Motherhood, Art, and Money: What Is My Time Worth?

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What should I be doing with my time? I don’t mean how do I fill the days–far from it–as the mother of twin babies, every minute of my days is full. But how can I take control of how those minutes are spent? How much time should I spend on baby care, housework, making money, making art? What criteria should I use for making these decisions: Personal fulfillment, money, family contribution? How do I put a value on investment in myself? I don’t actually have an answer for these questions, but thought I might explore them a bit in this post.

Maybe a little history would help. I am on maternity leave from my job, but it is an extended maternity leave, so for the past six months I have been a stay at home mom. I am also a writer and illustrator, though my job, which paid the bills, was as neither of those things. Being a full-time mother has been confusing, to say the least.

For the first twenty-two years of my life I was a full-time student. I conceived of myself only as a student. Being a student, for me, was bliss. Deadlines, accomplishments, feedback and reward all built into my schedule. Since I majored in English with a writing concentration, and took art classes in college, art was built into school as well.

Graduating into the work world was the first challenge. In work, there are no grades, no graduations, and for me, no art. One similarity between being a student and working full time, though, was that you never had to justify how you were spending your time. You were a student, which meant you were investing in your future, or you were working, which meant you were paying the bills. Art became something I fit into my schedule outside of work–early in the morning, on weekends, at lunch.

Then came motherhood. Motherhood is a full time job. More than a full time job. 24/7. It is also something I chose. There is no time for art “before work,” the babies could wake up at any time, there is no concentrating on anything when they’re crying. And yet, there is no income from being a mother, aside from the income I would have spent on child care were I at my job. Since I’m not currently making money, how to justify spending time on art? What is the “value” of improving my illustration portfolio, for example?

I was intrigued to read this article in the New York Times Magazine, Outsource Your Way To Success. I feel confident that it’s “worth it” for me to spend time applying to new jobs, since this will clearly lead to money and will further my career. But when is it “worth it” for me to spend time on art? Is it “worth it” enough to pay someone for childcare a few hours a week so I can paint?

I don’t have answers. I’m just feeling frustrated, grasping at minutes like straws. Of course, I couldn’t stop spending time on art even if I wanted to. But what if that time wasn’t piecemeal and constantly interrupted? What if I invested in it? By doing nothing I am answering my own question.

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6 thoughts on “Motherhood, Art, and Money: What Is My Time Worth?

  1. I could write all day about this. For me, I spent a lot of my pre-baby adulthood learning to call myself a writer. It took years, but now I don’t have to ask myself whether writing is more important to build into my schedule than, say, exercise. I don’t take on large projects right now, and I definitely don’t write every day, but I do know it’s important and I involve my partner in carving out time for me to do what little I do to continue writing. And soon enough I’ll take on larger projects, so I want to be ready for them, which is to say, not rusty and insecure.

    As for how to justify working on illustrations–if you’re looking for someone else tell you yes, this is worth your time, you’ve already lost. No one will. You have to decide it is–that there is no version of your life in which you are truly fulfilled and not creating art–and then you have to decide how to make it happen. The first part, calling yourself an artist, is the hardest.

    One last thing: every person working every job deserves a break from it. Full-time motherhood is no different. We are better mothers when we are able to be the people we are.

  2. Oh, thank you so much for your thoughts. You hit the nail on the head exactly. It’s really my own insecurity I have to get over! I am always waiting for reassurance and confirmation from other people, but with illustration or writing I’ll be waiting a long time. I remember someone I worked with years ago who had just gone back to get his MFA in creative writing telling me that he’d decided to do it because he realized “no one cared if he wrote a novel or not.” That stuck with me for some reason. Here’s to Just Do It, the art edition.

    Also, trying to figure out everything in advance is impossible. Maybe it’s about setting aside the time and then seeing what happens?

  3. Yes, get a babysitter and paint for a couple hours! I’m a mom of 17 month old identical twins and I wish I had done that more when they were younger. I am starting to now and it is SOOOO nice. It it worth it for both you and the babies to be happy!!! Everyone needs a couple hours sometimes.

    • Yes yes yes. Thank you. A little time to focus on something besides babies would make a world of difference. It’s worth getting a babysitter. I don’t know what my problem is. I think maybe this should be my New Year’s resolution–spend a little money on cultivating sanity and zen (and pursuing my own goals). Thanks for commenting!

  4. You, the babies, your entire family will be happier if you are able to spend time doing something you love and feel the need to do. That makes it worth it! I wish I recognized my need to create sooner. It wasn’t until my third child was born that I said, “I’m taking that drawing class, even if I have to hire a babysitter!” I had been looking in the course catalog for years! 🙂

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