ParentsCanada Magazine November 2011, May 2010

Express Yourself: 10 Ways to Find Time to be Creative

By Anna Lidstone on November 01, 2011

Tapping into your creative instinct is just as important for parents as for children. Here's 10 ways to find the time.

When Rachael and Ben Young had a baby, they soon found that there was no time for their personal creative and artistic interests. “Free time is the most important thing for my own creativity,” says Rachael, an ex-pat Vancouverite living in Sweden. “Now free time is found in tiny snatches of breath that never seem to last long enough.”

Many parents find countless ways to nurture their kids’ creativity, but struggle to find time for their own creative projects and interests. Whether it’s writing a novel, scrapbooking, making a quilt or painting, it can be hard to juggle your “creative health” with the demands of kids and responsibilities.

But finding – or rather making – this time is crucial to our and our family’s wellbeing, according to Toronto artist and art therapist Temmi Ungerman Sears. “As parents we become really busy and even pride ourselves on being so busy, but we really have to slow down. Creativity helps us do that. It balances us, grounds us in the moment, and gives our adult selves meaning and purpose. It’s an antidote to stress. Increased levels of creativity are linked to decreased levels of stress.

“When we are taking care of ourselves, it’s not a selfish act. It’s going to have a ripple effect on everything and everybody else.” Ben, a musician and mathematician, also sees the ripple effect of his creative life on other parts of his life: “I am happiest when being creative. If I’m not being creative, then I typically do poorly at other things, like being a positive person with my family or doing well at work.”

Amin Bhatia, a Toronto composer and father of two, agrees. “If I find time for my creativity, everything else falls into place. If the music isn’t going well, everything else suffers.”

Cori Howard, who helps mothers all over the world write about their experiences through The Momoir Project, says, “Having that creative outlet is so vital. It’s an investment in yourself. When I’m not writing, it’s not that I’m unhappy exactly. It just feels like there’s something missing. When I’m writing, I feel very fulfilled
and content.” (ParentsCanada teamed up with Cori and The Momoir Project to sponsor a short story writing contest. Read the winning entry on page 24.)

So, how can you make the time for your favourite creative pursuit amid the chaos of everyday life? Try these ideas:

1. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION
You may feel that you can’t justify spending time on a project devoted to you when there’s so much else to do. But giving yourself what you need will help you be a better parent. (Remember the oxygen masks that fall down in the airplane? You can’t help others until you first take care of yourself!) And, you’re role modelling self-care and creativity to your kids at the same time. If you don’t give yourself permission, you’ll never find the time. “A happy parent leads to happy kids,” says Temmi.

2. MAKE USE OF SMALL “POCKETS OF TIME”
Temmi says, “I love to paint for eight hours at a time, but that’s not very realistic. I have to aim a bit lower.” It’s often easier to find small pockets of time than it is to clear your schedule for an entire day. Conducting a “time audit” can be a useful way of carving out time for yourself in an otherwise busy day.

Write down everything you do in a day, from first thing in the morning until late at night. Go through each activity you write down, and ask yourself two questions: “Is this necessary?” and “Could I have achieved something if I had worked on my project instead?”

You’re looking for small pockets of time – 10 minutes here, an hour there. You might be surprised how much time you can find, and these small sessions do add up. Cori says, “Everyone can find 10 minutes a day. It’s just a matter of finding when that time is.”

3. DON’T WAIT TO BE INSPIRED
You want to finish your son’s quilt – he’s turning 10 next week and you’ve been meaning to do it since he was born. But what with the school play and the clogged sink and your new boss, you’re just not inspired.

You know the spiel. “I’m not in the mood today” is all you have to say and, magically, you’re off the hook. Until inspiration strikes, you can’t possibly be creative. Luckily, you’d be surprised how often you’ll discover that if you start, you’ll find yourself “in the mood” after all. As Amin advises, “Just begin and the inspiration will find you.”

4. MAKE IT MANAGEABLE
The American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein said that in order to achieve greatness, you need two things: 1) A plan 2) Not quite enough time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you’re tackling a huge project and only have half an hour to do it. How can you possibly make any progress with so little time? Having a plan helps you to take advantage of whatever time you have.

Amin’s tip? “If you’re planning to work on a giant project, break it down into chapters, segments, pieces, chunks and give yourself mini-deadlines.”

5. KEEP IT CLOSE
Try to keep your project ticking in your mind even when you’re not working on it. For example, find a way to record your ideas as they come to you, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

Cori tells the story of a woman who wrote a 300-word story on her cell phone while walking to work. Amin says, “Ideas are spilling all the time. I sing an idea into my voicemail. Then, when I have ‘time for creativity’, I do the organizing, the editing, the revising.”

6. MAKE IT A HABIT
Even when you have the time, it may sometimes seem impossible to find the energy and headspace to start your creative projects. But most of us are creatures of habit, and you can use that to your advantage by creating the same conditions whenever you are working on a project.

It might be working in the same place, using the same notebook, lighting the same candle, or playing the same music. If you create these conditions every time, and only when you create (no shopping lists in your sketch book!), you’ll be amazed how quickly your mind will respond. It will only take a few minutes to pick up where you left off. “Creativity is a habit we can all learn. Everything you need to be creative is already inside of you,” says Temmi.

7. WHEN YOU’VE GOT TIME, USE IT
You have three hours of glorious, uninterrupted time for your creative work. And you’ll take full advantage of it … just after you do the dishes, check your friends’ blogs, phone the bank and clean up the dog food. Sound familiar? Don’t let yourself sabotage the time you have. Those seemingly innocent jobs could take hours. If it’s creative time, it’s creative time. Disconnect from the Internet, turn off your cell phone if you can and forget about your lists. If you have to take yourself out of the house to avoid the distractions, do so.

“Carve out a place that’s yours. While you’re there, give it your all. Then come home and give 100 percent to your kids, knowing you’ve done good work,” Amin says.

8. HAVE FUN!
If your creative work becomes too serious, you’ll probably find reasons to avoid it. As Rachael says, “In a life where so much needs to be done, it’s easy to forget that playing is important to being creative. Without it, it all gets a lot harder.”

9. MAKE IT NON-NEGOTIABLE
When your baby’s diaper needs changing, you just do it. When there’s orange juice all over the floor, you insist that it’s cleaned up before the Monopoly game can start. And you don’t do the laundry only when you’re in the mood (imagine the stench if you did!).

Make your creative time just as non-negotiable. Your family will adjust remarkably
quickly, especially if they can see that it puts you in a good mood. “It’s just a matter of deciding what you want to do and that you want to do it badly enough,” says Cori.

10. IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, TRY, TRY AGAIN
There will be days when, despite your best efforts, you can’t find the focus and energy for your creativity. There will be days when your kids leave you drained, and creative work is impossible. There will be days when there is just too much housework piled up that can’t be ignored. The trick is to make those days the exception, not the rule. If creativity is part of your daily life, rather than a special treat, an occasional day is manageable.

As Rachael says, “Don’t give up. Things will keep changing. We just need to remember who we are, and hang onto that.” It’s not always easy to make the time to nurture your own creativity, but it is possible. As Elain Evans, a Vancouver mother of both a teenager and a toddler, says, “Parenthood breeds efficiency.” In fact, once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder how you ever got anything done back in the days when you had all the time in the world.

Yoga Isn't Just For Parents

By Jane Doucet,  May 5, 2010

Last year Sam Merkur enrolled her four year-old son, Miles, in an Iyengar yoga class hoping the centuries-old Indian form of stretching would benefit him in the same ways it had helped her. “I wanted yoga to help maintain his natural flexibility,” says Sam, 38. “I love the physical benefits I feel when I practise, and I knew Miles would love that ‘body rush’ too.”

The benefits of yoga go far beyond a physical rush. Doctors in the United States have found yoga can help people suffering from asthma, chronic back pain, arthritis and obsessive compulsive disorder. At the Children’s Hospital in Denver in 2004, doctors measured the effect of yoga on adolescent psychiatric patients. Participating teens and their parents reported improved outlook and behaviour.

Children’s classes differ from adult classes in many ways. “The energy level is different. Kids’ Be Flexible: Yoga Isn't Just For Parentsenergy is more carefree, and they often burst out with comments,” says Temmi Ungerman Sears, who has been teaching yoga since 1986, and teaching children since 1997. “Yoga for kids can teach life skills that may serve them well as they grow up.”

Sam is pleased with how Miles, now five, is progressing in his classes. “Definitely the benefits are physical and mental,” she says. “Miles learns new postures and ways to move his body unlike in a gymnastics or karate class. As well, he learns how to rest and restore his body, which brings him into a state of relaxation that all young children need in my opinion.”

Temmi Ungerman Sears, founder of Yogabuds in Toronto, notes the following benefits of yoga for kids:

BETTER POSTURE
Many children lug heavy backpacks, which make them slouch. Yoga opens the chest, lifts the spinal muscles and rib cage and rolls the shoulder blades back, which helps realign the body.

IMPROVED SELF-ESTEEM
Even if children don’t have academic or athletic prowess, they can succeed in a yoga class. Shy kids may blossom with a new confidence because they can do what they’re being asked to do in an environment where they’re not being judged.

BETTER FOCUS
Yoga requires kids to pay attention, and they do so more readily when there are games involved, such as Simon Says or singing in Sanskrit.

EXPANDED CREATIVITY
By using poses with names that kids can relate to, such as dog, cat, tree, lion, cobra and snake, yoga becomes a creative enterprise. Children can also be paired up and pretend to be a lump of clay and a potter. The potter then ‘molds’ the other student into a pose.

REDUCED STRESS LEVELS
Some students are nervous before taking a test at school, but they say that doing their yoga breathing before starting the test relaxes them.

FINDING A CLASS
To find a reputable children’s class, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s important to send children to a properly qualified and experienced teacher to prevent them from getting injured.

FIND OUT:

* the teacher’s certification
* how many years they have been practising and teaching yoga
* whether they get ongoing training from more experienced teachers
* whether their classes are compassionate or competitive