I was chatting with a mom friend on a sweaty day in our local playground. Or half of me was talking to her; the other half was watching my daughter to make sure she didn’t fling herself off something tall and slippery. (She’s just learned to walk and already she’s exploring every little thing, often without too much thought for self-preservation.)
“I barely find time to squeeze work and childcare into my day,” my friend said, taking a sip of her iced coffee, one eye on her own brave toddler. “I miss doing things that feel creative, things just for me that used to bring me joy.”
What she told me hit home so profoundly that it took me a moment to respond.
On good days, I feel like I’m barely managing. If my daughter is fed and happy, if I am, too, if work assignments aren’t late and maybe I can even find time for a walk or a few yoga poses, I feel like a gold medal champion. On hard days, well…I’m trying to be gentle with myself. It’s a process!
But what about room for things that aren’t strictly necessary? That aren’t housework, work-work, or basic care for myself or my family?
How do parents make time to nurture their own creativity? How do they carve out time for doing things that matter to a different part of ourselves, like writing or making art—things that feel juicy and rewarding on a soul level?
I found myself at a loss. So, I polled some of my parent friends and acquaintances, especially ones I knew prioritized their own creative lives. Here’s what they told me —four pillars I’m taking to heart, and that I hope help you, too:
Some people said, “there’s no time for my art anymore!” and even “I cry myself to sleep as my creative dreams die,” only half joking. Which made me sad. There might be seasons of life where creativity must be placed on the backburner, for practical and necessary reasons, and caring for children certainly ranks.
But when the time and energy—even a sliver of time and energy—free up, acknowledging that our own creative endeavors are important is a great place to start. Often parenting means putting our family first, but as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Filling up our emotional reserves means prioritizing our own self-care and growth, even if it’s about a million times easier said than done. For many (hi!), pursuing our creative endeavors is an integral part of taking care of ourselves.
“I wish I had been better at prioritizing myself and my writing when my daughter was little,” said Shannon Barbour, who has a 13-year-old. “So, it’s wonderful to read how so many parents do it—that so many parents do it.”
“I acknowledge that I live in a world that does not expect a woman in my position to prioritize my own pursuits,” says writer Cristina Olivetti Spencer. “When it is hard to say no to bedtime, PTA volunteering, driving three counties over for sports, elaborate birthday parties, haircuts for me or for the kids, accompanying field trips, enrolling at preschools that require volunteering...I remind myself to cobble together whatever support I can because part of my job as a parent is smashing the patriarchy by reshaping what a working creative life looks like for an engaged parent of any gender. My definition of leadership is taking responsibility for what you care about—I care about my family and I care about my creative work.”
Talking to Spencer gave me goosebumps. I want my daughter to grow up with a mother who cultivates her own spirit and whole-heartedly pursues what matters to her.
Repeat after me: “my creative life is valuable!” It is, I promise.
Several people told me they were members of the 5 AM club, setting their alarm to the small hours to ensure they’d get a chunk of time to themselves before the demands of the day kicked in at full speed. Others cherished the time after their little ones went to bed to draw, knit, or unwind. Some parents emphasized how much sleep training helped their family create a sleep schedule, which meant they could rely on naptimes, mornings or nights to dig into their own projects.
“I do everything in the middle of the night when the house is quiet,” says writer Kimberly Rae Miller. “It definitely costs me sleep, but my bad sleepers prepared me well for functioning on less sleep.”
What has worked for new writer and dad John West is “finding moments to be as present as possible with the creative work I’m doing.” He told me, “I negotiate with my partner so we both have the time to be fully on as parents, and then totally off when we’re writing.” His partner is also a writer, and they have a plan where they both have designated parenting time and writing time.
West has found a silver lining; the time constraints give his creativity more urgency. “Since time is scarce, I have to be more efficient and focused,” he explained. I also find this to be true. When I wake up super early to make time to write, that time feels especially sacred.
This one doesn’t apply for me just yet, as my daughter only barely has the attention span for a whole Sesame Street song. But I’m very much looking forward for a time when we can make art together. Especially as your children get older, involve them in your creative endeavors and support their own.
“I include my kids,” says yoga instructor, barber, and mom Kelsey Mueller. “If I’m making art, so are they. If I’m practicing yoga, they are playing or following along in their own way. I try to lead by example and let them be a part of what I’m doing. If it’s important enough for me to make time to do it, I want them to see it and learn to also make that time for themselves as well.”
Here’s to time and space to do something messy, creative, and fun—even and especially when it doesn’t come easily. It’s worth prioritizing our creative lives as parents and as people, not just to set a good example, but to in order to fill our days and our lives with joy.