A couple weeks ago, I spent an hour on Instagram Live, talking with fellow makers about how I’ve managed to raise children, live in community, and also keep creating music. Let me start by saying I am not amazing, nor is my situation unique. It’s not at all unusual to be a working parent. I think the unconventional nature of the music business makes it seem less conducive to leading a balanced life with family than other types of work.
You may feel like you need to set it aside once you start a family, because you feel a little selfish taking time to make art, especially if it’s not generating much or any income for the family. Or you may just be so freaking tired all the time that you can’t fathom having the brain power to make something good.
Well, let me encourage you if I can? I have five kids who are now 11 and up. I didn’t start working in music as a vocation until my firstborn was three-years-old. I was SO tired for a LONG time.
I could talk for dayyyyys about all of this, but I have songs to write! So I’ve tried to recall + summarize the tips I shared in our Live chat.
Here you go!
1. Making art is not (necessarily) a selfish use of your time.
If your mind/soul are fed by creative work, you will be better for others if you honor this part of yourself. The world (& your family) need you to be the most whole & healthy human you can be. Put your oxygen mask on, so you can help others do the same.
2. When it’s time to create, ignore the rest.
When you sit down to do your creative thing, you’re gonna be tempted to get up and tend to everything little thing that pops into your head: laundry, texts, Instagram, that mess from breakfast on the kitchen counter. STOP & SIT BACK DOWN. All of that will be there when you emerge from your flow. They will never not be there trying to keep you from the more important thing. Let the kids work out their own arguments (if they can do it safely--this happened in my house during our live chat). Let the bills be done at bill time. Don’t you hate it when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone and they keep looking at their phone? Show your creative self the same respect you appreciate from others.
3. Start early so you can stay late.
If you tend to be exhausted by 9pm, and that’s your only time to songwrite or draw, I’ve found it MUCH easier to convince myself to stay up late to finish something that already has momentum. Grab 15 minutes during lunch or while the kids watch TV to just START something that excites you. It may be just one line, but if you love it, you’ll look forward to your late-night date all day. You can’t sacrifice sleep every night, but do it now and then. It’s worth it.
4. Lower the bar.
Stop aiming for perfection with either your artistic work OR your children OR your house. Perfection is an obstacle to quantity, and quantity gives you better chances of quality over time. Also, perfection is kind of boring. If social media is making you feel terrible about yourself and giving you an impossible standard, get rid of it. Or stop following the feeds that mess you up. Stop waiting to make something. Don’t take forever to call it finished. And once you have something, show it already.
5. Stop watching Netflix & scrolling Instagram.
Don’t need to say much about this, but if you really want to look back on your life and be happy with the way you’ve spent it, start now. Do what you love instead of what’s easy. Netflix is easy. Make something first, watch later.
6. Be inclusive.
If you’re still feeling a little guilty about spending time on your creative work, start inviting your people into it. Let it be a centerpiece in family and community activity. Host house concerts, sing-alongs, workshops, or just hand your kids some shakers and let them play and sing with you! Art will enrich and connect your tribe if you want it to.
7. A little structure goes a long way.
Artists tend to resist routine, even if it’s imposed or suggested by our own minds (“I’m going for a run. Wait, I don’t have to do that!”). But I’ve come to love any little bit of routine I can find. It’s not a lot. My musician lifestyle requires lots of flexibility, travel, and irregular hours. But I manage to stick to a decent sleep schedule, especially when I’m home, and a fairly consistent morning routine. 6:20am wake up, brush teeth, make coffee, read and meditate/pray, occasionally journal, make a list for the day. It’s amazing how this routine sets the tone for my day and puts me in a much better place mentally.
8. Find or create community.
I lived in North Carolina most of my adult years until last year, and I wasn’t surrounded by a ton of songwriters or artists. It took time and courage and effort to find ways to bring people together, but it was totally worth it. I treasure my musical tribe in Raleigh and miss them dearly. There may be people you’re aware of in your area you can reach out to (be brave!) or you may be the one to start something. Also, don’t forget the online community. And workshops and retreats (like this one I'm co-hosting in January). There are SO many ways to connect and share and be encouraged in your work nowadays.
9. Create deadlines
During the little kid years especially, it’s super easy to never quite get anything done. I’ve found it essential to create accountability through public deadlines. Public doesn’t have to be online to the masses. It may be a local commitment to perform or create for a particular event. Say you’ll do something, and do what it takes to make it happen.
Finally, accept that there are also seasons where you truly need to take a nap instead of pushing through. Some years I wrote five songs total. Right now I probably write 15-20. All the tips above are things that have helped me, but they’ve worked differently in different seasons. Making art is meant to bring you health and joy. Let your goals be YOUR goals.
There’s no one-size-fits-all. If you just had a baby, you might decide you’ll write one song by Junior’s first birthday. OR to not try to write at all until that birthday. It’s YOUR life.
The most important thing...
The most important thing is to practice (and it does take practice) being fully present to this moment and to your choices. If you choose to sleep instead of staying up to write, ENJOY that sleep! Own your choice and live with it. If you stay up late, accept you’re gonna be tired tomorrow and BE GOOD with that. If you don’t like what you chose last week, do something different this week. Just don’t get stuck.
If you've been on a teeter-totter of frustration and guilt, I hope something in here helps. It's not EASY. But then, most of the best things are worth a little extra effort. :)
Love & peace,