While painting has given me a stronger sense of self-awareness, motherhood has given me more to be aware of. In a pressure filled society that pushes me in one direction, the act of painting is what pulls me back to center. The mental clarity I get from painting has shown me that sometimes what I choose has nothing to do with what I truly want and need. It’s easy to forget that it’s not about what others are doing, but rather, it’s about choosing a life for ourselves, for our own reasons. With so much noise in the distractions surrounding us, we often can’t even hear what our own hearts are asking for. The truth is, what we want and need can easily be different than what we have and do. Why is it so hard to choose what is truly best for us? Painting from parenthood has taught me to trust my instincts and shown me the value in finding my own path.
Motherhood, with all of its timeless wonderment, comes with a great deal of pressure. At this time when women have a role outside of the home, we still, by nature, have the gift of giving life to another and nurturing that life to its greatest fulfillment. However motherly the woman, the modern mother in all her maternal glory is eventually injected into our fast paced, high energy and high preforming society. There are great expectations around every corner which have the ability of stripping away the simplistic joys of parenthood. When you are focused on keeping up the same pace as those around you, it is hard to recognize and trust your own needs and set your own pace. Considering what a natural and time tested role motherhood is, it turns out that being a modern mother requires a great deal of self-awareness, confidence, and most of all, a profound sense of trust and faith.
Throughout my years as an art student and a professional artist, nothing ever brought my art more substance than being a mother. Each of my children have changed my art for the better. With so much discussion out there about the hardships of coupling a career and motherhood, I would like to say that without my children my career would be far behind where it is now. I have found that I need this balancing act to keep my moral muscles strong, and not making time for my work as an artist leaves me morally unbalanced; over focused on the wrong things. Likewise, not making time for my family leaves me uninspired. Thanks to the social stigmas attached to the working mother, I fully anticipated motherhood to negatively impact my creative momentum, but it did not happen that way. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Is it ironic that the very thing that many fear will threaten their professional life, has brought mine more balance, structure and satisfaction? This awareness made me feel out of place and naive, even.
Everyone says that becoming a mother “changes everything”, and for me, that didn’t just mean my sleep schedule and social life. Maybe it was the sudden weight of another human’s life in my hands or that I could better understand how I want to spend my now precious time or that I realized what a gracious blessing it is to be a mother which many are sadly denied. No matter why, I know that the day my first child was born I immediately felt like the person I was meant to be. Parenthood lifted from my head and heart a fog that kept me from seeing the full picture.
I read an article last year that I can’t seem to forget. It was about creativity and motherhood. The article addresses the stigma among creative working professionals implying that you cannot be taken seriously in your work if you choose to have children. Established artists and writers are choosing their career over a growing family in order to avoid the distractions they expect children will bring to their work. The author uses the experiences of artists, writers and even lab rats to reveal how a mother’s brain actually becomes more creative, rather than less, and more efficient than it was prior to parenthood. The mother learns to use her time more wisely and effectively and sacrifices as needed to support her children/rat babies (ew) all while getting work done with sharper focus, speed and creativity. My eyes swelled with tears as I read this article because the theories and facts were so relatable and something I had genuinely felt but not discussed out loud. It was eye opening, and it factually confirmed what I already knew was true.
So, it’s not just me. There it is in writing; society’s negative spin on something I knew deep down to be good and right.
I had my first child with zero intention of turning my back on my art. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me. To my surprise, for years, I was continually asked, “So, are you still painting?”. Of course I was. The question confused me. Not only is my art my job, it is just a part of who I am and what I do. I need to make art like I need to feel the sun or get a good night’s sleep. Sure, I can go without it, but it feels bad. I’ve gone through periods of not painting, and those close to me know that I am a less pleasant person (a.k.a. a bitch) without this creative outlet. We all need an outlet, but I am making a career out of mine, so I get to call it “work”.
I have been writing and talking about painting from the heart since 2011 because that was the year I became a mother. That year, I began to change from the inside, and my art reflected the transformation. It was that year that my paintings seemed to burrow down under the surface and find a depth that was both visible and conceptual. My work now had a more sincere source, a source that I can’t describe with any other word than “heart”. And so the thriving cycle within me began; a never-ending loop where motherhood sustains the artist and the artist sustains the mother.
With all of the positivity I’m giving motherhood, I am not denying that it has tested me in significant ways and forced me to make sacrifices and question God's reasons, but, without a doubt, parenthood has taught me much more than it has taken. Every day for six and a half years, Robert and I have struggled to parent our very strong willed, highly energetic child who has been pushing back since she was born. I have been brought to tears and even to my knees in total desperation. But, listening to my heart rather than comparing her to other children has let me trust that this child was put on the earth with a driving force to do something remarkable. The job of parenting her fierce heart is a tough one and one I take seriously and will continue to work hard at, but I will not put anything in front of God’s plan for her, even if that means making my job harder. We had a frightening experience with our daughter’s health that put me in the same desperate need for answered prayers and guidance, and it was then that I learned of the intensity of a mother’s intuition. With my son, God gave us a child with a very different set of parental needs than our daughter giving our family a certain sense of symmetry and joy that made us decide to let our family grow. And, from this side of a total of four miscarriages, I can say that I now have a stronger awareness of His plan. The plan doesn’t involve my ideas or my understanding or my earthly explanations. Even the experiences that hurt the most have been placed in my path for purpose. Those painful and challenging times gave me a sturdy realization that there is value in experiencing loss and fear, and experiences like these are teaching me to be patient with time. These are among the moments that have built within my chest a heart with more substance and trust giving me the means to make art that reflects the same. It was the act of making art that let my heart speak these truths loud and clear for me to hear. The solitude of my studio with no outside noise gives my inner voice center stage, and as I paint, I explore and understand these emotions.
My children, including the one that has yet to be born, have individually developed in me a deeper and stronger sense of heart. At the end of 2017, my art immediately reflected the new life I am now growing. Even during the first trimester drag, I could visually see how my maternal heart was again bringing new life to my paintings. Being a working mother comes with it’s challenges, sure, but it may also come with some unmistakable advantages. Motherhood, with all its trials and thrills, has allowed my work as an artist to grow richer. And, painting along side parenthood has given me the clarity to better understand my role as a mother.
My maternal art-making heart has taught me to lean in, to listen and to trust what it wants. There is great relief in finding the faith to trust what your heart wants and does not want. While it takes courage, making decisions based on those heartfelt tugs and gut instincts removes a great deal of the doubt and anxiety that come with parenting in our competitive society. Even with this understanding, I struggle to block out the loud pressures that want me to keep up with a pace that’s not for me. I am not always strong enough to trust my own voice above the louder ones. The voice in my heart is soft spoken, and each time I lean in, the words remain the same, repeating: “choose by faith and trust, truth and love.”
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.