Self vs. Self: Artist or Mother

Once I wrapped my last project, I submitted to an ebb of domestic demands, and now I’m so incredibly ready for artistic flow. But before I dive in, I wanted to share some poignant realizations I’ve had about life and balance over the last six weeks.

SELF VS. SELF: ARTIST OR MOTHER?

First, some background: ever since I became a mother five years ago, I’ve felt as though I’ve been fighting a never-ending and unwinnable battle with myself. For all the time I spend on my craft (i.e. on myself) I feel guilty that it isn’t time spent with my family, or at least doing something for my family, like cooking healthier dinners or having perfectly pressed school uniforms. 

Yet — and I am totally willing to admit this — when 100% of my time is focused on family, I’m left feeling less than whole. I feel like I’m not myself, like there’s something missing, and then the negativity creeps in — everything from feeling down to feeling downright resentful. And that negativity leads back to guilt: I can just hear society tsk- tsk-ing, “What kind of woman isn’t pleased to wholly devote herself to her family?”

I can’t tell you how many self-help books I’ve read, how many Paulo Coelho quotes I’ve stuck to my mirror, or how many debates I’ve had with others, simply searching for my own truth — who, what am I meant to be? Which identity should win?

THE ANSWER: ENTER A.S. BYATT

A.S. Byatt is a British writer, and I came across an old interview with her in The Guardian in which she stated her truth. And it was just so, so good, that I’ve now adopted it as my truth.

She said: “I think of writing simply in terms of pleasure. It's the most important thing in my life, making things. Much as I love my husband and my children, I love them only because I am the person who makes these things… because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all these people” (emphasis mine).

Wow. How powerful, right?

MY TAKE

I pondered A.S. Byatt’s words for several days before whittling my thoughts down to the following points:

  1. My husband chose to have a life with me — not with a cook, a housekeeper, a chauffeur, a personal assistant, or an empty shell of a person who zones out in front of the TV every evening. So if I’m not staying true to who I am, then my husband isn’t getting what he signed up for either.
  2. My children, who are sensitive and insightful, need have a mother who’s happy in order to feel secure and content — in order to feel loved. And I only have the ability to love fully if I’m feeling full as an individual.
  3. I’m not sure why the idea exists that when we become mothers, our whole purpose from that point forward is to live for our children. Sure, if you need to work, you work, but you’re not supposed to enjoy it, are you? This dichotomy — that you can either be a mother or, well, a bad mother — is just completely constructed and unrealistic.

I guess the idea that I need to keep up my creative work to feel fulfilled wasn’t particularly new, but realizing that the need isn’t selfish has been completely liberating. I fully expect, as A.S. Byatt implied, that maintaining my own identity will make me a better wife and mother. In that case, I’ll be there as a complete human being instead of an empty shell going through the motions.