Being a parent is one great act of creativity -- in more ways than you may think.
For Mother’s Day I wanted to write about how motherhood is linked with creativity. But then I discovered that Haley Stewart wrote a delightful article about it already. In it, she talks about how becoming a mother helps make a woman, at the core of who she is, into a person who creates.
So often in life, the concept of becoming a mother – or a father, I should add – is linked with the idea that having children forces us into a certain, very serious, very practical identity as a parent: a responsible, hard-working, passionless drone who exists to keep the pantry full and a roof over the head of the little ones. People think of life as being all glitz and glam before children and dull home-making after children. But this simply hasn’t been my experience, either as a father or as I watch how my wife has grown into her identity as a mother. With kids, everything is far more exciting now.
G.K. Chesterton, in his autobiography, tells how his father was an inordinately creative man, designing and building all sorts of toys and gadgets for his children to play with. He appeared to be a perfectly normal man to everyone else, but his children knew better. On the outside, he was a “rather unambitious business man.” But inside the house, Chesterton says, his father was, “the Man with the Golden Key, a magician opening the gates of goblin castles or the sepulchres of dead heroes.”
A person doesn’t need to be a professional artist or creative-type to make a beautiful life. In fact, as Chesterton learned, in everything that really matters, the inside is so much larger than the outside. It’s this interior life, the beauty of the soul, that is the domain of motherhood and fatherhood. Children are a perfect work of art, an expression of the soul of their parents, a cause for an explosion of joyful creativity.
When I was younger, I used to be boring, but now I’ve escaped from all that. I’m glad I don’t have to spend all my time on adult activities anymore, but instead, after work I get to play t-ball and build dirt bike ramps. I get to engage in properly serious activities like gluing together cardboard dolls and making glitter designs. I’ve taken up drawing again because my daughter is showing artistic talent, so we do art together. Our little family is hard at work forming into a band to play Avett Brothers and Coldplay cover songs. I personally witness our children egging my wife on, convincing her to bake magnificent Swiss meringue pastries, take up embroidery, and start playing the violin. She sews Halloween costumes, has learned all about plants, and is memorizing poetry with them as part of their school curriculum.
Parenthood is one great act of creativity. When I say this, I don’t mean to imply that it isn’t also exhausting, particularly when the children are very young. There are long nights, worries, and lots of growing pains. It seems to me to particularly hard on mothers, who receive no personal space at all from children. There are no boundaries, a little body always touching your body, a person who always needs you and doesn’t care that you’re tired or sick. In this sense, it’s a vocation that takes everything you have.
I suspect it’s this privation of energy that people refer to when they imagine that parenting is drudgery, but even this suffering brings something new and beautiful. As a general principle, creativity takes place on the edges, the boundary spaces where we’re not comfortable. Personally, I write with the most insight and depth when I’m out of my comfort zone. Even as I write this essay it occurs to me that I write fruitfully whenever I think about my children. They’re a source of inspiration to me, and becoming a father has made me more creative and versatile as a writer.
Suffering voluntarily for another person – which is the very definition of motherhood and fatherhood — is love. Art is also love. The two go together. Artists suffer for their art. They sacrifice for it. Being a parent is a total commitment to the idea that life is a work of art, an experience so profound and wondrous that the more little ones we can bring into this world, the more we can expand our love, the more beautiful this world will become. Your masterpiece is your child. Nothing is more beauteous. Nothing is more inspiring. Mothers and fathers, before us lies a world of possibility.