Tapping into your creative instinct is just as important for parents as for children. Here’s 10 ways to find the time.
When Rachael and Ben Young had a baby, they soon found that there was no time for their personal creative and artistic interests. “Free time is the most important thing for my own creativity,” says Rachael, an ex-pat Vancouverite living in Sweden. “Now free time is found in tiny snatches of breath that never seem to last long enough.”
Many parents find countless ways to nurture their kids’ creativity, but struggle to find time for their own creative projects and interests. Whether it’s writing a novel, scrapbooking, making a quilt or painting, it can be hard to juggle your “creative health” with the demands of kids and responsibilities.
But finding – or rather making – this time is crucial to our and our family’s wellbeing, according to Toronto artist and art therapist Temmi Ungerman Sears. “As parents we become really busy and even pride ourselves on being so busy, but we really have to slow down. Creativity helps us do that. It balances us, grounds us in the moment, and gives our adult selves meaning and purpose. It’s an antidote to stress. Increased levels of creativity are linked to decreased levels of stress.
“When we are taking care of ourselves, it’s not a selfish act. It’s going to have a ripple effect on everything and everybody else.” Ben, a musician and mathematician, also sees the ripple effect of his creative life on other parts of his life: “I am happiest when being creative. If I’m not being creative, then I typically do poorly at other things, like being a positive person with my family or doing well at work.”
Amin Bhatia, a Toronto composer and father of two, agrees. “If I find time for my creativity, everything else falls into place. If the music isn’t going well, everything else suffers.”
Cori Howard, who helps mothers all over the world write about their experiences through The Momoir Project, says, “Having that creative outlet is so vital. It’s an investment in yourself. When I’m not writing, it’s not that I’m unhappy exactly. It just feels like there’s something missing. When I’m writing, I feel very fulfilled
and content.” (ParentsCanada teamed up with Cori and The Momoir Project to sponsor a short story writing contest. Read the winning entry on page 24.)
So, how can you make the time for your favourite creative pursuit amid the chaos of everyday life? Try these ideas:
1. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION
You may feel that you can’t justify spending time on a project devoted to you when there’s so much else to do. But giving yourself what you need will help you be a better parent. (Remember the oxygen masks that fall down in the airplane? You can’t help others until you first take care of yourself!) And, you’re role modelling self-care and creativity to your kids at the same time. If you don’t give yourself permission, you’ll never find the time. “A happy parent leads to happy kids,” says Temmi.
2. MAKE USE OF SMALL “POCKETS OF TIME”
Temmi says, “I love to paint for eight hours at a time, but that’s not very realistic. I have to aim a bit lower.” It’s often easier to find small pockets of time than it is to clear your schedule for an entire day. Conducting a “time audit” can be a useful way of carving out time for yourself in an otherwise busy day.
Write down everything you do in a day, from first thing in the morning until late at night. Go through each activity you write down, and ask yourself two questions: “Is this necessary?” and “Could I have achieved something if I had worked on my project instead?”
You’re looking for small pockets of time – 10 minutes here, an hour there. You might be surprised how much time you can find, and these small sessions do add up. Cori says, “Everyone can find 10 minutes a day. It’s just a matter of finding when that time is.”
3. DON’T WAIT TO BE INSPIRED
You want to finish your son’s quilt – he’s turning 10 next week and you’ve been meaning to do it since he was born. But what with the school play and the clogged sink and your new boss, you’re just not inspired.
You know the spiel. “I’m not in the mood today” is all you have to say and, magically, you’re off the hook. Until inspiration strikes, you can’t possibly be creative. Luckily, you’d be surprised how often you’ll discover that if you start, you’ll find yourself “in the mood” after all. As Amin advises, “Just begin and the inspiration will find you.”
4. MAKE IT MANAGEABLE
The American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein said that in order to achieve greatness, you need two things: 1) A plan 2) Not quite enough time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you’re tackling a huge project and only have half an hour to do it. How can you possibly make any progress with so little time? Having a plan helps you to take advantage of whatever time you have.
Amin’s tip? “If you’re planning to work on a giant project, break it down into chapters, segments, pieces, chunks and give yourself mini-deadlines.”
5. KEEP IT CLOSE
Try to keep your project ticking in your mind even when you’re not working on it. For example, find a way to record your ideas as they come to you, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.
Cori tells the story of a woman who wrote a 300-word story on her cell phone while walking to work. Amin says, “Ideas are spilling all the time. I sing an idea into my voicemail. Then, when I have ‘time for creativity’, I do the organizing, the editing, the revising.”
6. MAKE IT A HABIT
Even when you have
the time, it may sometimes seem impossible to find the energy and
headspace to start your creative projects. But most of us are creatures
of habit, and you can use that to your advantage by creating the same
conditions whenever you are working on a project.
might be working in the same place, using the same notebook, lighting
the same candle, or playing the same music. If you create
these conditions every time, and only when you create (no shopping lists
in your sketch book!), you’ll be amazed how quickly your mind
will respond. It will only take a few minutes to pick up where you left
off. “Creativity is a habit we can all learn. Everything you need to be
creative is already inside of you,” says Temmi.
7. WHEN YOU’VE GOT TIME, USE IT
have three hours of glorious, uninterrupted time for your
creative work. And you’ll take full advantage of it … just after you do
the dishes, check your friends’ blogs, phone the bank and clean up
the dog food. Sound familiar? Don’t let yourself sabotage the time
you have. Those seemingly innocent jobs could take hours. If it’s
creative time, it’s creative time. Disconnect from the Internet, turn
off your cell phone if you can and forget about your lists. If you have
to take yourself out of the house to avoid the distractions, do so.
out a place that’s yours. While you’re there, give it your all. Then
come home and give 100 percent to your kids, knowing you’ve done good
work,” Amin says.
8. HAVE FUN!
your creative work becomes too serious, you’ll probably find reasons to
avoid it. As Rachael says, “In a life where so much needs to be done,
it’s easy to forget that playing is important to being creative. Without
it, it all gets a lot harder.”
9. MAKE IT NON-NEGOTIABLE
your baby’s diaper needs changing, you just do it. When there’s orange
juice all over the floor, you insist that it’s cleaned up before the
Monopoly game can start. And you don’t do the laundry only when you’re
in the mood (imagine the stench if you did!).
Make your creative time just as non-negotiable. Your family will adjust remarkably
especially if they can see that it puts you in a good mood. “It’s just a
matter of deciding what you want to do and that you want to do it badly
10. IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, TRY, TRY AGAIN
will be days when, despite your best efforts, you can’t find the
focus and energy for your creativity. There will be days when your kids
leave you drained, and creative work is impossible. There will be days
when there is just too much housework piled up that can’t be
ignored. The trick is to make those days the exception, not the rule. If
creativity is part of your daily life, rather than a special treat, an
occasional day is manageable.
As Rachael says,
“Don’t give up. Things will keep changing. We just need to remember
who we are, and hang onto that.” It’s not always easy to make the time
to nurture your own creativity, but it is possible. As Elain Evans, a
Vancouver mother of both a teenager and a toddler, says,
“Parenthood breeds efficiency.” In fact, once you get the hang of it,
you’ll wonder how you ever got anything done back in the days when you
had all the time in the world.
Anna Lidstone is
an award-winning writer and workshop presenter in Vancouver, as well
as the proud parent of a toddler. For more thoughts about tapping into
your creativity, visit her blog at annalidstone.com.