Twenty years ago, i published a book called The Artist’s Way. Its premise, that creativity is a spiritual matter and that we are all creative, struck a chord with the reading audience. Nearly four million people bought The Artist’s Way and worked with its toolkit. When I would go out to teach, people would approach me with gifts. ‘I used your tools and this is what I made,’ they would say, handing me a book, a CD, or a DVD. But with the gifts often came a request: ‘I’m a parent. Could you write a book about creativity in children?’
Year after year, request after request, I resisted because I thought that children were already creative, and that their parents could always use the basic Artist’s Way text to free themselves creatively and set an example for their children. But what of the parents who were not already familiar with The Artist’s Way? The early years of parenting were an unlikely time for busy parents to launch into an intensive creative recovery of their own. What assumptions was I making about creative parenting based on my own immersion in a creative life? What assumptions was I making based on my own parents’ parenting—which had been colourful and encouraging? Perhaps there were lessons that could—and should—be taught.
I’m not a parenting expert. I’m a creativity expert. I am a parent, however, and I used creativity tools in mothering my own child. As she grew up, she reflected back to me my belief that there are few things more inherent—or precious—in children than their creativity. Creativity is a spiritual undertaking. Parenting is also a spiritual undertaking. We are entrusted with the care of our children’s souls as well as their bodies.
And so, a toolkit: For children, healthy guidance and encouragement of their creative gifts. For parents, companionship, structure, support. Every child—and every parent—is creative.
It is never too early—or too late—to nurture children’s creativity. Parenting is a great adventure. The early years of parenting can be one of the most inspiring chapters of your life, opening you to love and growth you may not have yet experienced. Using these years to tap into your own creativity as well as your child’s, you will love and grow together. Awakening your child’s sense of curiosity and wonder helps you reawaken your own. Reawakening your own sense of curiosity and wonder helps you awaken your child’s. Exercising creativity, alone and together, strengthens the bond between parent and child. Funded by optimism, your child is guided to an expansive and adventurous life.
Julia is the author of more than 30 books including bestselling works on the creative process The Artist’s Way. Her latest book is The Artist’s Way for Parents, written with Emma Lively (£14.99 Hay House).
THE THREE BASIC TOOLS
1 Morning Pages—three pages of longhand daily writing that the parent does alone
The bedrock tool of a creative recovery—or discovery—is something I call Morning Pages. Done first thing, they siphon off negativity as they provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize, and synchronize the day at hand. Sometimes parents feel that they have lost their right to privacy, but this does not have to be the case. Morning Pages are for your eyes only. They are a safe place to vent, muse, strategize, and dream. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages. Just write longhand for three pages, about anything, and then stop. Do not share your Morning Pages with anyone. Morning Pages are a portable, private support kit for the parent. Parenting is an emotional experience, and you are allowed to have all of the feelings you are experiencing. Morning Pages are a safe place for you to process these feelings, ultimately making you able to be more present in your day—and with your child.
‘But Julia!’ my students sometimes exclaim. ‘I don’t have time to get up and do Morning Pages before my child wakes up.’ I tell them to do as many Pages as they can before their child wakes, and then to go about their family duties, finishing the Pages as they can. In a perfect world, we would all have time to get Morning Pages done in their entirety. But it is better to get them done piecemeal than not at all. What is important here is that you have a place to safely process turbulent emotions.
I invented Morning Pages when my daughter was a toddler and I was feeling overwhelmed by her demands for my attention.
I began getting up earlier than my daughter and taking myself quickly to the page. I was having a feeling common to many new mothers: I don’t know who I am anymore. The Pages helped me make contact with myself.
I often think of Morning Pages as a form of meditation uniquely suited to hyperactive Westerners. It is very difficult for most of
us to sit for twenty minutes and do nothing. Pages allow you to sit and do something. With Pages we are saying, ‘This is what I like, this is what I don’t like. . . . This is what I want more of, this is what I want less of.’ It is as if we are sending a telegram to the Universe.
I urge you to try Morning Pages, and discover the results for yourself.
“The commitment to planned “fun” can be a highlight of the week—and one of the most important parts of developing consistency and wonder in the lives of our children”
2 Creative Expedition—a once-weekly dual adventure that the parent and child plan, look forward to, and take together
A Creative Expedition doesn’t need to be large, but it does need to be festive. The point is to refill our spiritual coffers. When looking for ideas for Creative Expeditions, think whimsy, frivolity, fun. Depending on the age of your children, they may be actively involved in choosing the destination. Natasha, a stay-at-home mother, started taking Creative Expeditions when her child was still an infant. ‘I knew I needed to get out of the house. The fresh air was good for me and for my daughter. I would put her in her carrier and venture out to a place that I would enjoy. Sometimes it was a museum; sometimes it was a shoe store. As my daughter got older, she helped me choose the adventures. I took her to toy stores, aquariums and concerts. Even though I might have done this anyway, the act of making a point of it, planning the outing and looking forward to it, made all the difference. It forced me to come up with a new adventure every week. It’s been one of the favourite things my daughter and I do together.’
For parents of older or multiple children, the act of organizing Creative Expeditions can bring a sense of magic into the home. Minette, a mother of four, rotates which son gets to choose the adventure of the week. ‘My oldest, Cormic, is twelve and loves planning the Creative Expedition,’ Minette says. ‘He’s very protective of his three younger brothers, and he takes pride in choosing something that everyone will enjoy. Having multiple children is a balancing act. But there are adventures that everyone can participate in. It is always a bonding experience for our family. The older my kids get, the more responsibility they take—and the more interested they are in taking responsibility in the first place.’
For parent and child, the commitment to planned “fun” can be a highlight of the week—and one of the most important parts of developing consistency and wonder in the lives of our children. It is important that Creative Expeditions do not evolve into shopping trips. A visit to the zoo or an aquarium is preferable to visiting a toy store.
PLANNING A CREATIVE EXPEDITION
AN EXERCISE - List five Creative Expeditions that you could take with your child, such as visits to the zoo, a children’s museum, a new playground, a cathedral, and the library.
3 Highlights—a daily bedtime ritual in which the parent and child each share their favourite moment from the day
Many parents reach day’s end tired—and even crabby. Tucking their child into bed, they are ready for the day to be over. But bedtime can be a time of restorative ritual. The third tool, Highlights, helps to end the day on a positive note. ‘Here was my very favourite part of the day,’ the parent says. ‘It was when we went to the dog park and watched the dogs play. What was your favourite part of the day?’
‘I liked swinging,’ their child may reply.
‘Yes. It was fun to push you on the swing.’ The habit of looking for the positive is something that makes each day’s march into a game.
My daughter, Domenica and I practiced this nightly ritual. Now, living in separate cities, we still maintain the routine of a daily check-in. Our conversations need not be long for us to connect and feel up to date with each other’s lives as we quickly review the most memorable parts of our day.
A habit of reviewing the day’s highlights is a habit of forging happy memories.