The picture above, Charity, by French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau, illustrates what it means for me to be a mom, teacher, and writer. I have all these little creatures I help sustain: not just my children or my family, but also my creative self. To play these different roles, I have to nurture my creativity. Passion and inspiration don’t cultivate themselves.
While raising two kids, I have dislodged food from airways, planned developmentally appropriate play dates, volunteered with the Girl Scouts, coaxed constipated toddlers to give it one more push, and Dutch braided my girls’ hair hundreds of times. For years, I had grown used to directing my mental energy toward my kids. I made space in my mind and my heart for raising people with rudimentary communication skills. Anticipating my children’s needs became one of my main modes of cognition.
Pic by jbird on Flickr CC BY license
I wasn’t born with these skills. I learned them either on the fly or through reading books. As my kids enter middle elementary and middle school, they need me less and less. Their momma is a touchstone, not an anchor to the earth. This is the first stage in my children’s lives where more injury comes to them if I continue hovering and anticipating their needs. A well-adjusted adult is one who has learned to regulate their own emotions; a well-adjusted adult doesn’t need a cuddle from her mother to heal from a scraped knee.
Pic by angel4leon on Pixabay
The drive that kept me breast feeding, the passion that had me researching preschools, the motivation that had me helping them meet developmental milestones–my kids don’t need all of that energy. They need to cultivate their own passion, and so do I.
Now I have all this love and energy that I know I can cultivate. The trick now is to figure out how to redirect some of that love and attention back to my creative self. For example, when I get a rejection, I mom-love the hell out of my creative self. I coddle my artist-self and say things like Baby, you are going to be okay.
Raising Writer Me
To see the promise of a story that won’t take off, to see the promise in the future of a tantrumming child, both acts requires storytelling skills, and both acts require a certain amount of kindness. This sort of love is not exclusive to people who have procreated. I didn’t learn this until I became a parent. (Lucky for you, I will share this tidbit for free on my blog and you won’t even have to raise a child. Aren’t I nice?) I am a kinesthetic learner. I learn best hands-on, when I throw myself into the activity I want to learn.
I have two daughters, little people who sometimes feel misunderstood. So if one is acting out, I ask myself, why is my kid screaming like a monkey? What does she need? Very often it’s simple, some kindness and understanding or maybe she needs alone time. To meet my kids’ basic needs requires interpretation and analysis. The same thing goes for being a writer and artist. Why am I still writing this sentence over and over? Why am I beating myself up? I can move onto the next sentence and make this one pretty later–insert a comment bubble, and I can move on. Being a mom and being a writer are both stories of my own creation. I can write a nice story where I believe in myself.
In psychology, this kind of self-reflection is called positive self-talk. Dr. Gregory L. Jantz writes in Psychology Today, “When negative events or mistakes happen, positive self-talk seeks to bring the positive out of the negative to help you do better, go further, or just keep moving forward.”
Positive reinforcement is exactly how I talk to my children to motivate them to keep going: to finish reading a book, to cross the monkey bars, to write out their spelling words, to clean their rooms–“You can do it. Just keep going. Little by little, you get it done.” Now that my kids are getting older, I can direct some of that love and attention to myself.
Here are ways I love my writer-self like a sad little child:
- When I get a rejection, I don’t feel sad. I tell myself this is part of the publishing process. At this point, I could give myself a hug. Or maybe find someone to hug me.
- When I feel overwhelmed that I am not finished with my manuscript, instead of telling myself that I will never finish it (which is something I have done in the past), I tell my creative self, “Anything worthwhile takes time.”
- When I feel despair in the middle of my writing time, I go into my writing journal and write it down. This helps me see if there’s a pattern to my despair.
- Lastly, like a mom who writes love notes for her kids’ lunches (which I have done!), I have a love note to myself in my journal. It says, “Don’t lose heart. You can do this.” It might sound kind of cheesy, but it works every time I feel like not writing.
In a way it feels like I am raising myself, or creating my writer-self. Aren’t we all creations of our own making?
Jantz, Dr. Gregory L. The Power of Positive Self-Talk. Psychology Today, 16 May 2016, Accessed 30 June 2019.