After one of our family home evening and weekly planning sessions, I gave the kids a dramatic reading of my story in progress.
What I lack in writing prowess, I make up for in theatrical delivery. The kids were on the edge of their seats.
Before having kids, I worried about the tug between my creative endeavors and being a mother. After all, my favorite female writers, the Jane Austens and Willa Cathers and Bronte sisters of the world, led famously childless lives. While things have certainly advanced since the Victorian era, there is a still the tug between creativity and mothering. Even as a teenager, I had the habit of flipping to the author's bio of each book I read, just to see how many children she had.
An article in The Atlantic, "How Motherhood Affects Creativity," quotes writer Alice Walker as saying that to be a good artist, you can really only have one child. "With more than one, you're a sitting duck," Walker said.
Julia Cameron, in her book "The Artist's Way," goes on to say that most artists have "too many children." It distracts them from their work. It's a way of making excuses for not following through on creative pursuits.
And yet, a study of mother rats shows that when given offspring, her brain reprograms itself with a heightened sensory system, according to The Atlantic article. "Science shows us that rat moms are inventive, dauntless, resourceful — essential ingredients for creativity," writes Erika Hayasaki.
Motherhood may indeed be a blossoming of creativity. A good mother uses creativity at every turn. She must be able to withstand criticism. She must have perseverance, especially when trying to outwit a stubborn toddler. She has to have excellent time-management skills.
Then there are the gifts a child brings. Children open our eyes to the world around us. Just recently, my 8-year-old and I went for a walk. We examined acorns along the sidewalk. We crunched them under the heels of our shoes. We smelled the ground-up bits and wondered if they were edible. We talked about the function of acorns in feeding the neighborhood squirrels.
Children make us slow down and look. They are without filter and reserve. They remind us what creative looks like. I get my best ideas from the things my kids say, from watching their minds spin and whir.
The challenge, of course, isn't the lack of flowing creativity. It's finding the time — making the time — to create. Creativity doesn't thrive with a packed schedule. It often takes quiet, solitude and white space. It needs air to breathe.
Furthermore, it's not always lucrative. As mothers, it can be hard to justify the time put toward a creative work when the hourly rate comes down to pennies.
And yet, the mother creative is often a better mother if given the time to create. The artist Minerva Teichert, while raising a brood of children and managing a dairy, said, "I must paint. It's a disease." She kept a large work-in-progress hanging in her parlor, according to an article by Peter Gardner in BYU magazine. She would add brush strokes between chores and after the children had gone to bed, sometimes adjusting the clocks just to get them to sleep earlier.
I read years ago about another mother, an award-winning playwright, who began to write poems while waiting in the pickup line at school. "It was the only thing to do once the glove compartment was clean," she said.
Even if you don't own a dairy or a clean glove compartment, a mother creative needs two things to thrive. One, she needs the support of family, a way to make it work so she can have creative headspace. It should involve the understanding that the gains might not be monetary.
Second, mothers need quiet time. Cameron says in "The Artist's Way" (which I love, despite her statement about having too many kids) that creatives need to take a weekly artist date, just by themselves. It can't be to the grocery store either. It needs to be something nurturing: a walk in nature, a visit to an art gallery or a solo trip to a concert.
This isn't about having it all. It's about exploring all facets of ourselves, not just those that involve diapers and dishwashers.
Of course, having children is not a requirement for a creative life. But those who do have children need not lock their creative ambition in a box, or worry that creativity died with the arrival of motherhood. It may have changed form but that doesn't make the colors any less vibrant.