As a mom, I’ve spent a huge portion of my life taking care of other people. When my children grew up and moved out, I shifted my focus back on my former creative loves. And my first order of business (after trying to remember what my former creative loves actually were) was to read a shit-ton of books on writing and the creativity process.
Many of these books enlisted the metaphor of motherhood when describing the maturation of an idea. They used comparative language like being pregnant with inspiration, letting the idea gestate and grow in the womb of your imagination, then birthing it out into the world. (I always thought this was a great example because, even if you aren’t a mom yourself, the process is so familiar in our natural world it’s easy to relate to.)
So, using the mother metaphor for my own situation, I guess you could say I am now in labor with my debut novel, which I’ve been growing inside me for over five years now. (Whew. This story baby is going to be big!) I’m about to become a parent again when I self-publish my book in a few months; when I finally birth it out into the world for all to see and judge and ask, “why the hell did you dress it in that wacky outfit?”
I’m not going to lie and say raising my children was blissful all the time. But, as a long-time camp counselor and recreation major in college, a lot of it fell into my natural wheelhouse. I loved singing songs and playing games and doing arts and crafts and going on nature hikes with my kids. In other words, all the fun stuff.
The part of being a mom I didn’t love was the endless worry and the tremendous responsibility that came with making sure my kids not only survived but thrived in the world. Not to mention the endless hours I spent comparing myself to other parents; the judgement I felt if my child happened to do something “wrong”, since at the time I believed their behavior was a direct reflection of my parenting skills and therefore a direct reflection of my worth as a human being. (Quite a leap I know. But we all make sweeping generalizations like that, don’t we?)
With my book due date looming, I asked myself a question: With all I’ve now learned from life, how would I parent differently this time around?
I knew I wasn’t keen on saddling myself with all those heavy worries again with my book. So I decided to explore different ways to approach the next stage of my writing journey and came upon a funny revelation. I realized I didn’t want to parent my book. I wanted to grandparent it.
You see, I’ve recently become a grandparent for the first time (to my beautiful grandson Finley Rowen), so now I understand the difference between the essence of parenting and essence of grandparenting. Here are a few examples I’ve come up with:
Parent: You are completely responsible for the life of the child. The feeding, changing, doctor visits; the whole keeping-the-baby-alive thing is squarely on your shoulders.
Grandparent: Someone else takes care of all those worrisome details.
Parent: You care so much, plus you see your child as a direct reflection of you.
Grandparent: You care so much, but you don’t see your grandchild as a direct reflection of you. (Again, that’s on those poor parents.)
Parent: You’re so bogged down in the day-to-day details of trying to master the “job”, be perfect at it, it’s hard to see the big picture. Small things begin to feel like really big problems.
Grandparent: Because of your experience, you have a much broader perspective. From that bird's-eye view, you tend to trust yourself and the process more. You have a greater feeling of “Don’t sweat the small stuff. It will all work out in the end.”
The difference is sometimes subtle, but in the grandparent role the burden feels so much lighter. And without that heavy burden, what’s left? All that fun stuff!
My job with my grandson is to play games and dote on him; sing songs, bend the rules, even spoil him a little. And when it stops being fun, I get to hand him back over to his parents and go off and do something different. Wow! This job’s easy. No wonder people have been touting the joys of grandparenting for so long. I even wrote a slogan about it:
Grandparenting: All the fun without all the worry… and you still get your sleep!
But is it possible to care about something as much as a child or a long-time creative pursuit and not experience that amount of worry and responsibility? Aren’t all those serious feelings just inherently woven into the experience of loving something so much? Doesn’t it have to be painful and hard? Do you even have a choice about how much can enjoy expressing your work in the world?
I believe you do have a choice. And taking a step back to that loving grandparent role could be just what you need to switch up your perspective a little. Why does this work? Check out my next post where I’ll explore this concept further.