I will start by saying this to all the young women artists out there starting their careers: It is not easy to be an artist and a mom. Yes, it is hard to be a mom and be anything else, but the delicate dance of being a creative soul before you even experience motherhood is its own special challenge. Get ready to push your boundaries. (Something to remember: it is a good thing to push your boundaries when you are an artist.)
I recently had lunch with a good friend and fellow creative, the writer Cheryl Dumesnil. We talked about the particular struggle of pregnancy, birth, the day-to-day care of a child, and finding within that very full world a place to write, or paint, or sculpt, or dance. My takeaway from the conversation was that “going with the flow” takes on new meaning when you are an artist and a mom.
Creating again did not come easy in the beginning of my parenting journey- or even for years after my daughter was born. It was a near daily struggle. After days, weeks, months of not painting, I would start a painting or even a series of work, lose momentum easily, beat myself up, and then try to get back to the studio, again and again and again. I spent too much time on the losing momentum part and the beating myself up part, and it was only when my daughter was about 4 years old that I developed a strategy for creating and balancing parenting.
That I had trouble figuring all this out is no surprise to me: I had only one role model. At the start of my art career, and until I was a mother myself, I personally knew of one- yes, one– working female artist that had had children. All other women artists in my orbit either preferred to focus on their art and build their careers, or had given art up completely. There was no room for both in their minds, hearts and lives. Unlike the many male artists I knew, almost all of whom had children (and wives at home to raise them), the women artists I knew at the start of my career felt that the creative life precluded motherhood- that it would be undone by motherhood, subsumed under its weight- and some simply let that happen.
As I have gotten older, I have met and connected with numerous women artists with children, to the point where they are no longer unicorns. Though all struggle with balancing their responsibilities to their children and their art, they all have somehow made it work. Most took time off after having their kids, but all eventually got back into the studio. This is heartening: Your artistic life is not over just because you choose to have children!
But balance between art and motherhood is not the goal. There are times when family and home responsibilities take over, and art gets put on the back-burner for a time. There are times when you can focus on creating, without distractions. There are times when you will struggle to do both, if only for sanity’s sake.
Now I have a newborn son, in addition to my daughter. Art-making has become even harder. I have been slowly, over the past two months, easing myself back into the studio. It became a necessity after a certain point so that I can feel like myself again, and use my brain for something besides diaper changing and feeding. Some days are good. Some days are horrible. I muddle through, finding space for my work along the way.