Image: author's own
Parents: a question for you. When did you last let the creative process run to completion- from brainstorming an initial idea, through development, to finally cooking, playing or dancing it into existence, sheerly for your own pleasure and fulfilment?
Chances are that you used to play a musical instrument, or dance, or write when you were a child or teenager, or if you were lucky, right into your early 20s. Do you ever wonder what happened to those interests? Many of us spent years of our lives honing these skills to become highly proficient in various creative fields, and then what? Adult life came along. Work, bills, loans, credit cards, commuting, wedding planning, pregnancy, nappy changing, feeding, weaning, nursery, and finally... school! So that you can get back to a "simpler" life of just work, bills, loans, credit cards and commuting- what a relief eh?
I recently reshaped my career around our decision to home educate our children, and the two main freedoms it afforded me was time and space. Time in my schedule that isn't blocked out by work now allows flexibility in how I allocate the different portions of my day, and space to think without work-related worries gives me more room to develop creative ideas.
For me, creative inspiration comes in fits and starts- I can go for months without having a creative project on the go, and then all of a sudden it becomes super-urgent that I start sewing, drawing, or crafting. During those rare waves of inspiration I have made some really cool things - like play mats and photo books for my friends' babies, and bunting, blinds and cushion covers for my own kids' room. In between those times though, I tend to get bogged down in the routines of family life, and setting aside time for creative activities falls to the bottom of my priority list.
However, in recent months I have tried to consciously incorporate more creativity into my regular routine, whether it is taking the kids with me to tap dance in a studio for an hour a week, or devoting some quiet time in the evenings to my writing instead of Netflix. Sometimes I fall short- exhaustion wins in the evenings, or my son insists he doesn't want to go to the studio, and that's fine. Just knowing that there is a regular date in my diary for something artistic, even if I don't always make it, is a huge improvement on what came before.
I'm frustrated and saddened by the number of adults who have described themselves to me as "not creative", when I know as children they would have said the exact opposite. What is happening in our schools and society to subdue that inner creative spark and educate our children out of creativity? Our natural childhood yearning for creating has been replaced with an insatiable appetite for consuming products with just one click, often suggested to us by algorithms rather than actual people. This has rendered invisible and unimportant the slow and mindful process of making, the hours of unseen practice necessary to truly master a skill. From observing my own and other home educated children, I'm re-learning the joy of open ended play and creative activities, without pre-set rules, boundaries and expectations (think free-building with Lego as opposed to kit building). As an added bonus, embracing creativity again has helped me to reconnect with old friends, and make new ones- not always an easy task as an adult.
At the peak of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, creativity is a vital ingredient for achieving self-actualization, and I would argue it helps with achieving many of the other self-actualizing characteristics: spontaneity, problem-solving, acceptance and non-conformism to name a few.
"Self-actualization?! Yeah, right!" I hear you collectively chuckle...
The fact is wherever you are on Maslow's pyramid- whether you're working on your psychological needs such as self-esteem and intimacy, or basic needs like security and employment- creativity is a vital tool in helping you progress to the next level. So you see, this isn't just about taking up the clarinet again, or finally signing up to that life drawing class: it's about taking deliberate steps towards becoming your best self. If 2016 taught us anything it is that our time on this planet is short, so don't shelve your creative ambitions until the kids are grown up- that day may never come. Instead, make a decision to honour and nurture that part of you that longs to act, or sing, or paint. I'm hereby giving you permission to try some new (or pick up some old) creative hobbies this year. Be brave: go out and make some mistakes, get things embarrassingly wrong, laugh at yourself, and then get up and continue. You may not be the next Misty, Esperanza or Willard, but you do have something unique to show the world, something that will help you and your family to thrive. Start today!