5 Tips for Sparking Creativity for Work while Raising Little Kids from a Mom and Entrepreneur
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When you’re in the thick of raising little humans, it can seem somewhat incomprehensible to carve out time for a creative project of your own. Especially if childcare isn’t in the cards at the moment. In the last four years, I have interviewed 200 women who blur the edges between stay-at-home and working parenthood by making room for creative endeavors. While all of these individuals would say that it got easier to invest in themselves once their villages expanded with school or childcare, many navigated seasons of making room for themselves without help.
Here’s how you can make it happen.
1. Keep predictable routines.
Routines either get a lot of love or a lot of eyerolls depending on your audience, but beyond having proven benefits for children, parents benefit too. When the kids are little, dependable nap times or sleep times let you plan for windows of time for you to rest or play. If the kids go to bed by 7 p.m., consider slotting 7 to 8 p.m. for yourself before take-out and binge-watching “Bridgerton.” If your kids are later to bed (and hopefully later to wake) set aside some time in the morning to work.
Neeti Narula, a yoga instructor raising her toddler son in the North Fork of New York, describes a routine that keeps her connected to her practice. “The typical structure of my week is that I wake up at around 6 a.m. and meditate and do some morning yoga. This is my ‘me time’. If I sleep in, I miss out on it, and my whole day gets off-kilter.”
If you’re wondering when you will prep meals or work through family admin, I lean on the modern standby. While screen time gets a lot of flack, having designated periods for kids to watch an age-appropriate amount of TV lets you have a half-hour for whatever you need (or want).
2. Make conscious trade-offs.
Once you have a block of time that you claim for yourself, commit to what you want to do with it. Self-care doesn’t have to mean bubble baths, and a successful day doesn’t have to mean a clean house. Deciding early on what lights you up and what you’re willing to let go of helps make the most of the hours you find in the day.
When I was home in the early years with my children, I didn’t prioritize working out, but I did prioritize work on Mother Untitled because that fed my energy. Equally essential and not always discussed: I accepted that I would leave the toys out, the laundry unfolded, and that my husband would cook in the evening so I could use every minute of nap time for my writing.
3. Rely on your village.
If you have a partner or fellow caregiver, use them. Figuring out a good rhythm that affords both of you the downtime you need keeps the whole family enjoying this chapter. In our home, we trade off mornings until 7:30 or 8 a.m., giving the person who’s “off” time to work on projects or take care of themselves in whatever way feels right — even if on that day it’s more sleep. Even weekends, while considered precious family time, can be divided up so that each partner gets a few hours solo.
Neeti Narula expanded on her experience of sharing responsibilities in her day-to-day by sharing with me, “I teach 3–4 times a week, and during these class times, my husband takes over. Nap times are my work hours — this when I plan my classes, content, take calls, etc. Bedtime is always with my husband so that at the end of the day, I get some time to myself to unwind or finish up work.”
Your village doesn’t have to exist within the home and can include neighbors and other parents. A dear friend who is raising her son on her own has set up an arrangement with her son’s friends’ parents, so the kids score a playdate and the parents trade off time to themselves.
Whatever the system, creating one that supports you is key.
4. Set doable expectations for yourself.
Best laid plans, right? With anything in parenting and in life, a healthy amount of acceptance and expectation setting goes a long way. Ana Gambuto, a Shelter Island-based photographer and small business owner, describes the feeling of hitting a wall by working in the fringe hours of the day and also accepting what’s possible on any given day. “I joke that my workday is 9 p.m. — 12 a.m., which isn’t a funny joke. I find I either have truly productive days when I make tons of headway on my business, or days when I don’t take a single photo or post anything, or return one email.”
Leslie Bangamba, a mother raising three children while doing child safety advocacy work alongside, added, “I make room for the work I do while raising three children by being intentional and setting realistic expectations of myself. My partner is very hands-on, even though he works shift work. On the days that he is away from home, I set my expectations relatively low as I know I have no support with the children. When he is home, we work together as a team, but I have more freedom to time block hours in the day to accomplish certain tasks. Depending on the day, I may work late into the evening, and I have peace of mind knowing I will not wake up with the children. At the forefront, I aim to be flexible with myself because I am still figuring it all out.”
5. Work side by side with your kids.
Maybe my favorite long-term solution for creating is to actually do it alongside one another. For our kids, play is work and having designated work time allows an hour of quiet where you can be busy and together.
For people like me who didn’t get the memo on self-play when my first child was a baby and thought my job was to entertain endlessly, Lizzie Assa, founder of The Workspace For Children, offers a guide to setting up independent play time for children. In the guide, Lizzie, a content creator and mother to four, defines independent play as down-time for all. She suggests labeling it explicitly in order to make it a predictable part of your routine and setting up spaces for both parents and children to look forward to. My favorite tip from the guide: let the independent time follow “together” time, so kids are getting a balance of both.
Whether you’re opting out of the family outing on a Saturday to nurture a new idea or choosing to hide in your room to work on digital content or you have set up a communal table where you’re painting side by side for an hour a day, you are giving your children a gift. Seeing us invest in our creativity allows them to do the same, and they get the best version of us. Even if it means a little less time playing with LEGOs and a little more time creating together.