By Sharon Tjaden-Glass
A few months ago, shortly after our son was born, I had an idea.
Actually, it was more like an evaluation of a previous idea that my husband and I had put on the back burner years ago.
For the first seven years of our marriage, we often had friends, co-workers, and fellow church members over to our house for dinners. My husband would cook and I would clean up afterward. At many of these meals, our guests would turn to my husband and say, “You should teach people how to cook.”
And once YouTube became popular, we started hearing, “You should start your own YouTube channel.”
Ha, ha, we usually responded. We’ve got enough to do.
And we did.
We earned our Master’s degrees. I wrote a (still unpublished) novel. We dove into our careers and engaged in research and presented at conferences. We got promotions (okay, that was just him—there are no promotions when you’re an educator.)
There were also vacations (Turkey, Finland, Maui) and cabin trips with friends (twice per year—because we could). And every Saturday morning, there was Saturday Morning Breakfast with about eight to ten friends—always hosted at our house (because we loved hosting).
And then we had a baby.
And Life Changed.
This is the point where I tell you that I haven’t been able to do anything for myself since our first child was born in 2013.
And definitely not now since I had a baby six months ago.
This was one of my worst fears about having children: that I would have to stop being creative because I would no longer have the time.
But the truth is that since my daughter was born in August 2013, I wrote and published a book and started a blog. I even made this video (A love letter to Felicity), a video montage of my daughter’s first year.
And although my son was born six months ago, I’m getting ready to publish a short collection of essays related to his birth and the early postpartum period. I’ve also been working on some academic collaborations (University of Dayton, ecommons) and publishing those materials.
Being creative while being a parent — and working full-time — seems a bit insane. I mean, honestly, we have enough to do.
But it’s not unheard of.
In fact, I think it’s more common than we like to acknowledge.
Perhaps creative parents are a bit self-conscious about our peers mistaking the time that we spend on creative projects as evidence that—by some magical turn of events—we have loads more free time than they do. For some reason, nothing feels worse than telling a fellow parent about your creative work and hearing their bubble-busting reply of, “Wow, I wish I had the time to do something like that. Must be nice.”
But I’ve seen the creative hunger alive in many new parents. In the last five years, many of my peers have had one, two, or sometimes three children. They’ve also started blogs, set up Etsy shops, and jumped into direct sales for any number of ventures (Lipsense, Scentsy, Lularoe, something called a “virtual makeup soiree?”). I’ve also known colleagues who have decided, yes, now is a good time to tackle that Master’s or Ph.D.
Busy life, be damned. They jump in.
Perhaps it’s the feeling that you have a message to share, a strong need to be heard in a time of relative isolation. Perhaps it’s the realization that staying at home with kids can turn your brain into oatmeal. Or perhaps, it’s the newly discovered strength that, hey, if we just went through that, what can’t we do?
Whatever it is, I’ve seen creativity in parents of young kids, time and time again.
However, this is the point when I acknowledge the truth of that bubble-busting parent’s reply of, “Wow, I wish I had the time to do something like that. Must be nice.”
I hate to admit it, but she has a point.
In order for parents to be creative, they have to have the time to do it. They need uninterrupted, child-free time to drop into the creative flow. And this is what I think keeps most new parents from engaging in creative endeavors: time away from their kids when they’re not working.
Those two taboo words for new parents: free time.
Childcare is expensive—sooo expensive. And if your creative endeavor doesn’t earn money, it’s extremely hard to rationalize spending money on daycare to pursue creativity—in the hopes that it will eventually reimburse you. Because most of the time, you will not make your money back. That’s the truth. Many of our creative endeavors are done simply for the joy of creating. And spending money on something simply for our own satisfaction or joy is often seen as a waste of money—or worse, a real sign that you are a negligent parent.
I mean, jeez. You’re a parent now. Take some responsibility and set aside that money for college, why don’t you? God. Don’t be frivolous. You’re an adult now. Grow up.
Those are the voices that we hear.
The message is clear: You should no longer care about yourself. You should only care about your child now.
But if you’re a creative person who is also the parent of a young child, I will share with you a truth about me: having some time to myself to be creative allows me to be a better mother. Even if it means paying for two kids to be in daycare. Even if it means that I don’t make the money back right away. (Or ever.)
Because I know that if I don’t have the time to let the creativity out, the creative musings in my mind don’t get quieter. They just become more and more persistent.
I wonder if I could write about X from that angle…
I could be doing X or Y right now.
They creep into all the moments when I want to be present with my kids.
And soon, I’m not really present with them anymore.
In a few weeks, we hope to release about three to four episodes on our YouTube cooking channel, Our Final Freezer. (View the trailer below.)
The topic of the first episode is How to Make Steel-Cut Oats, a breakfast favorite in our house for years and years. They’re cheap, easy to make, healthy, and very filling. Something with broad appeal.
Taking time to strike out into this creative endeavor has felt sooo good.
There is something deeply satisfying about the creative flow. If you’ve ever created something, anything, you’ve experienced this feeling of getting lost in your mind, losing track of time, this seamless thread of problem-solving, invention, and experimentation. Trying things out. Reviewing your work. I’m doing it right now as I create this. And to see a finished product at the end, something that wasn’t there before, but now exists.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that so many parents are also creative.
Perhaps, then, we are not so crazy to be doing this.
Perhaps then we’re just doing what feels natural right now.
Maybe that’s why this feels like the right thing to do right now.
Sharon Tjaden-Glass is part-artist and part-academic. She is the author of Becoming Mother: A Journey of Identity, and the forthcoming collection of essays, Why Your Middle Name is Jacob: A Story of Natural Childbirth, both available on Amazon. She loves any creative expression that allows her to use her storytelling abilities (blogs, videos, podcasts). She also teaches English as a second language at the University of Dayton.
Editor’s note: Just before I became a grandparent last year, I was looking for a gift for daughter-in-law Jamie when I stumbled upon a wonderful book and blog titled “Becoming Mother.” I bought the book and sent off a complimentary email to its author, Sharon. We became Facebook friends and since then Sharon has written two guest blogs for me, one about life in a swing state and another about the horror of discovering her baby’s due date was on Trump’s Inauguration Day. I have yet to meet her in person, but I’m delighted to introduce this overachiever to the VOA community.
Tomorrow: Lakshmi Jagannathan, Willow Tree Talk