In my job as proprietor of The Habit Membership, I hear from a lot of mothers who find it exceedingly hard to get creative work done. This is a letter of encouragement to those mothers. (If you aren’t a mother, feel free to read anyway; you might even pass this letter on to a mother in your life.) I don’t wish to mansplain or make assumptions about other people’s assumptions. I’m just saying that I know of mothers who want to write or paint or do other creative work, but feel guilty about taking time away from domestic duties to pursue such “self-focused” interests. If you are among those mothers, this letter is for you.
A Word About Selflessness
Somehow we have gotten it in our heads that creative work is selfish. And selfishness, of course, is incommensurate with the selflessness that we associate with motherhood. I will grant that Picasso and Ernest Hemingway seemed to be spectacularly lacking in maternal instincts. But the creative people I know—many of them mothers—strike me as less selfish than the usual run of people.
If you think of your creative efforts as primarily self-expression, or self-indulgence or self-anything, then, of course a loving, giving person is going to find it very hard to prioritize creative efforts. But I want to suggest to you that your creative efforts are among the most important ways that you can be loving and giving to your family and to the communities in which you find yourself.
The Apostle Peter tells us to be always ready “to give an account of the hope that is in you.” When you write, paint, make music…that’s what you’re doing: you are giving an account of the hope that is in you. You are telling a truer story. You are looking out on the world and saying, “Here is what I see.” That’s not a selfish act. Is it an act of self-expression? Sure. So is cooking a meal for family and friends.
Creative work is (or ought to be) selfless work. It’s worth making time for.
But there is always housework to be done.That’s right. There is always housework that needs to be done. This is good news: if you put it off for two hours while you write or paint or make music, the housework isn’t going anywhere. You haven’t missed your chance to wash dishes. If you end up pulling dirty breakfast plates out of the sink and wiping them off for lunch, nobody is going to die.
When your kids grow up, they aren’t going to say, “Know what was great about living in our house? The dishes were always clean.”
When you make time and space for your own creative work, you are modeling for your children the importance of creativity. You are modeling the truth that housework is not the only important thing in your world. That’s something your children need to see and know.
An important part of your calling is to create an environment in which your children can thrive. But that’s not your whole calling as a human being, or even as a mother. Your kids need to see you living out the image of God the Creator; one of the most important ways that we bear the image of God is by being sub-creators. If your sacrifices on your children’s behalf cause you to neglect part of your calling, you aren’t being the image-bearer that you were made to be. You aren’t doing your kids any favors.
The last thing I’d want to do is to make mothers feel pressure to be more productive or more fabulous. I’m not Pinterest. I’m just saying, if you have a hankering to make something or write something or play some music, I hope you’ll give yourself permission to make room for that. If your kids are adamant about wearing clean clothes, teach them how to do laundry. The same goes for husbands.