The little people in your life may be different ages than mine, but I’ll bet my to-do list rings a bell anyway:Prepare meals Trick your kids into eating them Hunt for what’s missing Fix what’s broken Spread art supplies on table Clean art supplies off floor Find the source of the smell Shoe little boy feet Pigtail little girl hair Glance at dirty dishes and laundry Run errands Pay bills Tell stories Tickle tummies Kiss ouchies Google “how to wash unidentified sticky substance out of carpet, curtains, and upholstery”
Meanwhile, and without ceasing…Answer questions, questions, questions Give instructions Discipline little hooligans Watch this. And this. And this.
And if time allows, and if you have a brain cell to spare, and if no one gets sick, and if the A/C doesn’t go out, and if the phone doesn’t ring, and if you can overlook the puddle in the corner and continue to ignore the dirty dishes and laundry:Read Meditate Dream Create
Our bottom four may differ in the details, but the problem is the same. It seems every parent I talk to has a little list of delights that are constantly buried under the necessary. We caregivers tend to suspend creativity and passion so that we can devote ourselves to more pressing needs.
And yet we want our kids to sink into the very things we’ve sacrificed. We want their lives to be a dance of belief, imagination, and creativity, while ours are often a whirl of damage control. I’m not sure my kids ever see me engage my “bottom four.” I help them engage theirs, but do they ever see me lost in a story or engrossed in creating for the sheer joy of it? I convince myself that if I’m going to do those things at all, I have to put them off until the kids are asleep.
This is an inevitable part of parenthood, we think. It’s just temporary, right? We’ll have more time when the kids start school. Um, maybe after they learn to drive. Okay, when they go off to college. Or get married. Meanwhile, we fill every moment with “necessary” and “pressing” tasks, hoping that our children will be full of the passions we don’t have time to model.
It was through Brenda Ueland’s book If You Want to Write that I first began to realize how my busyness might be training creativity out of my kids:
You know that all children have … creative power. But this joyful, imaginative, impassioned energy dies out of us very young. Why? Because we do not see that it is great and important; because we let dry obligation take its place; because we don’t respect it in ourselves and keep it alive by using it; and because we don’t keep it alive in others by listening to them.
Just to see how I was doing at this, I asked my four-year-old, “What do you think I like to do?” She rattled off a list of things that occupy most of my time, including playing with her (yes!) and cleaning (wrong!). But she did not name a single one of my creative passions. To be honest, I had to think for a minute before I could remember what they were!
I constantly need to be reminded to redefine what is truly “necessary” and “pressing” and spend my time and energy accordingly. I may be providing my kids lots of opportunities for creative expression, but if I never make time for my own I could be sending a message that such things are just “kid stuff” and less important than checking off my list of tasks.
Author Anne Lamott puts it to her writing students this way:
I ask them whether, if their children grow up to become adults who spend this one precious life in a spin of multitasking, stress, and achievement, and then work out four times a week, will they be pleased that their kids also pursued this kind of whirlwind life?
If not, if they want much more for their kids, lives well spent in hard work and savoring all that is lovely, why are they living this manic way?
I’ve heard it said that every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self, unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour. I promise you, it is there. Fight tooth and nail to find time, to make it.
And by all means, let your kids catch you in the act.
You can read Anne Lamott’s full essay, “Time lost and found,” here. It’s great.