In our society, women, especially mothers, are constantly on the defensive, feeling like they have to justify their parenting decisions, their life decisions, their career choices from the barrage of judgements coming at them from every corner. Motherhood is a freakin' mine-field. You have to step very carefully around people's often ignorant opinions and criticism while carrying a child (or two or three) on your back. We are subject to unsolicited advice from blogs, doctors, childless people, and even our local barista on how, as mothers, we have to abandon our dreams and sense of self for the sake of our children. Or alternatively if we really, really want to write that book, start that business, or achieve any goal we simply have to do it in our own time, around the fringes of our day, which, for most parents, means waking up at 3:00 a.m and sacrificing what little sleep they do get in order to fit one more thing into their hopelessly overscheduled lives. Throw a full-time job (whether remotely or in office) into the mix and at some point, something will fall through the cracks, and most often, that will be your passion projects and your side hustles. I'm just sick of it. I'm not having it anymore. Eventually, will that enable us to achieve our dreams? And if it does, at what, or whose expense? Will we become more accomplished as individuals and therefore better parents? Or will it make us crabbier parents?
The best piece of parenting advice I've heard recently came from (ironically) a stay-at-home dad. I was listening to a Miriam Schulman's podcast, "The Inspiration Place", where she was speaking with Prince Edward Island-based, expressionist floral painter, Patrick Guindon, who transitioned to full-time artist in 2020. When asked how he balances the demands of caring for 4 children with maintaining a thriving art business, he said that sometimes he has to make unpopular decisions, like maybe make the kids watch TV for a couple of hours while he finishes a piece he's been working on, or order pizza for dinner instead of making a home-cooked meal. He explained that that made him a better father and parent, because he took a time out from the daily grind of cooking, cleaning, laundry and school runs to foster his passion and grow his business.
I've always believed that I have to step out of my mothering role and do something that nourishes my soul, even if it's for a few hours a day. Does that make me a bad mother? No, on the contrary. I've noticed that when I've carved out some time for myself and my hobbies, while my daughter has a playdate with one of her friends, or watches TV for an extra couple of hours, or even just plays with her toys alone for a while, I feel better equipped to handle the daily rigors of motherhood because I've had time to focus on the other things in my life.
As Patrick Guindon said, "I didn't want to become a jaded version of myself. I didn't want to exist solely in the universe of my children. My children....are my number one priority, but in order for them to get the best out of me, I have to be putting time into me...which means I say you guys are having pizza tonight and watching a movie while I go down to the studio for half an hour or 45 minutes."
Of course, there are certain sacrifices to be made in other areas of our life. For example, I have cut down significantly on my Netflix/TV-show bingeing time in order to paint or write that blog post I've been wanting to write for months now, or learn Photoshop and SketchUp (two design programs I have been promising myself to master since before the pandemic). I realized most of last year, one of the main reasons I stopped making art or working on any of my passion projects was because I was spending too much time watching TV shows. Admittedly, after a long day of work and taking care of my daughter when she comes back from school, the only thing I have energy for is browsing through Netflix. I'm not saying I've stopped watching TV shows altogether, I'm just saying that I've cut down a little by limiting the number of shows I watch or doing it just before my bed-time, after I've already spend some time painting, or working on all my other projects. Previously I used to spend my weekends catching up on YouTube videos or my TV-shows. Now I spend a huge chunk of my Saturdays and Sundays painting, writing, or even going swimming (my new workout obsession), so that when Monday rolls around, I feel like I made the most of my weekend. Sometimes while I'm painting, my daughter decides she also wants to make art, or draw or color. At other times, it doesn't really work out that way and I have to tell her, "Mommy needs to paint right now" so I will be unavailable for snack-making, playing or anything else a 6 year old decides she wants as soon as her mother's attention is turned elsewhere.
In the end, it's all about the person you want to be. Do you want to be the kind of parent who "exists solely in the universe of your children"? Or do you want to be seen by your kids as a self-actualized individual in your own right who is willing to sometimes prioritize personal projects over parenting, for the sake of your mental health? Eventually, doing that will not only benefit you but your children as well because instead of getting a grumpy, sleep-deprived, stressed out parent, they will get a more well-rounded individual, someone who will give them more love and care because they gave themselves more love and care. In the end, everybody wins!