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You Can Be A Creative And A Parent

WORK | Caleb Mathis | 12 mins

Hey parent, I know you don’t feel like it right now, but you’re still a creative. It’s true. Remember when hours would pass like minutes when you used to write? Or craft? Or design? Or decorate? Or bake? Or sing? Or paint? Or remodel? Or act? Or play? Or grow? But then the little one(s) came along, and creative endeavors fell by the wayside of 2:00 AM bottle feedings, potty training, and endless loops of Paw Patrol. There’s good news (Daaaad!). I know it feels impossible (I pooped!), but you can be a good parent and an active creative (on the floor!). The key is learning to practice creativity differently (in your room!). Oh, for the love. Hold, please.

Parenting while trying to be creative is like driving a car with an extra sensitive brake pedal. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. Stop. Poop. Lunch. Frozen 2. Tears. Band-aid. Snack. Go.

That’s especially the case as many of us have transitioned to working from home in the aftermath of COVID-19. Those first days of quarantine, I pushed back on the interruptions, the incessant question-asking, the “can I have a cup of water” every 37 seconds. TL;DR: It did not go well, and everyone in our house suffered. I ended up acting more childish than my kids (I hate it when that happens). But as I’ve learned to breathe and roll with the (persistent) punches, I’ve found new rhythms around creativity that have led me to more freedom, more finished projects, and less wailing and gnashing of teeth—for me, my wife, and our kids.

Let’s be honest. There’s nothing worse than an interruption when you’re on a creative roll. It disrupts your process. It slows the magic. It’s near impossible to recover. And there are two things kids are naturally good at—liking Calliou and constantly interrupting.

My creative outlet of choice is writing. I’ve been honing my craft for nearly two decades. Before my kids were born, I’d wake up before the sunrise and write for hours. Literal hours—sometimes two, sometimes three. I had a blog I updated almost daily. I wrote a full-length memoir and self-published it. With all the time I had, I’m not sure how I didn’t accidentally solve world hunger or invent time travel. I had time in buckets.

Then my wife and I had twins. Then eighteen months later, a singleton. Whatever creative time I could find was promptly discarded just so I could sleep or maybe eat a sandwich. Don’t get me wrong; life with three little people is incredibly fun. But some days, I’d pay a premium if I could just write a paragraph without having to wipe a butt in the middle of it.

I know too many parents who gave up their creative pursuits when the tiny human(s) invaded their lives. I empathize with their choice, I really do. But no matter how difficult it gets, I believe creating while parenting is worth it. It’s good for you—and your kids.

God is a creator. That’s literally the first thing we learn about Him in the story of the Bible. With words, He crafts all life in the cosmos. At the end of that creative spree, He makes humanity. The Bible says we were created in His image (Genesis 1:27). Meaning, if God is a creative, you’ve also got some of that mojo. You create when you write. You create when you paint, or sing, or scrapbook, or experiment with new cupcake flavors. It’s not frivolous. It’s fanning into flame the gift God has given you, magnifying a divine characteristic He was pleased to place inside you (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

Creative pursuits give you excitement, joy, something to call your own. But it’s just as good for your kids. Believe it or not, they actually want you to have a creative outlet beyond coloring books and Magna-Tiles. Those are good things—you should do with your kids and do them often. But kids primarily learn through observation. If we want them to grow up to be creative, to be bold, to be persistent, to work through difficulty, they need to see us doing those very things.

Although I’m a writer, what I’m learning about making space to be a creative and a good parent, I believe, applies across the spectrum of the creative arts. So whether you’re a potter, a songwriter, a gardener, or an aspiring comic book artist, these five ideas might just be what you need to cross more creative finish lines this year—and see less Calliou in your house.

SAME BAT TIME, SAME BAT CHANNEL

The key to creativity isn’t long interrupted time of inspiration—it’s daily repetition. Better a 20-minute jog every day than a 2-hour gym session once a week, right? Same for your creative endeavors. Of course, it’s hard to know exactly what tomorrow will look like with rugrats running wild around your feet. But there are a few things you know with some certainty—about how late they will sleep in the morning if they have to take a nap (that’s a great time to create), our when they’ll go to bed at night. Use those times to your advantage, and proactively carve up your schedule to give space for you to create. In a perfect world, at the same time and in the same spot in your house, every day.

Real-life: it doesn’t matter what time my kids go to bed. They’ll be up at 7:00AM the next day. It’s implanted in their little brains somewhere. So I’ve staked my claim in the early morning hours. My alarm is set for 5:00AM (ask my wife how much she loves that). Coffee is loaded the night before, so I just have to hit a button. I stumble upstairs to the same chair, coffee in hand. I spend some time with God first and then get cracking on creating.

I’ve avoided using the d-word so far, but that’s precisely what this is: discipline. It’s not the enemy of creativity. It’s the ally. Your creativity will bloom where it’s planted. So find a spot and start watering it consistently, even if it means sleeping a bit less.

CHUNK IT

Maybe the biggest lesson I’ve learned in continuing to create after becoming a dad is to chunk my creative time—meaning shorter spans of time, more consistently. This goes right in line with the first idea. But you have to set realistic expectations about what you can set aside each day.

Real-life: in my current stage of life, my prime dad years, I can’t take 3 hours every morning to write. But I can take thirty minutes. So that’s my goal. Even if I oversleep (which happens more than I like), I shoot for it. I have a calendar beside my writing desk (yes, it was free from the Audubon Society, and the birds are awesome, thanks for asking). Every day that I write thirty minutes, I mark with an X. It’s my goal to fill a whole month. I haven’t yet, but I’m pressing forward.

Right now, I’m working on a children’s novel for my kids. Thirty minutes a day, over the span of two months, and I’ve already made a large dent in a project that would otherwise feel very unattainable.

Don’t wait for the perfect two-hour block of silence (let’s be honest, it’s not gonna happen this decade, anyway). Find an amount of time that works for you, and chunk it. Every day. Get that momentum, and you’ll be unstoppable.

DOWNTIME ISN’T

I know what you’re thinking—thirty minutes of creative time a day? I can’t get anything done in that amount of time. My response: that’s true. So you have to capitalize on your downtime. Have your creative projects front of mind. When time presents itself, run them over in your brain. Be thinking about your next step. Where does the story go? What ingredient would put that cake over the top? Which verse of your new song needs a rewrite? If you do this, when your chunk of time comes around tomorrow, you’ll hit the ground running.

Real-life: My thirty minutes of writing each morning isn’t my most creative time of the day. That usually happens after dinner, while I’m cleaning up the table and washing dishes. Seriously. The best ideas for my writing come with my hands in the sink, digging whatever-the-hell that is out of the drain. I write sentences in my head. I poke at storylines. I try out dialogue for my characters. What if I took the story there? What if I tried that turn of phrase? What if I wrote an article about my creative process? I keep my phone nearby, and anything worth keeping, I jot down in a note.

This forward-thinking means that, when I get up the next morning, I already have an idea where I’m going creatively. So I don’t spend my creative time thinking, but actually creating. Imagine how much further your creativity would go and how much less you’d hate chores if you learned to join them somehow.

There’s no such thing as dead time in your creative process—there’s just extra time to think before you act.

CHEAT TO WIN

There will be days where you’ve done all you can do, and the cards just aren’t dealt in your favor. When that happens, you need an ace in the hole. Don’t be afraid to play it. Mine? The PBSKids app on our Roku. My little ones eat that stuff up—and I don’t have to feel completely guilty about it since it is educational TV, right? Whatever yours is—TV, a snack, playdough, iPad time—it’s OK to use it sometimes in order to buy yourself creative time.

Real-life: Sometimes, my kids wake up earlier than 7:00 AM. (I used to do this to my mom. Let me go on record—Mom, I’m really sorry I woke up before the sun. That’s a terrible thing to do to you.) When that happens, I let my kids watch some TV so that I can finish my creative time. It’s OK to guard that. It’s not selfish because I know that if I take a window of time for myself, I’ll be a better dad later in the day. Obviously, I don’t take hours, just my 30-minute window. But it’s enough for me to feel satisfied that I had time to be creative, and I’m not angrily tucking my kids back into bed. Honestly, it’s a win-win.

Every now and then, it’s OK to cheat yourself a little extra time. Don’t be afraid to use it.

BURN IT

At the top of all his compositions, before he ever wrote a single note of music, Johann Sebastian Bach would scrawl out the words Jesu Juva. It’s Latin for “Jesus, Help.” For the king of Baroque music, his creative ventures were an act of worship. Every note he wrote was a chance for the Baron of Baroque music to connect with God.

Real-life: I really like Bach. So I stole this from him. On top of everything I write, I peck out Jesu Juva on my keyboard. So I start every novel, every short story, every article, with that simple prayer. And when I run into creative snags or roadblocks, I utter that prayer again—sometimes verbally, sometimes in my head. It’s not a magic bullet to my creative problems (I still write too much, I still splice commas, I still overuse the em dash), but it does remind me that my creative ventures are about more than me. They’re a chance for me to turn back to the King for help.

Your creativity is important because it offers the chance to do the same. It’s ultimately not about inking a record deal, securing a spot in the city’s most prestigious gallery, or signing a publishing deal (although, if you work for a publishing company and wanna talk book deals, you know where to find me). It’s not even about the finished product, although there’s a worthy sense of accomplishment when you cross a creative finish line. It’s about the journey and the myriad ways that creating connects you to the Great Creator.

In the first half of the Bible, God’s people worshipped Him by bringing him the best of their flock—a sheep, goat, or pigeon. A priest would take the animal, kill it, and burn it. The Bible says these offerings, when given correctly, were a pleasing aroma to God.

That’s what your creativity can be. Don’t burn it, especially if it’s those cupcakes. But you can give it back to God, by choosing to connect with Him through the creative process, from idea to finish line. And with a life tweak here or there, you can achieve your creative goals and still succeed in your most important role: parenting the kids.


Written by

Caleb Mathis

Dad of three, husband of one, pastor at Crossroads, and at the moment would rather be reading Tolkien, watching British TV, or in a pub with a pint of Guinness.

Published on Jan 13, 2021
Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...

You Can Be A Creative And A Parent

  1. What strikes you most about this article? Why that?

  2. How are you creative? What are your dreams that you can’t find the time to make happen yet?

  3. How does it feel to hear that God intentionally designed you with the desire to create? That it honors Him even?

  4. What has your motivation for creating primarily been? How would it shift if you changed your goal to be connecting with God and letting him work through you?

  5. Which tip from this article can you begin THIS week? Forward it to a friend, tell them your plan, and ask them to help hold you to it.

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