Contemplations on being a mother and an artist

This is supposedly a blog about “living creatively”, but it’s mostly been about surviving pregnancy and the early days of motherhood. Now that Little Man is five months old, we’re getting a bit more sleep and I’m creeping back into the creative swing of things with a couple of mural gigs (which I’ll post about later).  I feel like I’m coming back to life, but it’s a strange new one where time and space for myself are extremely limited. I had a hard time balancing my desire to create with marriage, a social life, and work that pays the bills before I had a baby, but now it seems like a nearly impossible challenge to carve out some “me time”. On the one hand, I want to be there for my son as much as possible. I don’t want to miss a thing and I want him to know I’m there for him. On the other hand, I hope to teach him that the best thing he can do in this life is find what he loves and pursue it with passion, and what kind of example will I be if I’m too busy/tired/afraid to pursue my own dreams?

The majority of famous women artists and writers I can think of (which are, sadly, not many to begin with), did not have children. It seems they had to make a choice between their career and kids, and career won out. I could go on and on about sexism in the arts and how men don’t have to make that choice and blah blah blah, but it’s been done (the Guerrilla Girls do a good job of it) and I’m not out to get famous in the art world anyway. All I want is a fulfilling creative life and a healthy loving relationship with my family. Can it be done? Are they mutually exclusive?

I’ll be thinking and writing more about this topic in coming posts. I’d love to hear more about how you do it if you are an artist and a mama.

In the meantime, here are beautiful excerpts from an essay on this issue which gives me hope. It’s called “The Divided Heart” and is by Ruth Whitman, a poet and professor (one I had never heard of before reading her essay in a collection of women’s art and writing called In Her Own Image: Women Working in the Arts).

“Writing for me was and is an assertion of my identity. I never feel so much myself, with a great sense of relief and release, as when I stop somewhere in the midst of my daily chaos with pencil and paper.”

[On becoming a mother] “I was afraid to lose my independence, my person-ness. But the whole experience of pregnancy, which I found marvelously mind-expanding as well as body-expanding, followed by the experience of viewing this beautiful piece of life for which I was responsible, gave me a passion for motherhood.”

“Perfection of life or perfection of work? Which would you rather strive for? My answer had to be – both. I began to see that life was not static. It changed continually. And one could guide the change: children could be educated to see the equality of needs and responsibilities; I could become less rigid in my view of my needs…”

“I don’t mean to imply for a moment that there were not tremendous pain and division in my heart. I didn’t want to miss companionship with my children…on the other hand, I felt resentful at having to delay my own creative development…my third child was born before my first book came out. But by that time I was beginning to understand that my libido was strong enough to make both books and babies and that in fact one strengthened the other. Both together were the real total of my life. Spiritually, so long as I insisted on my right to a private life, there was no real division. The division was in the distribution of time.”

“More and more I see the parental function – not authoritative, but educative – as the responsibility of every human being who has found out anything by living. If civilization means anything, it lies in becoming part of the great chain of learning from those who have gone before us, and of teaching those who come after us.”

“A private creative person lives inside each of us. It is one’s basic identity, with all the symbols, images, and language that each of us has stored up since childhood. It is in these universal terms that the poet and parent begin to come together, that the conflict begins to subside and the divided heart becomes whole.”


5 thoughts on “Contemplations on being a mother and an artist

  1. This is a very weird coincidence, as I had a book published on this same theme last year, also with the same title: The Divided Heart. Ruth Whitman’s book sounds inspiring. I will have to track it down.

    1. Just checked out your great website, Rachel. That IS a weird coincidence, and I can’t wait to read your book. Nice to know others are out there trying to answer the same questions – and that there are as many different answers as there are artists and mothers.

  2. Oh thank you for posting this! I know this was some time ago that you wrote this, but this is my huge dilemma. So much so I googled “being a mother and an artist”. You were number three in the results! I did it about a year ago and didn’t find much. Now there’s more results, fewf!! I also love what you shared by Ruth Whitman.

    Not a lot of folks get it. We love them, we had an overwhelming urge to make them, but we’re also bursting with this need to continue to create. It’s very exciting. But tough to mix!! The thing with art is during the creative process it tends, at least for me, to be rather singular. It’s just you and your work. And little ones need so much, of course, they’re so new to the world. I had promised myself when I was pregnant that this wouldn’t be an issue for me. Motherhood was creation at its highest, most perfect point (as Dr. Tom wrote). Hmm… easier said than done. So thanks, I’m not alone! I will keep trying to do my best in both worlds.

    1. I’m glad this resonated with you and I wish you the best of luck with finding a balance between creation and caretaking. I think it gets easier as kids get older. If you need more inspiration, check out the documentary “Who Does She Think She Is?“. It’s really exciting to see women living the lives of their dreams and at the same time raising kids who understand and respect their art.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s