In Praise of Creative Mothers
In many countries around the world, Mother’s Day is on May 12th, but here in France it’s a little later and this year it’s on May 26th. If you are, or have, a creative mother, this post is for you. I happen to belong to both categories so I speak from experience when I say that the combination of Motherhood and Creativity is truly a one-of-a-kind journey…
As a child and teenager, I remember seeing my mother at the kitchen table, absorbed in watercolors, traditional icons, clay, silk painting and probably many more creative endeavors I cannot remember. Sometimes she would share a technique or two, especially when I brought home a project from school, but I also remember catching glimpses of her personal creative journey: her enthusiasm for a new technique or an art teacher; her frustration over a cracked sculpture (or an art teacher); her perfectionism when the silk-paint went over a line of gutta and she could only see that little imperfection instead of enjoying the beauty of the whole piece; her serene expression as she mindfully added a layer of gold leaf to an icon (and explained to me that the disgusting smell in the kitchen was in fact rabbit-skin glue melting in a pot!)
I guess all of this has participated in shaping my own journey as an artist, and in better understanding the journeys of others, especially my students.
Something I have learned, growing up with a creative mother, is that the kitchen table can become a magical portal, even with tiny kids around (I’m the eldest of 5).
I started making art when my daughter was about to turn one, my son was three and a half, and I had basically been sleep-deprived for almost four years. My two little ones beautifully changed my world but adjusting to motherhood was no easy journey. Add to that yet another supposedly-creative-but-really-unrewarding job, and at some point frustration and exhaustion just broke my heart open.
This was a blessing in disguise because art rushed back through every little crack of my soul. I started creating time and space for it in my life in any way I could (mostly at my kitchen table!)
But growing up, I had bought into this idea that art could only ever be a hobby, not a career. My mom had heard the same story as she was growing up: this familiar, collective voice that comes from hundreds of generations and lives deep within our brains, which says that as a woman, and especially as a mother, you should never put yourself first. Be creative, sure, but don’t take it too seriously. A part of me rebelled against the idea in a totally non-creative way: by completely stopping any art-making for over a decade! But the moment I finally took up a paintbrush, I realized it was a life calling and I had to commit to it no matter what. I guess it was all or nothing!
Today, my beautifully creative kids are older, 9 and 12, and I can see how they observe me as I navigate my artist-mother life in the best way that I can: imperfect and messy, chaotic and full of not-good-enoughness, but thankfully with sparkling moments of joy and a good dose of love. There is frustration whenever my creative time gets interrupted by demands and arguments, and frustration again when I realize I just can’t get back into the flow afterwards. There’s “bad-mother-guilt” whenever I try to protect my creative time and space, guilt again when I fail at it and it makes me grumpy, and more guilt when I blame myself for not sharing more creative time with them. But I’m also aware that guilt is part of the deal, so I try not to pay too much attention to it, and keep going.
A fierce part of me wants to show them how vital it is to stand up for your true life-purpose, even if it means not pleasing someone you love. But quieting that age-old little voice of the inner critic can be a daily challenge. Thankfully, I’m beyond lucky to have the best secret weapon in the world: a wonderfully supportive husband who makes sure I get my creative work done!
So what I want to say here, really, is that if you are a creative mother, you are not alone. I see you and I honor you for just being who you are and doing what you can, right here, right now. Take a moment to see yourself, see the beauty of everything you create and honor yourself for it. Above all, keep creating. Your kids will thank you for it.
And if you are the lucky child of a creative mother: see her, see the beauty of everything she creates and has created. Honor her for being who she is and doing what she could while you were growing up. And thank her for it. I sure thank mine:
Mother’s Day Celebration!
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