Motherhood, Loss of Identity & Time Management

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Loss of Identity

Someone said to me recently, 'Oh wow Grace, you have some really cool earrings'. To the person who said it, they probably haven't given it a second thought since the moment it left their lips. But to me, it was the biggest sense of self I have had in years.

Before I had Little Feet, I knew who I was, what I was into and how I liked to dress. After two Little Feet, moving to four different houses, three different locations as a SAH (Stay At Home) military wife and Mummy I had lost all sense of who I was as an individual and obliterated any sort of identity I had created for myself. Not Mummy of two girls, not wife of Daddy Big Feet, but who I was personally.

I used to have an huge earring collection. I never left the house without dangly earrings, they were part of my identity and how I saw myself. So to have a sense of reclaiming that part of myself was good for my soul. You see, over the last couple of years I have been doing just that. I have slowly and I mean really slowly, been gathering parts of my identity back up again off the floor. To give you a visual, I sort of imagine it like all the moisture in the sky slowly being sucked back together to form a cloud. Well actually if I'm being brutally honest, anyone that really knows me, will know that I imagined it more like one of those Superheroes/characters from a Fantasy book that loses themselves into the atmosphere and air, dissipating/evaporating as it were.  Then with all their effort have to pull themselves back together again to create their form. You see why I originally went with the cloud example....

Comparison

Comparison is a dangerous game, in any context but, as especially as Mothers. Over the last four years since becoming a Mummy, I have often had the phrase, 'Stepford Wife' thrown at me or, 'is there anything you can't do? You are always so put together'. Now, I know most of these comments were not meant to insult me, but any comment like that CAN if you allow them to, have a slight sting to them. For both party. For the person who said them they are implying you are better then them and they are feeling inadequate and doubting their abilities. And for the person they are aimed at, well you have no idea what they might be thinking or feeling. I find these comments hysterical when they are aimed at me, as I spend a lot of my time feeling like a fraud. A fraud author, blogger, good mother, baker, you name it. I have felt like I have been judged for 4 years for being a stay at home mother (SAHM) and mainly by other women. Saying you are a SAHM immediately comes with assumptions. People immediately form an opinion of you without actually enquiring further. These are my own battles though and everyone has battles. It is very easy to judge a book by the cover and I'll be the first to put my hand up and say I'm guilty of doing that and not just to books. 

A girl of the 90s

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Being born into the 90s, girls in particular were taught that they could achieve anything they put their minds to. The world was their oyster and they could have EVERYTHING and anything they wanted. There is nothing wrong with teaching your children that as long as it doesn't become a heavy burden to carry. This burden may not even come from your parents but society, school and peers. Listen, I agree, women can have whatever they want if they put their minds to it, I teach my girls that too. However, I have been shocked at the judgement other women feel like they are entitled to give you if it doesn't align with their own opinions on what a woman should want. 

Womanhood, Wifehood, Motherhood, Life-hood.

 

I have spent a decade feeling inadequate in my contributions to my family. Being a military wife I made the choice to move with my husband wherever he was posted. We didn't want a life that was one of being 'married at the weekends'. This works for some people and I have no judgment on their choice, this was just ours at the time. This may very well change in the future, but for the time and right now that is our choice. However, this was not an easy choice for me. I had just begun my career in a prestigious auction house in London that I had worked hard to get into. Then after we married and got posted in Scotland I wasn't able to find anything in my field. So after a 8 months of trying to find work in the art world I stopped. I even stopped reading any Art articles for a couple of years and distanced myself from that world as it wasn't doing anything for my mental state. 

Now please don't misunderstand me. It was my choice to do everything I have done. I love being a SAHM. I wanted Little Feet at a young age if I was lucky enough to do so. My mother was a SAHM and as a child I always aspired to be one too. I knew if I was in the privileged enough position to be able to look after my babies at home myself then I would do it, however hard it was. What took me by surprise was the reaction from other women. I remember going to a dinner party once where the woman next to me basically berated me for being a stay at home mother and pretty much said 'shame on me'. Another woman. My shock has always stayed with me. Feminism misunderstood I feel. And no I'm not an expert, but surely it is about letting women choose what they want to do. Women supporting women is surely where it should start. Besides if any of these women had bothered to ask me they would have found out that actually, it wasn't enough to satisfy me, my brain wanted more. As it happens childcare fees in the UK are so expensive that if I had gone back to full time work, all my wage (an average UK wage) would have gone straight to childcare, at which point we would be paying someone else to raise my kids for no gain. 

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Time Management

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Since being pregnant and having my Little Feet I felt like I was still only going at 50% fulfilment. Don't get me wrong, my children are my world but I felt had more to give and achieve. My brain was literally crying out for an outlet, something to get stuck into. I missed the validation you received in an office environment. I needed validation outside being a mother and it is this combined with regaining my sense of identity that has brought me to this point in my life where I needed to think of time management if I wanted to have my cake and eat it.  

And so my book, 'Potty About Pots; arts and crafts for home and school' and this space, The Rainbow Tree was born. 

So how did I do it? This is a question I get asked a lot and someone approached me recently and said maybe other creatives and mothers would benefit from hearing how. So here it is. 

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I often get asked a lot how I have time to do everything I do. Let me first off say that everyone has different energy and achievement levels. I would say I am high functioning. By that I mean, I enjoy being busy and find I am much more productive if I am. However I procrastinate like a snail running to the local slug bop. My procrastination can last all day long if Im not busy. With that in mind I do have to be quite strict with myself. I have what my sister and I call a 'Series Addiction'. We don't use the word addiction lightly. It can be all consuming and hours may disappear. I can feel actual anger if Daddy Big Feet needs to go to bed on a cliff hanger and like a good series of books, I can feel empty and at a loss of what to do with myself at the end of a guilty binge. So with that in mind, I have had to curb this habit as I was literally wasting my life away. If Daddy Big Feet is away, which at the start of having Little Feet, he was a lot, the TV wouldn't even go on for most evenings. This helped my productivity hugely. 

We found out we were pregnant 24 hours before Daddy Big Feet was going away 'on tour' to Afghanistan. I had 7 months of boredom ahead of me with too much time to think. So, I decided to do a Teaching Assistant course to keep me busy and thought that it would come in useful in the years to come. During my time doing that my desire to be published resurfaced. I realised Art was being lost in Primary Schools and this seemed like madness to me. So, after months of indecision I finally settled on a topic of an Art educational arts and crafts book that could be used by anyone with contact to children. Though i did do some market research I didn't know if anyone would be interested in publishing it. I decided to write it anyway as it was something, 'for me'.

This process wasn't quick! From start of writing to publication it took almost 4 years! But I did a little work on it everyday with some weeks being more productive then others. When Little Feet A was born it got sidelined for a long time. Then when she started napping regularly and I was out of the haze of first time motherhood I slowly went back to it. This increased when she started going to nursery. Then I got pregnant with Little Feet B and I gave myself a deadline. I wanted to have my manuscript sent to publishers before she was born. Late nights were had, but I did it and it was an amazing feeling. 

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Over a year later, after it was released I had the opportunity to do some freelance blogging off the back of my book. This was totally unexpected and really the cherry on top of a fantastically euphoric time for me. So now I call myself a full time Mummy by day and a freelance blogger by night! I am lucky that these two roles mix quite well and often what I am blogging about I need to experiment on the Little Feet so sometimes they symbiotically mix. Don't get me wrong though, I have to be organised and I limit how many blogs I can do a month so that the kids aren't affected. I have a schedule of work that I keep to and have to preplan for everything I need for them. When the kids go to bed, I start working. My day begins again at 7pm. It is tiring BUT I love it. I get so much joy spreading and encouraging families with Little Feet to get involved with arts and crafts and I am rewarded by hearing the amount of traffic the blogs are getting. 

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Lastly, this isn't a one woman show. I have a husband that is and has always been very supportive. We eat with the Little Feet so I have the evening to work. If I have deadlines then he will do bath time, bed time and the washing up. If I need time to work one weekend he will take them out for a couple of hours. AND we make sure that I take 1-2 evenings off so that we don't become strangers under the same house, which can SO easily happen. 

My advice:

  1. Don't let your life be one of 'What ifs' and 'One days'. You will get knocked down, just get back up again and try again. This is so important for your Little Feet to see too. Make the 'one day', today. Don't know where to start? Just start anywhere, it doesn't have to be at the beginning, everything will fall into place and can be adjusted. 

  2. You want to achieve a project or realise a dream? Set yourself a target but allow life to get in the way. Don't be hard on yourself if you go past your target. It will happen, just keep plugging away at it. Be the tortoise and not the hare. Do a bit everyday/week, you will be surprised how quickly it will all mount up.

  3. Queen/King Procrastinator? Eliminate those weaknesses. If TV is yours, designate a night/ time to have that binge and don't turn it on any other night of the week/night. 

  4. Write a timetable. If you only have evenings to work, write a timetable of what you are working on each night at the beginning of each week. Then stick to it. If you miss a day, don't stress, just get back to it the next day. 

  5. And lastly, in the immortal words of Winnie The Pooh, 'You are braver then you believe, stronger then you seem and smarter then you think'. You are capable of anything you put your mind to. 

My First Painting

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Despite loving doing anything creative with my kids, I soon realised once I had had my first that actually the mess, tended to make me slightly anxious. I had always thought of myself as being pretty laid back and relaxed with mess.

Then I got married and had kids.

And well, it turns out in no way am I relaxed about it. I like the kids to tidy as they play and generally if Daddy Patronus has been looking after them I near have an aneurysm when I see every toy that we own spread across every inch of carpet.

Where am I going with this?

When I had Patronus A, I didn't really know much about children. I didn't really know when they could start doing the creative stuff I loved to do. We did a lot of drawing and playdoh but I didn't introduce paint until later then I could have. Mess had something to do with this. The thought of paint splatter on the walls and carpet sent shudders through me. However, the older she got the more I pre-prepared the activities we did. That meant I could limit and contain the mess and more importantly control the creative environment in a way that kept me calm. As time went on the process got easier. the more relaxed I became, the more fun we began to have.

Now we do painting at least once a week!

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“You can’t use up creativity.  The more you use, the more you have.”  – Maya Angelou

Generally we will paint on a non-nursery day and when Patronus B is napping. This week however we did it when Patronus B was awake. For those who don't know Patronus B, she is 14.5 months and has THE WORST case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) I have ever witnessed. She needs to be in the excitement at all times and God forbid she might be not included, all hell breaks loose. So she saw Patronus A painting and INSISTED on coming to sit on my lap so she could watch. And then watching led to her grabbing a paint brush and that is where her painting journey began.

I stripped her off into her wife beater onesie and just let her explore. It was so interesting watching her! I got such a kick out of seeing her explore creatively. She did three pieces in one sitting and when I decided it was time to 'close shop', she full on lost it and had a screaming fit. Turns out she loves painting. At 14 months. 

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Her Creative Process

As I said, it was really fun to see how her brain was working when learning a new skill.

1. The first one, below. She really enjoyed the process of putting her paintbrush into different colours each time and watching how they looked when she made contact with the black card. 

2. The painting below was her 2nd. It is really expressive and you can see she was experimenting with how it looks with the movement of the paintbrush on paper. The effect is like spider legs or sun rays. 

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3. Below is her 3rd and last painting, again which I found fascinating. She had covered having fun with the different colours of the 1st and the arm movements of the 2nd. The 3rd one she discovered that if she made the same arm movement then she could actually cover large expanses of the paper in a left, right, left right movement, from one side of the paper to another. 

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This whole process, brought me back to remembering to allow your children to experiment in this way. It is called, 'process art'. It is so important for children to be allowed to do this. It allows them to develop their own creative confidence, to experiment, think outside the box, to make their own decisions and it helps them make sense of the world around them. It means, that the 'doing' is more important then the end product. 

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”  – Mary Lou Cook

It's ok to hate mess. If you plan ahead for activities like these you can remain in control of that. Do it in the kitchen or the bathroom if you are worried about carpets. Get splat mats that you can lie on top of the floor and PVC tablecloths for tables and surfaces. Get your children naked or cover them in overalls. Have wet wipes or a bowl of warm soapy water on hand. If you are in control and relaxed then your kids will be able to relax and have fun too.  

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The moral of the story is that it doesn't have to be stressful and messy. Your kids will love creating memories and artwork. They'll learn really important skills that they will use throughout their play and not just in art. It is not enough to assume that they do 'art' at school or nursery. Certainly in Primary Schools it is deemed not important and they'll have an art class every two weeks. If they have one every week, they are one of the lucky ones. 

Being creative doesn't have to be a specific activity. When someone tells me they aren't creative, I get so frustrated. EVERYONE can be creative. A child doesn't need to be told to do a particular activity. Put in front of them paint and paper and they'll paint with their fingers. Put in front of them playdoh and a plate and they'll make a feast. Don't limit the young, they'll teach us a thing or two. Just give them the platform.