What follows is the third and final installment in our featured “Family Business” column this month, an email exchange, moderated by artist Carrie Thompson, between a number of acclaimed photographers, all of whom are also mothers with children ranging in age from babyhood to adolescence. They talk about the tensions of balancing parenthood with a demanding career, freedom (or lack thereof), and the potent lure of a good night’s sleep.
Paula McCartney: At 37, I was very used to my adult life and the freedom I had when my son was born, so there’s a lot I miss, actually — but NOTHING enough to trade back! I am certain that Oliver is the most amazing thing that has happened or ever will happen to me. I mentioned the loss of our social lives earlier; I guess the thing that I miss the most is the ability to go out in the evenings. My husband Lex and I always used to go to openings and lectures, and I thought of that as my continuing education, as well as a way to stay connected in the community. Without family in town, honestly, we can very rarely afford a sitter, so we hardly ever go out at night. And that feels isolating at times. Going out to dinner together for a date and paying for a sitter is basically out of the question. I am lucky that Oliver goes to — and loves — preschool several days a week, so I do have studio time. I didn’t have that for his first year and didn’t make much work; and I realize that I make as much work now, on average, as I did before he was born.
I love my son more than anything, but my work is still very important to me. I will admit I do still worry about my career, but I am able NOT to worry about it when I am spending time with him and can be really present. I worry while driving to work or at night, when I should be sleeping!
Greta Pratt: My kids are now 17 and 19, so it is hard to remember my life without them and what I gave up when I became a mother. But in thinking about it, what I would like to have back is time with my partner, where the conversation is not related to the kids. I also miss the freedom to pursue an artistic idea, without having to think about what a houseful of teenagers is doing back at home. It is tough to find balance and, as Paula pointed out before, it is impossible to be the best at everything all the time. There are just not enough hours in the day.
When I was first getting started, a male museum curator counseled me not to have kids. He said I would never be successful if I had them. I was incensed at the time. But if you define “success” as a race to the top, he was right. Nurturing children, making a living, and being an artist comprises three full-time jobs — and that is impossible to pull off.
However, life is richer when we look at it from many angles. If we want a world comprised of diversity of thought and ideas, maybe we need to understand that the old path to success does not work for all types of people. We need to seek out and value the contributions of a variety of individuals.
Amy Stein: Well, as mother of a baby, for me, sleep would be high up there on a list of things I sorely miss. Also, the freedom to plan my own day and unstructured time are already distant memories. Now, every moment and activity’s value is weighed against spending time with Sam, or the cost of hiring a sitter. So, a lot of things I used love to do, I just can’t make time for: going to openings, attending talks, walking in the park, showering.
Sometimes I feel like every moment of my day is consumed by mothering duties, and to break free for even a minute, I need to negotiate with someone to take over and spell me. (Having said that, I have an attentive and loving part-time sitter, and my husband is amazing, and shares many duties, especially in the evenings.)
Carrie — thanks so much for initiating this conversation and pushing it forward. I’ve come to really look forward to reading everyone’s responses, especially because the other moms are more experienced and have a broader perspective to share. Sometimes I lose sight of the fact that Sam will leave babyhood behind, that he won’t always be seven months old, with the intense needs of an infant. He will, of course, grow and go through many stages of development, increasingly becoming more independent, needing new and different things from me.
Linda Rossi: Amy mentioned the need for sleep; I have to say, that has been an enormous issue for me over the years, as my boys were not good sleepers in the early years, and then I waited up all night once they were teenagers.
One evening I remember in particular: my oldest son, Skye, who was two at the time, would never stay in his bed, and around midnight one night, my husband and I pretended to be asleep (while waiting for him to go to bed — he, apparently, was in charge). I remember him coming into our room and standing next to me. I could sense his closed fist holding a toy right above my face. He wanted me to read what it said on the bottom of the toy car. With great delight he said, “Oh, they are sleeping and they are dreaming about me!” I was so sleep deprived, that the fact that he assumed when I did get a wink, I would be dreaming about him was both funny and excruciating.
If I could change one thing about those years, it really would be to get more sleep. I would encourage younger mothers to get as much rest as possible. I would often use the late evening hours to “make art,” and as a result, it has actually compromised my health. I now try to get more sleep, and dream about new work when I go to bed, as the often random connections in a dream state lead to new ideas.
Carrie Thompson: Like Beth, I was thinking a lot about freedom when I wrote the question, “Since becoming a mother what is the one thing you gave up that you wish you had back?”
For me: I would love to have the freedom to really plunge into a project without guilt. I dream of taking off and exploring the world slowly and completely. I think this is a dream for many artists, not just women. I think there are probably a lot of women – and mothers – who share the escape fantasies of Lester B. Morrison. One of Beth’s observations has stuck with me — it almost perfectly sums up my own conflicts: “I often feel like I should apologize to my kids for having a career, and to my career for having a life.”
This conversation originally appeared on Little Brown Mushroom, a blog published by photographer Alec Soth, and is reproduced here with permission. If you missed them, you can read the first two installments in this conversation about art, work and motherhood here.
What’s your story? Please join in and share your own experiences in the comments below.