My partner (artist and former editor of Glasstire, Bill Davenport) and I joke that having children is a conspiracy: after people have kids they will never tell you not to have them. Ours are now 11 and 13. And I won’t tell you not to have them either. But… .
Art and kids don’t really go together. Both need huge amounts of love, time, headspace, dedication and perseverance. Still, many of us have kids anyway, because after all, they are totally awesome. And they are a more certain, if far less controllable, legacy.
So here is my list of the good and the bad involved in having kids and some tips on how to manage. This is for all you women (and men) who already have kids, who are thinking of having kids, or who are dead set against the idea, but mildly curious as to how it might play out:
1. You will continue to make your work. At the beginning it may feel as if you will never find the time again. Don’t worry, if you were an artist with a serious studio practice before having a kid, you will get back to it.
2. You didn’t get in the Whitney Biennial? Boo-hoo. When you have kids you have other, more real, things to worry about than obsessing over your career highs and lows—like whether you will get enough sleep tonight or whether your child’s addiction to video games will stunt her creative growth.
3. You become much more efficient and are able to multi-task in a truly advanced way. If you thought you could only go to the studio when you had four hours of uninterrupted time, now you go when you have 20 minutes.
4. You will find new strategies for making your work. Be it that you start making work that you can do from your home, or on the go—you will refashion your practice to allow for your new life and maybe even find a better way of working.
5. You will care less what others think, allowing you more space to make genuine work. It will give you a strange freedom stemming from the realization that what you thought was important is no longer. (See #2.)
6. You will value time in the studio like never before.
7. You will take your life more seriously. You suddenly wonder what you could have achieved if you had taken your life this seriously when you were 25.
8. Your child will be a source of deep interest, enjoyment, satisfaction and love. Even when he or she is driving you crazy. And you will get to hang outside at the park for many an afternoon.
1. Seriously: there is no going back.
2. You can’t have it all (whatever that means). You are making a choice to spend a major part of your life on raising another life. It will be harder to maintain your level of ambition, not because you no longer have ambition, but because it becomes more complex.
3. You have to become a grown-up. No more art childhood for you. Suddenly you have utter and at times crushing responsibility. And you can no longer say “fucking hell” (unless you don’t care if your toddler repeats it in daycare).
4. You do not have much time. You look with envy at all of those who can still apply to residencies (are there such things as family-friendly residencies for artists?) and have unlimited time to spend in the studio, to socialize at openings and then to still lie around with a book.
5. The art world may not take you as seriously for a while, thinking that you go off to mommy-la-la-land. You may slip from the top of their ‘dedicated artist’ list, at least for a while. I don’t know if this is because they want to give you space, or they think that you are just not as ‘on’ as before, or they’ve forgotten about you because you’re just not attending as many events.
6. You will suddenly have to provide for someone else. Food, clothes, daycare, music lessons… it all costs money. Making money (unless you are making it through your art practice) is time consuming, adding to the time suck.
7. The artworld already takes artists who are men far more seriously than women (and it seems increasingly so again, but that is another topic). Artist dads with kids are cute and progressive; artist moms with kids are expected.
Some tips on how to manage:
1. Have kids with a great partner. The only way you can continue to make work seriously is to have a partner who is equally involved in the children.
a. Your partner’s equal involvement in child care will mean that not only your career, but your partner’s as well, are impacted. The article by Anne-Marie Slaughter ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have it All‘ should be re-titled ‘why both women and men can’t have it all (when they share the childcare).’ You can see why old-fashioned labor division was more efficient, although not better.
b. Stay-at-home dads fall under having a great partner. The financial side will then be yours. (See The Bad #7.)
2. Have some money. Or at least invest any money you make to make more. Kids are costly. And it costs to buy yourself more time.
3. Find a way of off-loading your kids for some stretch of time. Trade with another parent, find part-time daycare, or trade with your partner. Once they go to school you have the school day (except for the time you spend on your money-making job).
4. Have a great support group around your child. If you don’t have family in town you will need friends that you can trade with or leave your child with at the drop of a hat in an emergency.
5. Stay connected with the artist, curator and gallerist friends you have. Don’t lose touch because you are spending more time with other adults who have babies. Ideally find art world friends with kids.
6. Take your child to some openings, but not all. Your children should be part of your life and your artworld wants to share in them. But make sure you go to openings without them from time to time so that every conversation does not have to revolve around your baby, toddler or child.
7. In general, being an artist is already a juggle of studio, job, admin, grant writing. Having a child is just adding another very complex and time-consuming layer.
8. If you don’t try it, you will never know.