Friday, November 14, 2014

Tough Choices

Most of the conversations I have with other Creataviters seem to center on three topics - money, relationships and kids. Not necessarily in that order.

Lately the tricky merger of artist and parent has come up most frequently, so let's start there.  Merging these two passions can often feel like no matter what decision we make, we won't get it right. Some cherished part of our souls always feels neglected. I'm thinking of the artist who was contemplating a fulltime job outside of the arts because he was tired of the constant lack of income; another who was deeply conflicted about accepting a contract because of the possible impact on her family. I've never forgotten the pain I saw in a colleague's eyes a few years back as he described missing his kids' annual visit to Santa.

I'm in the final years of intensive parenting. The Teen is a senior in high school. While today it seems like our parenting approach might have worked, I can't guarantee that will be true tomorrow. The Teen has friends, he enjoys school and delightfully, he even talks to us now like we are members of the same species. This is a relatively new trend which we hope will continue. Gratefully, the Teen can also bathe and clothe himself, and he even chooses to do so. Keep this in mind, those of you that are in the midst of potty-training or have a kid who refuses to shower. Everything is temporary.

To be honest with you, I never envisioned being a parent, but when I found out I was going to become one, I wholeheartedly embraced the idea. I saw it as an opportunity to shape a life with love and attention. For a variety of reasons (my own childhood, years of interactions with stage parents – oy vey), I believed that being available for my kid was the most important thing I could do. And I was fortunate; I had skills that allowed me to put that at the top of my list and still have a career in a field that I was passionate about. I also had a husband who felt the same way and had his own fulfilling career.

From day one, I started to make decisions by answering this question: How will taking on this project impact my relationship with the Kid?

I had to keep working; we all have to eat and pay the mortgage. But I consciously chose not to take on every project that was offered. I couldn't.

I admire people who can hand their kid over to a caretaker and fly off to do a six-week stint in Europe. I really do. I admire people who can take on the role of a lifetime while their kids are under the age of 10. I couldn't do it. I didn't have enough psychological space. But what matters is that I know why, and that's what you need to know for you and your life. I knew that being available for the Kid was the most important thing for me. I was lucky; I had had a pretty nice career before I had a child, so I knew that I'd be okay if I didn't achieve more of my career goals in this lifetime. I also knew I could never forgive myself if I messed up a kid, particularly one that came from my gene pool.

I knew I was missing opportunities because there was a chance that they were coming at the wrong time in my relationship with the Kid and I was okay with that. Conversely, opportunities appeared that allowed me to be available for the Kid and fulfilled me as an artist. Maybe not as much as I wanted, but enough to keep me balanced.

I was also fully aware that I could mess my kid up even more by being around. My kid's pretty self-contained, and he's always been that way. So, I've done a lot of waiting, listening, and holding my tongue (and we all know how challenging that is for me) while calmly hanging in the parental holding pattern. He has always made it clear when I was really needed and every single time, I have been grateful. Grateful that I made the decision to be available and grateful that he could express himself.

I think the hardest part of this family and career intersection is figuring out what works for you. When it doesn't line up with what you see others doing, you can really question your decisions. I know that's hard for me. There's a little part of me that's very jealous of these people who can be parents and don't have to be available all the time. I wish I could do that. But I can't. So I haven't. The reward is that I know I'm following my gut, and my kid is doing well. He's a great human, he's healthy, he's vibrant, he's his own person. I couldn't ask for more.

Let me sum up what I'm trying to say. When it comes to parenting:

- You have to make the decision that works for you. You know in your core what matters to you. You might not believe this, but you do. Find the time to listen to yourself.

- You have to remind yourself on a regular basis that you made that decision. That's what I didn't do. Oh, I'd remind myself on the surface and that felt pretty good, but recently, I'll say in the past 8 months, I've come to realize how much I was really closing myself off to opportunities. It was like I made a secret, silent pact with myself. So secret and so silent even I didn't realize I was making it. It's okay. Now I see it. That's what matters.

- You have no idea how much time and energy you are giving to your kids right now. You really don't. You need to keep doing that. Hug them, laugh with them, cry with them, listen to them, run with them, play with them, tell them you love them. They need that. Then tell them it is time for you to sing, to write, to dance or as the Kid would say to me, "to do your things".  You need that.   Go ahead.



2 comments:

anh said...

Heidi, thanks so much for this. It's applicable not only to artists but also to anyone balancing family and career. My husband and I have made some tough choices, and right now as I'm interviewing for residency, I definitely feel the impact of resulting shock waves on my career trajectory. And you are so, so right about acknowledging to ourselves -- not just a perfunctory nod on the surface, but really coming to terms with it -- the internal agreements we have made with ourselves. Somehow, doing that has mitigated the angst that would otherwise ensue and rankle me. Thank you. I will share this on our blog.

Heidi Hayes said...

You're right, Anh. People in every career face these tough choices. I am glad that my realization about acknowledging to ourselves what we are doing has reinforced your own decisions.

I'm honored that you're sharing this post on your blog. Thank you!