A crucial step to having energy and being at peace with your life is to find your creativity.
If you have a baby or a toddler it is likely that you have lost it. Giving birth to a baby and then nursing, feeding, changing, adjusting to their sleep schedule is intense.
You give them everything.
When you have a baby you enter a new stage of life. Motherhood is not just a role or a title it is a whole new level of life experience that nothing before it really prepares us for. Once you’ve come through the first year of your first child, you begin to understand. You see that you will never truly rest again. You know why they told you it’s like having your heart walking around outside your body. You become sacrificial and hyper-vigilant. You both accept the changes that came to your life with motherhood, and you see your capacity begin to grow. Over time and with each child your capacity grows as you learn both practical skills and mental and emotional stamina.
Now it’s time to rediscover your creativity.
For you, for your kids, for your husband, for everyone that you’ll ever meet for the rest of your life, you need to find a creative outlet. This could be the single deciding factor between whether you live in a state of chaotic exhaustion or vibrant beauty.
But the only way to convince you of this is to help you find what this is for you and get you to try it. Then you’ll be hooked, and we’ll be talking about how to find balance with the rest of your life, but we’ll get to that later.
Think back to life before kids.
Consider how you spent your time and money, and the kind of people you enjoyed being with, and look for common themes. What did you love doing, what were you really good at?
Most importantly, when did you get in the zone, in the flow? You know that state where you are in a project, being creative, figuring out how something can work, rising to some challenges, overcoming some obstacles, learning something new, adding it to a picture you’re creating, when time stands still, and suddenly five hours have passed?
I know you haven’t felt that state of flow since you had children, but think back and write down all the times you can remember and what you were doing. Maybe it was a school project or a work project, or a time that you helped a friend with something.
You may have been reading, writing, or thinking. You might have been doing a craft project, painting, cooking, gardening, sewing or writing computer code. There is no wrong answer, and the what that you were doing is only part of the picture. Why you enjoyed it is just as important, were you mastering a new skill, helping a friend, solving a practical problem, or discovering a new idea?
On a piece of paper record your notes and then make a new heading for skills and make a list of all the things that people always told you that you were great at. What were you the local expert on, what did your friends ask you about? Make a list of everything you can think of that anyone else ever thought you were skilled at, and then circle the handful that made you the most happy.
Now you have a list of activities that you used get lost in time while working on, and a list of skills that make you happy when you do them. Are there any common themes, do you see certain activities showing up in both places?
Do you have a few clear results, or are you struggling to find something you can identify as an activity you love that matches your strengths?
If you need help you might want to buy the StrengthsFinder book and take the test. It’s really great for abstract strengths that are awesome that you wouldn’t normally think of.
Another discovery activity that might help you is to look back at the past year for times that you were really happy. Scrolling through your phone can help jog your memory. Look for hints in your parenting approach and style. Where do you put extra effort into activities when you don’t need to, such as cooking new recipes, making your kids’ Halloween costumes by hand, or having a summer garage sale. What did you enjoy and why did you put in the extra effort? Look for times that you were acting out of your own inspiration and you enjoyed it then. This should be something where you get a thrill just from the memory of something you did well, rather than something you felt obligated to do and questioned the necessity of later.
Do you look forward to doing it again?
Okay, now take your notes and your clues and make a list of 5 activities that you think you enjoy as a creative outlet. Order them by how much you intrinsically enjoy them from 1 to 5. Hold onto that list, we’re coming back to it in a second.
Quick reality check.
As moms we need something that is ours, we need me time. You probably already take this time but you’re using it inefficiently and ineffectively on activities like reading a magazine or watching something mindless on Netflix, feeling victorious simply in being the one to choose the activity and in doing something uninterrupted (hopefully) for a small but blissful amount of time.
It takes a bit of a stretch but you need to raise your expectations.
What if your me time was not a time that you consumed something, but that you produced… a time to be creative?
It may seem at first that taking time to recharge and being creative are mutually exclusive because you need to do something to get energy and being creative takes energy. This is true and you may find that part of your routine is to have a cup of tea, read a book, or do some other more mindless task, but it should be to clear your mental slate and prepare yourself to be creative.
If you’re going to accomplish being creative, you might come up with something great. With this in mind, as moms we cannot often afford to give our time and energy to something solely for ourselves. Even when we can, sometimes the guilt is too much, and even if we get past that the incongruency of it with a daily routine full of 23 hours of a sacrificial and efficient mentality may be too much of an obstacle. I can tell you that it is for me.
So the final step is to consider the needs and goals of your family and to look for crossovers between those things and your list of potential creative outlets.
Now take that list of creative outlets you enjoy and write next to them all of the possible ways you might be able to use that activity to also help your family meet a need or a want, or accomplish a goal.
Gardening is a great parenting activity to do with my kids.
Spending extra time on cooking will have the desired side effect of decreasing our grocery budget.
Being a freelance writer from home will provide extra money to help build our emergency fund.
Having a part time job provides the opportunity to interact with adults, stay up to date on technology, and to use project management and people skills.
Choose one activity to try working into your regular routine, taking into account the current season and any budget you need for initial supplies. Talk to your husband about your new hobby or targeted activity.
Get your husband on board.
Explain how you think having time devoted to this activity will help you mentally and emotionally and show how you’re hoping the time and energy will also contribute to your family’s overall well-being in a certain way.
When you find the right activity, he will notice a difference and will be eager to help you find windows of time for it.
Once you have the supplies and your family’s blessing, look for times in your daily schedule to do a few different types of tasks related to your creative activity. You’ll need to find a good chunk of time at least once but ideally several times a week in order to really enjoy the full affects of it mentally and to be able to build momentum toward building something that will begin to have value in its own right.
During those longer strategic chunks you will want to do the most core creative work inherent in the activity. Try to shut off all notifications and distractions, do what you can to eliminate interruptions. Sometimes they will happen, but over the course of a month, the quality time should start to accrue and you’ll be encouraged that more often than not you can spend some time in the flow on your creative project.
Just as important as these targeted times is smaller related tasks that you will sprinkle throughout your day or your week. These are preparatory tasks such as gathering supplies, brainstorming ideas, making plans, talking to any people who are involved, sharing about it, or getting feedback. This activity allows you to get these details done throughout the week so your mind is clear when you have a special focused time. And just as importantly, these tasks give you a way to connect to your project and enjoy having it even when you’re playing with your kids or washing the dishes.
If you read 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam you’ll realize as I did that there is indeed a lot of time in the week, time enough for us to have an intentional hobby if we are smart about it. I also know from 8 years of mothering 4 boys that motivation is everything.
When I have something to look forward to, whether a date night with my husband, lunch out with a friend, a special event with the kids, or a chunk of time set aside to work on my personal project, I am ten times more productive than when I don’t have a bright spot on my mental horizon.
I like to say that motherhood is both a gift, and a marathon. We need to manage our emotions in order to manage our motivation in order to keep going when we want to quit.
I’ve worked part time from home the entire 8 years that I’ve had 4 boys (currently ages 7, 5, 3 and 1). My friends often ask me how I do it, and after much contemplation I’ve boiled it down to this practice of finding a creative outlet to keep myself motivated, combined with a few other smart factors such as a good understanding of time management and eliminating time wasters such as tv and unconstructive internet and social media browsing. I’ve also had several seasons in which my job worked as my creative outlet.