Parenthood and creativity: Try this at home!

First of all, let me say this: all this hubbub about the pros and cons of attachment parenting seems misplaced to me. The working-outside-the-home mothers up in arms. The working-in-the-home mothers up in arms. The feminists up in arms. The attachment parents up in arms. The breastfeeding advocates up in arms. Whose arms are going to be left to rock all the fussy babies? In the words of Anne Lamott: Do we really have that kind of time? Is this the most pressing issue at hand? Can’t we just call parenting parenting, admire everyone who is trying to do it well, and leave it at that? I am reminded of an insight I had back in Jewish day school, when there was much made of whether or not one child or the other came from a kosher home. I remember thinking: Do you think the cattle cars are going to stop to ask? (Forgive the macabre here, but when you grow up as the child of a child of holocaust survivors, the holocaust is an acceptable metaphor in almost any discussion–would you like some tea with your Mengele reference?) Which is to say: Do you think that something as deeply evolutionarily conserved as mothering and growing up from infancy to adulthood is going to be thrown off the rails by the failure to use or overzealous use of a sling? No. Let’s focus on the big stuff (disparities in education, childhood obesity, environmental destruction) or at the very least, the useful stuff (how to worm compost in your kitchen and how to get out of credit card debt are current personal favorites).

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about a concept that came up in conversation recently, a concept that chewed it’s way right past “fear of peeing in public” (do your kegels, ladies) to the inner circle of my mental life. The concept was: Being a primary parent is incompatible with doing creative work. As the person currently doing the primary parenting (for three more weeks), my first thought was: I can still do creative work! And my second thought was: Do I still do creative work? (Note to self: Indignation and self-doubt are more related than you might think).

Creativity carries a double entendre in the life of a parent who is also a creative person. Having a child is considered by many to be a creative act and the creative process is often likened to a pregnancy. Now that I am a parent, I am skeptical of this metaphor. Is a child the same as a poem or painting? As the people who “make” babies, can we be credited with their creation? This does not feel true or right. My daughter is a separate person who I have welcomed into the world through the door of my body. We are going to be hanging out a lot and I’d like to help her discover herself, but she is not going to be a product of my intentions or dreams. Nor is it her responsibility to earn validation on my behalf. Before I became a parent, back when I thought there was something poetic about the idea that having a child is a creative act, I asked a friend if he felt that having a son satisfied his creative urges. “Parenting my son does not absolve me of the responsibility of writing.” In other words: You’re not getting off that easy!

I don’t know why, but becoming a parent has made creative work feel incredibly urgent. If I don’t dream and think and write to understand myself and the world, I fear that I will be lost to the day-by-day intensity of parenting. Having a baby feels like someone has hit the play button on the pause of young adulthood and I can now see the close parenthesis of death getting closer and closer in the distance. All of this urgency is curing a life-long case of perfectionism. Good enough is good enough these days. Good is good enough these days. Done is even good enough these days. Et voila: Sleep deprivation has a silver lining.

A smart older woman once told me “I used to be afraid of death. Now I am afraid of not fulfilling my potential.” Now I know what she means. Time is short! There is so much laundry to be done! Don’t forget to do the hard work of being yourself! Now that I have a daughter, the stakes are even higher, because I want her to have a mother who is happy and self-realized. In my case, writing is part of that.

So I’m trying to commit to being a creative person in the midst of parenting (and being a medical resident — I know what you’re thinking: This plan is fool-proof!). My partner — a fiercely productive creative person — always reminds me that being creatively productive is a matter of prioritizing, so I’m going to try to do that. Maybe dishes are left until tomorrow sometimes and a few paragraphs get written. Maybe a thank you note or two (or twelve — sorry friends and family! I love your gifts and am really grateful, just also really tired and covered in spit-up) languish for a while and a couple of photographs are taken. Over time, perhaps it will add up to something that can be shared and discussed and built upon.

If anyone would like to join me in a pact of parental creativity (like a work-out buddy, but more solitary and intermittent) — I’m game! We can make goals, and hold each other to them, and then be endlessly forgiving when things take longer than planned, and check in and inspire each other once in a while. Email me:

One thought on “Parenthood and creativity: Try this at home!

  1. Pingback: The shadow life | what begins with m

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