By Theresa Harris
The other day I was sitting in a dark closet (as I do when playing hide-and-seek with my kids) when I had a realization. It changed the way I think about myself as a parent, as well as what it means to be creative.
In my life before parenthood, I associated the term “creativity” with the arts. Painting was a major part of my identity. In the years before my first son was born, I’d immersed myself in encaustics, mixing painting and collage with colored beeswax. With the busy day-to-day demands of raising kids and running a business, it’s been ages since I’ve made my own art — and I miss it. My encaustic supplies are covered in dust, and I can hardly recognize my art studio, now filled with toys. Sometimes when I pass by the studio-turned-playroom, I whine to myself about not having enough time or space to use it. Other times I just feel a little ache in my heart, thinking longingly about how good it feels to be creative.
But during that hide-and-seek game I took a deeper look at all the ways my life has changed since starting a family (consider the joys of sitting in a dark closet for fun, for one thing). I realized that the act of parenting itself is inherently creative, and that my family is actually my latest muse and medium — a collaborative work of art. I’m not talking about making craft projects with my kids, though I do add a mental marble into my ‘good parenting’ jar when I break out the art supplies. I’m talking about the fact that all parents constantly create, innovate and artistically problem-solve their way through family life.
Keeping it all together, fostering more ease, harmony and connection, is an amazing creative process.
Parents are creative experts — getting out of the house with shoes on all feet, throwing together that tasty soup made from fridge scraps, or hiding cauliflower in the mac and cheese. We fix broken toys and invent new ones, make up bedtime stories and song lyrics, lead nature explorations, and build family rituals that can hold all the pieces together. We face and solve almost any imaginable schedule conflict, carpooling issue or sibling frustration.
Truly, the essential ingredient to family flow is creativity. And these everyday moments, when parents call forth their creative selves to power their own unique family dynamic, are masterpieces. This colorful, spirited, quirky, always-in-progress family personality is a work of art.
The best part is that creative parenting is not another thing we need to add to our to-do list. We are already doing it with our kids every day — soothing a tantrum, encouraging a smile, making space for self-expression. Since these creative opportunities arise when we are interacting with our family members, we have the added bonus of it being a collaborative effort. We don’t always have to take the lead on this one! In fact, when each person’s unique contribution is encouraged and celebrated, your family’s identity becomes a mutual work of art that is one of its kind.
Parenting with creativity isn't always easy, of course. That kind of presence and quick thinking doesn't always come on demand, especially when our buttons are pushed. As hard as parenting is sometimes, if we can pause just a few moments before reacting to a stressful situation with our kids, we can engage with them from a creative place — shifting energy, adding fun or untangling frustrations. As we hone our craft as parents, we will mess up sometimes; like artists, we may have to try things out a few ways before we figure it out. And just like artists, we will keep trying — because it’s our heart’s work and our mistakes do not define us.
Realizing I don’t have to be standing in front of my easel to express my creativity is a grounding and empowering insight. I’m seeing creative possibility in every interaction I have with my kids. I’m so happy to know that this collaborative work in progress called my family is, by far, the most meaningful art I’ll ever create.
About the author
Theresa Harris is a mother of two and founder of Thrive Art School in Seattle and Thrive Art Online, a video art program for kids. Find out more about Thrive and try a free class here.