Like so many other mothers last week, I was affected and inspired by Allison Tate's Huffington Post article, The Mom Stays in the Picture. Tate writes about realizing that in all the thousands of photos her family has of life with their four kids, she is in very few of them - kept out of the pictures by body self-consciousness and the belief that her children are the important subject matter, not her.
But then she writes of realizing that someday, when they are adults themselves, her kids will cherish any photos of her from their childhoods and wish for more. They will see her as young and beautiful, as an adoring mama. They will not notice her yet-to-be lost baby weight or imperfect hair, just as when we look back at treasured photos of our mothers and grandmothers, we don’t criticize their appearance but celebrate it. So Tate’s aha! moment came in the awareness that her children's perspective might just end up being more accurate and lasting than her own perspective. And I love that awareness, because it echoes something that I think is crucial to reclaiming our creative lives once we've become mothers. This week's Toolbox Tuesday subject is less of a tool than a weapon against the biggest enemy to our happiness and our creativity: guilt.
So let's talk about guilt for a minute. Feeling guilty about all the ways we think we could be doing a better job as moms seems to be one of those universals in the motherhood experience. It tortures us about how we are feeding our babies, what diapers we’re using, whether we are sending our little ones to nursery school, what kind of birthday parties we’re throwing them, that time we donated store-bought cupcakes to the bake sale, how often the kids see their grandparents, how often we hire a babysitter, on and on and on… Right? And don’t even get me started on whether we earn money by working outside the home or not - talk about torture. Either way, guilt gets its claws in us with that one. Either way! It is ridiculous.
So imagine what mama-guilt does with wanting to take time for ourselves creatively. The guilt says, “But if you have this time, shouldn’t you spend it with your family? They will miss you.” Or it says, “It’s not fair to them to be doing this when you could be dealing with all the stuff you have to do around the house. Now everything at home will be messy and chaotic and they will suffer for it.” Or it says, “It’d be one thing if you were earning money for your projects, but this? This is just a hobby.”
Mama-guilt makes us think that our time belongs to our families. It makes us think that we are not important enough to get in the photo, or to put ourselves on the schedule. And if you listen to it, and believe that time spent creatively is time you have taken away from the people you love, then it will get you every time. But this perspective is wrong – it’s clouded by our own present-moment craziness. For the right perspective, we've got to look ahead to our children’s futures, like Allison Tate did about her family pictures. What do we want our children to have learned from us? If your daughter grows up to be a self-sacrificing mother, who has put her own happiness on hold because her children or partner or home need her every second of the day, will you be pleased with that for her? If your son grows up and never writes (or plays guitar or dances or whatever his thing used to be) anymore because it’s just a dumb hobby and after all, he’s a father now, will you be proud of him for that? Don’t you want more for them than the meager creative crumbs you’re rationing out for yourself? THEN TEACH THEM. They will have a much, much harder time leading fulfilling lives if they haven’t been raised to think that creative fulfillment is possible. The same way we want them to look back at pictures and remember our adoring mother-bodies, we need them to look back at our lives for clues on how to live theirs, and be able to find those clues. We are not serving our children if all we do is fade into the background. They need us to support them, yes, but they also need us to lead.
Listen, if you can wrangle yourself into the mindset that your happiness is worth it for its own sake, go with that. So much the better, because that is totally true. But if the guilt is nipping at your heels, remember that you’re also re-allocating this time for yourself because it’s good for your family. Staying in the picture, literally or figuratively, does not make you a selfish mother. It makes you a good role model.