DO YOU HATE YOUR KIDS?
(It’s okay. You can tell me.)
Or let me to rephrase the question: do you harbor the slightest resentment towards your children because they’ve taken away your last ounce of freedom?
People often ask my husband and me if we plan on having kids. Besides the whole “being gay thing,” they view us as a couple that could easily produce some babies that we could nourish into adulthood. And they’re not entirely wrong: we do have pretty good heads on our shoulders, decent jobs, a car that takes us places and an incredibly loyal dog named Vernon.
We’re almost a modern, nuclear family. Except for one missing piece:
When I ask my childless friends the same question — whether or not they plan on having kids — I get the same answers across the board. One-third of my friends answers, “yes.” Another third answers, “maybe.” And the remaining 33.33% answer, “no.” But not like a, “no, thank you.” More like a, “Hellz to the Nah.”
“And why’s that?” I ask the dissenting bunch.
“Because I value my freedom,” they say. “You’re not like us. You look like you could juggle a family,” they tell me reassuringly.
I reply, “thank you?”
I didn’t realize that they had made me out to be Mike Brady in the flesh.
TO RAISE A KID OR NOT TO RAISE A KID? THAT IS THE QUESTION
I’d bet a gajillion dollars that my life would’ve been vastly different had I been a heterosexual male.
I would’ve impregnated the first girl who swore her undying allegiance to me and knew how to cook rice and beans like my momma. We’d have three kids named after Shakespearean characters: Imogen, Marina and Orlando. And I’d finally have the band I always wanted. We’d have a kitschy name like “Wasabi Mayo” or “Retail Therapy.”
But this is someone else’s life.
My life is comprised of an Israeli singer who plays the role of Husband and a dog that scavenges for street food when we go on walks.
Is there room for more? I wonder
The answer is, possibly.
But what a lot of straight couples don’t realize is that it’s pretty expensive for us LGBTQers to plan for a family. The average cost of surrogacy is a whopping $110,000. Adoption isn’t far behind at $43,000.
But let’s say that money isn’t an obstacle. Let’s say I can have as many kids as my little heart desires.
Would I still want them upon realizing how fucking crazy it is to raise a family? To mold my future children into human beings of the non-shitty variety?
Recently, I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, “Big Magic,” based on her eponymous book. In episode two, aptly titled “Pursue Your Passions Like a Mofo,” Gilbert and her guest speaker, writer Cheryl Strayed (author of “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”) offer a counterintuitive approach to the time-consuming task of parenting.
It’s the idea that parents often feel a deep sense of shame and guilt when it comes to spending less time with their children and more time pursuing creative endeavors or passion projects outside of their regular nine-to-fives. These parents feel as though they’re robbing their children of “quality time” by spending it more on “selfish-me-time.”
This is particularly common among parents who also happen to be creatives. But it’s creative women, Gilbert and Strayed point out, who are especially beholden to this notion of shame and guilt. They take the top martyr prize when it comes to eschewing the pursuit of art so that they can prioritize raising Larry, Curly and Moe.
WHERE ARE THE WOMEN CAVES?
I’m a feminist. (Sue me!)
And my inkling is that men can get away with “me-time” more so than women. There are basements across America that have been converted into “man caves,” with or without the approval of wives across America. Where are the “women caves?” I wonder. (I think we need more of those.)
Perhaps there are none because, historically, women are the ones expected to raise the kids, keep a tidy home and put dinner on the table when poppa gets home from work. Make no mistake: this is a full-time job. And it doesn’t end at dinner. There’s bathtime. Storytime. Bedtime. Laundry time. And everything else in between.
Whatever me-time is left in the day you don’t want to spend sitting at a desk, conceptualizing your next art exhibit (except you haven’t painted anything in years), or writing the next great American novel (except you find that inspiration, like Elvis, has left the building.)
It’s no wonder that childless couples cling to their freedoms like mail order brides who are shipped to America to meet their brand new husbands, but they can’t speak a word of English.
In today’s fast-paced world — where globalization and technology rule — time has become (arguably) the most valuable commodity of all, more so than dolla dolla bills y’all.
This is precisely why we can’t just sit around and wait for inspiration to slap us in the face. Not you — the artist — who needs to create in order to live.
PICASSO SAID IT BEST
The inimitable Pablo Picasso said two great things about art that pretty much sums it up for me.
Number one: “art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
How is it not crystal clear that we creatives simply cannot live without art?
Number two: “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
I agree wholeheartedly, and so does Elizabeth Gilbert, who’s mentioned this not only in her book and podcast, “Big Magic,” but also in her wonderful Ted Talk, “Your Elusive Creative Genius.”
When you strike a contract with creativity, she says, you each have distinct obligations to uphold. Think of this as you would a rental agreement in an apartment community. You’re obliged to pay rent to your landlord by the 1st of the month, to obtain renter’s insurance, to notify management of any maintenance issues, and so forth. In return, (hopefully) you’re rewarded with the quiet enjoyment of your premises, a fully-functioning dishwasher and a mold-free apartment.
The creativity contract is drafted in pretty much the same way. But there’s a likelihood that you’ll be renting from a slumlord who doesn’t uphold his end of the bargain. This is when things go to shit. The dose of inspiration that creativity dispatches from the ethereal plane — the place where your “artistic core” resides — doesn’t always show up to greet you at your desk.
Instead, it takes a turn somewhere, perhaps distracted by a big sign that reads “BLOWOUT SALE” on a window of a shop on Melrose.
This is disconcerting because — let’s face it — when you’re busy you don’t have time to wait for inspiration to come “a-knockin.”
However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t uphold your end of the bargain. After all, you still pay rent to your slumlord, even though he promised to fix the dishwasher months ago, except that he hasn’t gotten off his Lazyboy, which he sits on day-in and day-out, scratching at a constant itch in his pubes.
FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE
Creative parents face a tough challenge: they must put in the required time to create fulfilling works of art without depriving their kids of the time it takes to strengthen family unity.
How can parents accomplish this?
How can they lead creative lives à la Picasso without relinquishing precious time to their kids (and vice versa?)
There has to be a balance. I’ll speak for most of when I say that we, as artists, simply can’t accept life without creating so that we could devote our time to raising children.
I know this to be true despite having no kids of my own. I barely have time to conceptualize the words you’re reading now, to scour the web for royalty-free images and gifs to insert them here so you can have a “break” from reading my time-consuming words.
Whereas highly-successful people will tell you (while filing their nails in between conferences) that you must make time, I would urge you to make good use of the time you already have.
To achieve peace of mind, you must fuel your life with the minimal amount of creativity it needs to keep you from going insane.
So don’t wait for inspiration to show up. More often than not, it won’t. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show up, either.
Go ahead! Sit at your desk and do your work! (But maybe finish reading this first, #lol.)
THE TRICKSTER METHOD
Yet another wise piece of advice from Elizabeth Gilbert.
Who’s to say that you can’t trick inspiration into following you (for once)?
You — the parent — do this all the time.
How many times have your kids fussed at the parking lot or the grocery store? You want to keep moving, but they lag behind you or they refuse to budge.
“Okay, buddy,” you tell them. “You have two options.”
One, they can stay behind, alone, and whine like the hot messes they are as they watch you leave.
Or two, they can follow you nicely to the place where you both need to go. (If you have an extremely stubborn kid, use lollipops, popsicles and anything else you can pull out of your ass to trick them into following you! I’m pretty sure raising a kid is like training a dog, no?)
But first, you must let go of the stigma of “stolen time.”
That is to say: of feeling shame and guilt when you “take time away” from your children so that you can pursue your creative life in a way that’s fulfilling and meaningful. Not to mention, necessary.
Shame and guilt are fluffs that have no place in your mind. You’ve already many challenges to overcome. There’s work, which can be stressful, which can lead to one-too-many cocktails, which can lead to alcoholism, which can lead to rehab, which can lead to…
Must I go on?
Do yourself a favor, dear parents: sign up for things that don’t further complicate your lives.
Too often does your self-flogging attitude towards time theft destroy all hopes of creativity.
You think that taking too much me-time is a disservice to your children, but this is a heap of cow dung covered in flies.
DO NOT ENTER
Gilbert also argues that establishing boundaries that teach your kids at a young age not to fuck with your creative time isn’t at all a disservice to them. It’s actually a service.
You’re effectively teaching little Billy or Suzie that art is necessary. That you need art in your life. That art needs you. Or however the fuck you want to convey this message so that they get the point and leave you the fuck alone.
Because it’s not just Billy and Suzie who get to post a “Do Not Enter” sign on their doors when they’re going through their teenage angst phases. Mom and Dave have just as much right to close themselves away, too.
So hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign and lock the door behind you. And if your kids gain access to your workspace somehow, feel free to yell: GET THE FUCK OUT!
You won’t screw them up psychologically, I promise. You’re teaching them a valuable lesson, albeit in a most unsubtle way: that creativity is as important as their need to be coddled.
One day, when they become grownups of the non-shitty variety, they’ll remember your steadfast efforts; how you remained true to who you are.
An artist who must create or else anguish from the lack thereof.
A parent who must take on the enormous responsibility of caring for another life or else anguish from the lack thereof.
You are both these things and each is equally important. Don’t let one outweigh the other.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll inspire your children o become artists, too. And that’s a wonderful thing!
We need art, no matter how twisted, non-sensical and controversial it can be.
So there you have it, nervous parents-to-be, or the I-wish-Billy-and-Suzie-would-go-away kind of parents:
The kids will be alright.
You don’t have to sacrifice your creative lives out of fear that you might be fucking up your kids in the process. You’re not a horrible mom or dad, contrary to your own belief, just because you took the necessary me-time you so rightfully deserve.
Furthermore, your children needn’t murder your dreams of becoming a prolific writer, or a master documentarian, or a stylish haberdasher, or whatever your little heart desires.
Just order this sign on Amazon, strike a deal with creativity and find the right balance for you, your art and your family.
You can thank me later.