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.
Thank you Francesca for sharing your insight… It’s very much an internally labored-over topic for many of us, but it does not often receive the open dialogue it deserves. It’s a daunting task, asking your colleagues about their life with a new child in the mix while also trying to weigh your own options and not offend them with your many, MANY questions.
This has a feel to it of Rilke’s “Letter to a Young Poet”, without of course, all the ethereal floweriness-on the money observations,gut check realities, funny recollections,rehashed days of penuries and ignored phonecalls…thanks for witnessing. So glad that shit is over with!
Deserves a more fleshed out title, Like Artists and Mom and Dad.
Really great read.
Thank you Francesca for the article and for the tips, and truths. Wouldn’t it be great if “The Bad” numbers 5 & 7 didn’t exist? Articles like this and talking about these issues will hopefully help.
My art leaps and falls within the domestic realm, all for the better. The boys, who once carried sketch books around and who drew on our bodies, would never pursue the act of making images for money. They participate in my art now age 11 and 13, grasping the contemporary ideas that mom has. The greatest anxiety I ever felt was the gap of connectivity to the art world and the greatest strength I have is the connectivity to my boys and my art.
Hey other artist moms and dads – I guess I was hoping this piece would be a springboard for your added thoughts on the subject . . . And thank you Gary and Emily for your kind comments!
This artist + parent article is a good read. I would add that unlike art, the child is responsive, has a true pulse…a soul, if you will…unlike art which only takes on the persona we place on it. Art does not give back love and is just an inanimate object when it comes down to it. As an artist and father it is hard to imagine life without the 2 kids I have raised with my wife. Our kids challenged the life I have in and out of the studio. My work as an artist is important but does not compare to the rewards of being a father.
What a great article. You succinctly put together many of the things I too have found. You, and others, may enjoy joining the discussion about these issues at BROODWOR on Facebook, and checking out our website that archives lots of similar experiences from a wide variety of creative people.
So glad to see this!
Touché and ditto !
I am sure we all have slightly different experiences as parents but there are definitely some universal truths and you speak of them here.
Sadly, no matter how terrific your partner-in-parenting is…if he is male you will likely notice that you have more to juggle. Maybe that one extra ball in the air is generated out of the bias you allude to in “The Bad…No. 7”. Daddy’s are not in question when you ask “how to be an artist with children?” Its true. Your whole identity shifts when you become a mom. I just don’t think this happens in the same way for men.
Its also true that I put extra pressure on myself. Even though I have a bad-ass co-parent I take on more…I feel the weight of it more. Is this because I am a WOMAN or is it my personality? Probably both.
I also want to say the being a mom is the best thing that has every happened to me…as a person and as an artist. I am pushed harder, I know myself better, and I am inspired in new ways every single day.
So true. There should probably have been an 8th point in the Bad.
8. You will be the main worrier, manager and schedule organizer until your children are grown (and maybe even then.)
In most straight child rearing partnerships the mom is the designated worrier as per a recent op-ed article in the NY Times. We want the control, but hate the burden.
From another recent article on the subject: “Choosing to be an artist doesn’t make a lot of logistical sense—it makes spiritual sense. Same for parenting. It’s not a shrewd or efficient choice, but what important choices are?”
A couple of recent articles on this topic:
On the plus side, raising a family as you pursue a career in the arts provides the endless source of inspiration that children and parenthood can be.