Friday, January 18, 2008

Creative Parenting

Pretty Lady has received this query from Magpie Girl:

Do you have any advice for the mother-artists in the world? Is it at all possible to have three jobs: parent, artist, and civil servant for instance? Any or all PL readers with serious, proven tell!
Pretty Lady, first, invites her readers to make substantial contributions to this subject, particularly Boysmom and Chris, and any of you other, actual creative parents out there. Not being, yet, an actual parent, Pretty Lady approaches this subject with unaccustomed humility.

Her humility does not extend so far, however, as to prevent her from making an observation or two.

For Pretty Lady has traveled far, and known a lot of very interesting people. Some of these have been parents; some single parents, some bohemian parents, and some have been single bohemian parents who were very singular indeed.

And her central observation is this: Children who have one stay-at-home parent, particularly a stay-at-home parent with a healthy sense of creativity, ingenuity, and wonder at the myriad miracles life has to offer, tend to become extraordinary human beings. Children who don't--well, some of them do just fine, she guesses.

Case in point: when Pretty Lady met the three adolescent offspring of her French boyfriend's uncle, she expected them to be Horrible. She did not attach any special animus to this expectation; it is, simply, normal for astonishingly good-looking and preternaturally bright adolescents to go through an extended phase of believing that they are The Cheese, and everyone else is nada. So she philosophically braced herself.

Imagine her surprise, then, when these three stunning teens demonstrated themselves to be real, honest-to-goodness Sterling People. Not content with being merely polite, they actually liked non-teenagers, and treated them as equals. They demonstrated open affections, humanitarian initiative, and playful creativity. They passed from blithe childhood to responsible, lively adulthood with seemingly no Awkward Phases at all. The evenings spent in their household were some of the most memorably Dickensian of Pretty Lady's life.

This household, by the way, consisted of a stay-at-home Daddy who spent his time building the house by hand--including splendid inventions like a combination stone fireplace/spiral staircase, and boys' loft bedrooms fitted out like a sailing ship--inventing and playing fanciful musical instruments, and managing local bands from home. Mommy was the village doctor. She was exceedingly popular, if a bit over-worked.

Then there was the twelve-year-old Canadian girl that Pretty Lady tutored briefly in Mexico. Her mother was not only single and insolvent, but borderline--well, Pretty Lady has sworn off gossip. The daughter was The Stuff. Pretty Lady considered kidnapping her, so wondrously balanced, charming, and free from guile was this child. She had been knocking blithely about the world with her erratic parent since birth; what she lacked in formal education she made up for in enthusiastic Worldly Experience. There were some rocky days when she turned fourteen, but the last word is that she's in college now, and doing fine.

However, the single mother who parked her three-year-old, sometimes for days at a time, with the maid and her family while working an uninspiring university job was obviously well on her way to raising a self-destructive, rage-filled delinquent. It did not help that the maid's son was a child molester.

This brings us to Pretty Lady's only semi-informed and anecdotal, but nevertheless strong opinion: Working a civil service job, parking your child in day care, and spending your evenings in the studio is the worst possible thing you could do. It communicates to your child that absolutely everything in the world is more important to you than his or her company. This strikes Pretty Lady as a veritable recipe for spawning a homicidal maniac, or at the very least a hopeless drug addict. Do anything else before you do that.

Instead, if at all possible, figure out a way to work from home, and engage your child in some creative way. You might form a home-schooling co-op. You might expatriate to a cheaper country, and teach World History, Geography, Economics and foreign languages on location. If you have a supportive, employed spouse, engage your creativity in living thriftily on a single salary.

Also, it is Pretty Lady's observation that children who interact regularly with a sizable number of different, creative adults, provided those adults are not child-molesters, tend to become more balanced and self-confident than those who are overly sheltered. Experience of a diverse community allows the child to 1) observe that all adults are different, and that's perfectly fine, which is not necessarily obvious to the cosseted mama's infant; and 2) find an adult or two with whom there is a temperamental resonance. It is infinitely comforting, particularly to the developing adolescent mind, to feel that one is not the only alien freak of one's kind.

Pretty Lady now opens the floor for suggestions.


Anonymous said...

If you're like me, then, well sometimes as terrible as it sounds you have to put some of your dreams, and things you would like to do, on hold at times, because your children are more important, and through it all if you are like me, the torture inside, and unexplainable need to create, in one form or another, will not go away, so relax, and take care of what needs to be taken care of, and search for a govt job, those have good benefits and usually pay a living wage, Personally, I'm searching for my next "good job" the construction bizness is, well, although good, too sporadic, and my last govt. job, became all too consuming with no time for family, self, or anything except he "mission", so I wouldn't suggest military, LOL
I hope this helps, but I doubt that it does. Godspeed.

Anonymous said...

Pretty Lady,
I agree with your assessment on creativity and kids. I have great kids.

Anonymous said...

I am a stay-at-home dad (I put housewife on my tax returns) and although not noticeably artistic I do have a couple of success stories - my two girls. The older one is showing signs of artistry, which we encourage. She plays the violin and loves the opera. We acquired a 100 year old German violin on Freecycle for her to play and encourage (require) her to practice. She and her mother go to age appropriate operas each year. She gets dressed up in a fancy evening dress and takes her antique opera glasses (ebay) and has a wonderful night out, even if she sometimes falls asleep during the third act.

The younger girl enjoys cooking with me. She has her own apron and toque and very own knife (Walmart) that fits her hand and is small enough for her to use safely. When she was four she made a dessert with minimal help from me that was a big hit at the choir Christmas party. She can cut meat and vegetables quite well and uses better knife safety than most adults.

I guess that my advice is to set aside special time for each child, but also set aside time for yourself and your spouse. Your children, if of school age, need to learn to not rely on you for amusement.


P.S. A six-year old is perfectly capable of loading and unloading washers and dryers and cleaning bathrooms. If they are approached correctly they will fight over who gets to clean the toilets and sinks.

Anonymous said...

Rereading my post, I realise that I didn't make one of my points clear, that is, it doesn't have to cost a great deal of money to encourage your child's talent. The violin was free with just the cost of repairs, the child size knife was $8 and the time to sharpen it enough to make it useable. The opera tickets are relatively expensive, but the dress was from a secondhand store, and the opera glasses were cheap.

It takes thought and effort rather than money to encourage talent.


Doom said...

Shouldn't speak, but PL has broken the limitations a bit. Look and see what it is you want as a mum, as a professional, and as an artist, individually. Ask yourself if you can honestly achieve this, in each field alone? Now, add the fields together. Are you able, now to fulfill your reasonable goals?

Fair, maybe not. What, then, are you willing to sacrifice in any one, two, or all three fields to justify your diversity? That is your question to answer, not mine. Love you anyway. Good luck.

Oh, PL, I did the the digg thing. I will probably be putting digg points in, now that someone will honestly and devotedly hate me for them. *laughs* (carefully, sincerely) Thanks, ttfn.

Anonymous said...

Oh that was astute and well done, Pretty Lady. Especially the part about conveying to children that they are at least as important as whatever interest you happen to be pursuing at the moment. If you haven't the willpower to set aside your own interests in favor of your offspring on a regular basis, then having them in the first place is probably a bad idea.

I would only add that consistent and timely discipline is a very close second to that requirement. Teaching children that their actions always have consequences is of paramount importance. To a child, a lack of discipline is identical to a lack of attention. To a parent, it is one of the most difficult types of deferred compensation around, but take my word for it, you will be compensated for it. My three grown children show their appreciation on a regular basis for having been raised in an atmosphere that allowed them the freedom to be creative and thoughtful, but that was wrapped in boundaries of order and discipline.

BoysMom said...

Some thoughts.
Priorities: the kids are little once, the symphony will still be there in 20 years, but the kids will be in college and on their own by then. We can have it all, but we can never have it all at once. There are only 24 hours in a day.
Support: a supportive spouse is worth his weight in gold. Failing that, a supportive grandparent or (third choice) a really excellent babysitter. Someone who can be relied on to take care of a child who came down with stumach flu the day of the gig and whom the child loves. Better yet, all of the above.
Sleep: small children sleep an awful lot. Like 12+ hours a day. My older boys (5 and almost 4) don't need naps but the rule is that after lunch they have to sit down with a book for an hour. The bonus on this is that you get kids who read. Anyway, unless you need 12 hours of sleep a day, you get some time when the kids are asleep.
Take them with you: the kids love to hear me practice. Baby (15 months) wants to sit with his hand on the 'cello. So long as he doesn't grab my bow I'm fine with that. I know he does it so his hands are washed before the 'cello comes out. The downside of this is that you end up getting begged until you give in and buy such a pricey and tempermental creature as an 8th size 'cello, knowing full well that this is just the begining.
In Magpie's specific case, it sounds like she must earn a certain amount of income. Can this be done by teaching classes/lessons? The advantage of this is that during that five minute transition between students/classes, you can do some of your necessary practice for a musician. (Maybe a sketch?) Plus, often your advanced students will be doing things you need to do anyway, like 3 octave scales, so you save on practice time there as well. (I'm afraid I can't translate this well to other mediums, since I don't understand the practical work of them very well.) If you are a craft-type artist, you may be able to make money not only off of teaching lessons but also off of selling your wares, either online or at a farmer's market or both. Your income will rather more irregular if you're a painter, I believe, than if you're a woodcarver or a spinner (Pretty Lady, I'm sure, could tell us that).
If this won't provide enough, then I've often thought that the best job for a parent who isn't homeschooling is as a teacher: you don't get the time with your own kid, but you do get the same vacations, etc. Note, other school employees DO NOT get the vacations. A lot of us artistic types are just a year short of a teaching degree anyway in our fields, check with a local college/universty. The downsides are that the politics are cutthroat, the paperwork is horrendous, many children are undisciplined with parents who do not particularly care that their child acts up in class, and most of us atistic types are not particularly well cut out to deal with any of these, though we're better at the politics than the other two.
If the barrier to you staying home (assuming that's what you want and knowing you'd have more time towards art) is the two vs. one income barrier, you probably need to take a very careful look at the math on your income. Daycare, especially good daycare, can be expensive. Frequently we artsy types don't need a second car: most gigs don't fall during my husband's work hours, and from reading Pretty Lady it sounds as if most openings are not in the 8-5 M-F slot. Other things to consider are the costs of work attire, eating out, and even purchased convenience foods. (A lot of food does not take particularly lots of time to prepare, but rather takes lots of time cooking in the pot or oven. Timers, smoke alarms, and fire extinguishers HIGHLY recommended! Also cast iron cookware: I have not yet managed to burn the bottem out of any.) Your spouse may be able to eat at his desk if you pack his lunch instead of eating out, maybe three or four times a week depending on his job and workplace's customs. (If he doesn't pack his own now, he probably won't change. People are like that.) You may need to only bring in a few hundred a month after cutting out every cuttable expense to come out even.
Kids, at least at the ages of mine, think helping is awesome. My almost 4 can stir a hot pot (supervised but not aided). My 5 year old can grate cheese. Both can load the dishwasher or tear salad greens with a fairly loose definition of bite sized, and if I'm not picky, the elder can sweep fairly well. He can also wash dishes by hand, but they do have to be inspected after, else we eat soap. (There's something about soap bubbles . . .) They put their own clothes away and can fold some things, but I grant that I am pickier about folding than sweeping. I will have straight creases. If you are more tolerant, they can do more.
One of my big failings, and I have observed it in other musicians frequently, is lack of organization. I probably loose an hour a day to this, if I add up all the little 'now where did I put it?'s that cost five or ten minutes. I'm working on it.
Oh, one more note: adequete education for a five year old can be accomplished in less than an hour of focused sit-down time. Homeschoolers are accused of being unsocialized: this depends on the parents and on the definition of socialized. Most homeschoolers do not have the time of day for the tv set, but the majority of non-homeschooled children's conversations revolves around what they have watched on tv. It is very hard to have conversations when there is no common ground. (My 5 yo wants to talk about Gilgamesh, the other 5 yo wants to talk about Vegietales. Neither knows the first thing about the other's topic.) Most homeschooled children socialize very well indeed with adults. For whatever reason, 'What about socialization?' is the inevitable second question homeschoolers are asked, after the traditional 'Is it legal?'.
I hope this gives some ideas. Let me know if I was unclear anywhere.

Pretty Lady said...

Wow, Boysmom! Riches beyond my wildest dreams! Thank you!

Chris Rywalt said...

I can't give anyone advice. I have no idea what I should be doing, and I don't think I'm doing what I am doing very well. Last night my wife made it pretty clear to me that most of the things wrong with my children are my fault.

If I'd known eleven years ago what kind of problems I'd be dealing with today, I would never have had children who could inherit my defects.

BoysMom said...

You're welcome, Pretty Lady. I just hope there is something helpful to Magpie in there.

BoysMom said...

What happened, Chris, kids experiment with flushing rolls of toilet paper down the toilet? Oh, wait, eleven, more likely smoking or something? Seeing how far they can push Mom before she snaps? (I remember doing that. Bet it made my dad's life harder.)

Doubt very much it's all your fault. Probably not even half. The kid gets at least some blame, at eleven. So do all the other people said kid associates with, like grandmas. Hormones are involved, too.

This too shall pass: only seven more years until college.

I suspect you're doing okay. Not perfect, none of us are perfect, but okay.

Chris Rywalt said...

I was thinking that everyone, all the time, by definition, does their best. Because there's only this moment right now -- no past, no future. And whatever you're doing right at this moment, taking into account everything -- laziness, how you feel, the weather, brain chemistry, sensory input, your desicion-making process, everything -- taking all that into account, whatever you're doing, that's your best. Saying someone isn't doing their best posits a fictional universe in which the past can be recreated so something different occurs. But that moment is past -- passed. It doesn't exist. There is no coulda woulda shoulda.

I don't find this comforting.

Anyway. Yesterday my son -- who is almost eleven (hence "if I'd known eleven years ago," 10 years + 9 months) -- really outdid himself. The two of us went to the supermarket. When done I loaded the car with the groceries and he got in the back seat. I started the car and as I was driving out of the parking lot I noticed that it felt very breezy (the weather's really cold here, about 26°F). I turned to find I was driving out of the lot with one of the back doors open! William was so engrossed in playing Super Mario Bros. that he'd left his door wide open!

I yelled and he closed the door after I grabbed his GameBoy and flung it across the car.

But that's not the point. That kind of thing is momentary. The trouble is I didn't realize, until I had kids, that they get genes from all over the family tree. I mean, I knew that, of course, but I didn't realize how profound it is.

Trivially speaking: My son is blonde. His mother is blonde, so that was obvious. But you can't be blonde if you get it from only one parent; both parents have to pass on the gene for blonde hair. I'm not blonde at all, but apparently I am a carrier for blonde hair, because, hey presto, my son is blonde.

Likewise my kids have inherited all sorts of stuff -- things no one may even know about -- from all kinds of places in our family tree. And one side of my family is seriously fucked up. I'm talking depression, substance abuse, physical and sexual abuse.

I had the idea before I had children that nurture could beat all that -- that it was up to me to break the cycle, to start over clean. Then I had children. Then the genes caught up to me. And now I feel very strongly that nurture doesn't mean much, and that as much as nurture does mean, it's not the things we as parents do consciously. I really think the kids learn more of the things we don't want to teach them than of the things we do.

So what I'm saying is, if I'd realized what my kids were in danger of inheriting through me, I wouldn't have had children. No one deserves that. But I guess that's how your DNA keeps itself going, by fooling you into having kids before you realize what's happening.

BoysMom said...

Well, Chris, I think that's where my religion comes into play: I firmly believe it is better to be alive, with all the potential faults of DNA, than it is to never be alive. I think I recall that you struggle with depressive tendencies, so you might feel differently. I also believe that the physical body is non-eternal, while the soul is eternal, so all the infirmaties of matter will pass.
All the good things you've had in life, spouse, kids, the look on the kids's faces when they open Christmas packages, those are part of the deal. So's the alcoholism in the family. The cholesterol. Diabetes. Alzeheimers. Asthema. MS. Heart Disease. Hypertension and Hypotension. (I inheirated the latter.) Knowing that those are in the mix--well, I can avoid heavy drinking (I don't seem to have a problem, but I have some pretty strict rules about when, where, and with who). I can be absolutely paranoid about my weight, and any chemicals in food or environment I find out about. Your kids, knowing (obviously not all will be brought up at ten) that they have relatives with certain problems can make the same choices or different depending on what they think is appropriate. If your kids know that trying item Y once will screw them for life, thanks to the example of cousin X, well, they may not avoid it, but they probably will.
Not everyone learns from example, although seeing a family member self-destruct can be very educational, and not every genetic whammy can be avoided. Not all stupid and self-destructive things that people do have identifiable genetic roots, either.
There's at least a chance your kids didn't get any of the genes you're worried about, you know, and none of us are guarenteed a long enough life to ensure that any nasties we did inheirate will show up. I've got at least forty years before Alzheimers could show up. That's a lot of potential car wrecks away.

Olha Pryymak said...

hey, PL, great thread. Looking forward to hear from more experienced parents on the topic. One thought I have to reiterate: yes, there are only 24 hours in a day and creative pursuits get bumped aside for a while when the little one needs you (mine is one and a half and demands all the attention in the world). Waking up in the wee hours for work and reading blogs :) is a great parent hack. Most important thing is to maintain your sanity and cool in this situation.

Down the road, (for artists with children and without) is it possible to combine some art-related job, just not teaching!!, and creating artwork with any possible chance for success? I'd think I dilute my efforts and do well in neither pursuit. Want to hear your thoughts on this.

Btw, surprised not to see your art work on the page, put it up, plz!

BoysMom said...

Olyaaa, as a musician, I'd have to say yes.
I don't know how it works for the rest of you, but with my students (private, I won't deal with the school systems) I can get in some of my practice during lesson times. I have to do 3 octave scales daily, all my more advanced students have to do them, I make them do some alone, others I do with them. If a student's late, well, my 'cello's already out, I can put in five minutes of practice. Also, working over, say, Bach unacompanied suites with students, and keeping them fresh under my own fingers, seem to be very closely related. A lot of the liturature my advanced students learn was exactly what I needed when called up "Could you please play for the art walk this week?" (3 hours, fortunately people moved around, so I didn't have to have 3 hours of unique music, I could have 1 and repeat.) Much of the music I love is not, unfortunately, very musicly-uneducated-listener-friendly, and I never saw any reason to play Crumb at a venue where one percent perhaps of listeners would like it, when ninty percent would like Bach.

I don't have any students where I live now, so rural there's no demand, and I practice a lot less than I should. I also perform a lot less, because there are fewer venues. But it's good for my husband's career for us to be here a while, it's been good for paying off debts, and we don't intend to stay here forever. At this point, though, I couldn't get a call this am for three hours of music tonight and do it. I'd need a few days to brush up on things first. When I was teaching, I could do just that. It helped me keep on top of practice, and not put it off in favor of dirty laundry.

I don't know if other types of artist have small things that have to be done regularly that can be fit into odd minutes if you're already set up. If you do, then yes, little bits tucked between students would probably work.

Anonymous said...

See, , now. All of this is the very reason I decided not to have children. I absolutely agree that it is very important foe one primary to be with a child 24/7. I just couldn't see any way to do that and I still don't. At least in my personal circumstances.

All of you that have children, you guys are heroes. Seriously. Sometimes, I have regrets. But more often, I know I made the right decision FOR ME.

I don't have the kind of energy that you all have. Even without being an artist, I think it would have been more than I could do.

Pretty Lady said...

Thanks for such great comments, folks! Oly, my art is posted here.

MacLaren said...

Pretty Lady -

"Working a civil service job, parking your child in day care, and spending your evenings in the studio is the worst possible thing you could do. It communicates to your child that absolutely everything in the world is more important to you than his or her company."

You completely nailed it. Way to go.