent, the one who effortlessly can volunteer and do their job at the same time. You don’t and you can’t. You’re a working parent, and you don’t have time. Period. Send in a store-bought treat? Sure. Go in for an hour to help make copies? No problem. Plan a party and the games? Run this thing or that? No. Way. How are you going to recharge and be creative if you’re burning out? You’re giving your downtime away, and it’s worth more to you than to them, I promise you.
Get A Hobby: Yes, get one! Something that is NOT affiliated with what you get paid to do, that you can do in your downtime and not feel guilty. It’s not for anyone but you. I knit, I enjoy it and it’s really helping me avoid burnout. But you can cook, garden, macramé, Pinterest half an evening away…It’s your hobby, you don’t have to justify it, and think of the cash you’re saving not seeing a therapist.
Stay Off Of Facebook: I’ve been on FB I think, since 2009, have I learned nothing in six years? Six. Years. Of my life, pissed away on that site. I could have earned a Masters Degree in that time. Allot yourself a certain amount of time once a day or week and be done with it. It’s a time suck. And seriously, do you really feel invigorated and enthusiastic after you’ve gone through your feed? I wasn’t, so I stopped… I could have spent all that time outside…
Wait 24hrs To Respond to/Send an Email: This is super important. I’ve spent many years married to the idea that when something comes to me that I have to take care of it right then and there. All that serves to do is drive me crazy. First, when you start reading an email that may have some challenges within it, the frame of mind you’re now in can influence how you’re interpreting it (and I swear it changes the words too). If you’re angry or anxious as you read it, that will come through in your reply. If it’s to a client, you probably already know this, and avoid it, but, we get wacky when it comes to our kids and have a tendency to have a different set of rules. I realized this year, I could give myself permission not to reply to an email right away. Think on it. If you have to email, just forward what you received to your spouse, or, write how you feel in Text Edit, you can always copy and paste in an email later if you still want to. When I would email right away (or start a novel, because I would start an email and work on it throughout the day), I couldn’t create, couldn’t work, I was like, paralyzed. This year, I said I’d wait 24 hours before even looking at it a second time. No thinking about what I was going to say, nothing. 24 hours. It really saved my creative life, I sh*t you not.
Kids like to try things out, mess around, and see what will get a reaction. They’re kids. We’re the adults, we should be able to find middle ground so there’s harmony and no one is feeling piled upon. It took me a long time to realize that old quote, about doing the same thing expecting different results is the definition of crazy, is true. I was suffering, but I was bringing it upon myself. I had to look at my “working outside the home” friends, and do what they’re doing. The fact I’m doing my job within a building I own shouldn’t change anything but my commute and proximity. If there’s an emergency, that’s one thing, but if you wouldn’t call my husband because he’s “working,” then don’t call me either. I’m working too (yes, even when I’m at Starbucks, I’m recharging, and that counts).
Don’t let anyone (including your kids) tell you that you’re not doing enough. You’re doing plenty. But I just want you to know that it doesn’t get easier as children grow up, you’re always a parent now. But it’s not more difficult either, things just change a bit, and change is good. : )