Is the Price Too High? Family, Relationships and the Cost of Creative Success
As a writer, I am blessed that I can do my work from anywhere, and most importantly to me, have my children and family with me. I know there are many creative professionals who do not have this luxury. My heart goes out to them for the decisions they are faced with when their love for their art and their love for their family splits them in two. I can imagine how alienating and heartrending it must be to feel torn between the two things you love most in the world. Both of which feel as if they are a part of yourself and neither of which you can live without.
There is no easy answer to this – when your art requires you to be away from loved ones for long hours, or days, weeks, months at a time.
Sooner or later, you’re going to ask yourself: is it worth it?
Is the price of doing the art you love – art you’re good at – worth what it costs you? Worth what is costs your family? Worth the relationships you might be missing out on?
The more successful you are, the less freedom you feel to ask these questions. Why? Because if you’re marketable, someone will always have an interest in your work. And the more successful you are, the higher the financial stakes get, the higher the pressure to keep doing what you’re doing. But once you’ve achieved certain levels of success, motivations change. Money isn’t as big a driving factor. Neither is reaching career milestones. Chances are, what drives you is the work itself and the emotional, physical and mental challenge and rewards it provides. You become your biggest driving factor.
As artists, we find harmony and flow when we’re in the midst of creating. Time ceases to exist. We’re focused, lost in “the zone.” We are most ourselves when we’re creating, aren’t we?
But time doesn’t stop for our kids and loved ones.
They don’t feel the same sense of ease and flow.
And kids don’t really care what it is that Mom or Dad does for a living. They just want you to be Mom or Dad.
So what do you do? Where and how do you find balance?
There are no easy answers, but here are some thoughts to ponder:
Children are only children once.
I can’t imagine not being with my children day in and day out. That’s me. Not everyone feels this way. But if you’re away for extended periods, you are missing out on time that matters to them and to you. Is there a way for you to have them with you? Could they be privately tutored or home-schooled so that they could be with you where you are?
We often think that “stability” is most important to children. But stability doesn’t have to mean being in one place, with one set of friends, one school. Stability can mean being with you wherever you are – finding comfort in your routines and having a solid relationship with you. Like I said, my husband and I are fortunate to be stay-and-work-at-home parents. Since we spend part of the year in Europe and part of the year in the States, we home educate. We also keep the same daily routines no matter where we are so transitioning to either locale doesn’t impact our daily lives as much as it could. Our “family” is our children’s stability.
Children are resilient. They adjust to cultures and changes in location. They have a far harder time accepting being separated from a parent they love or understanding why a parent would choose to be separated from them. And when they are grown, what will matter more to them? Having remained in one locale, with one group of school friends – and having missed out on being with you, OR having been with you, and missed out on one group of school friends and one locale? Don’t be afraid to make choices that go against “stability” and “conventionality.” You live a different life because of your work, they can, too.
I realize, of course, that it gets complicated if you have a spouse who has his or her career and doesn’t want to give that up. It may come down to figuring out what matters most to you as a family and what each of you is willing to give up to keep family front and center. It may mean compromising or living in multiple homes so that you can be within reach no matter where you’re working. Don’t be afraid to make “being together” more important and valuable than traditional school, activities or social connections. During childhood, you matter more than anyone else in your child’s world. They have a lifetime to have other friends.
You are the parent your child is meant to have.
As parents, we take so much responsibility for our children’s day-to-day happiness that we forget that sometimes it’s the bigger picture that matters most. Our children are our children because of the unique experience and guidance that only we can give them. I firmly believe that. It’s not accidental that you happen to be their parent. There’s a reason for it. And the fact that you are an artist and work under the conditions you do, is part of that bigger picture of what you are meant to pass on to them. You need to realize that you are the parent they need you to be. And the experience they have of you as a working artist is part of the plan.
You may be tempted to think of the harm you may be doing by not being with them, but you need to consider the bigger picture, too. The experiences they have with you is laying the foundation to support them in what they will do with their lives later on. You can’t always see that, but you can trust that is it so.
The greatest gift you can give your children is to be happy.
Physical presence matters, or course. But what matters even more is how your children experience you when you are with them. Are you happy? Do they see you happy and fulfilled by what you do? Living joy-filled lives is the greatest gift we can give them. Why? It validates to them that happiness matters. That finding and creating happiness by doing what you love and loving what you do, matters. That they have the power to create their happiness, too. You will have a far greater positive impact on your kids if you are happy and apart from them, then if you are unhappy and with them. Don’t lose sight of that.
Separation hurts – there’s no way around it.
As much as you may wish to be with your kids and loved ones, oftentimes, doing the work you love won’t allow it. How do you deal with the pain and loneliness? How do you feel thrilled to be doing what you love and at the same time sick inside missing the ones you love most? How do you handle feeling guilty when your kids cry for you and ask why you have to be away?
- Remember, people respond to you by how you make them feel. If they feel loved, cherished, happy and enjoy being with you when you are present, they’re going to value their relationship with you even when you’re apart. If they feel stressed out, worried, fearful or tense when you’re around, they will not value their relationship with you. You control the quality of relationship you deliver to them, the way that they experience you. And it’s that essence of you that will linger.
- Communicate. Talk to your kids, your spouse, your loved ones. Kids often have no idea of what it is us grown-ups do in our work – let them in on it.
- When you’re with them, be with them.
- Make up a routine that is unique to your family. Something that only you share together. A touchstone for everyone.
- Acknowledge how you feel. Missing loved ones is going to distract you emotionally. Depending on your art, this may effect your work. Take time to acknowledge how you are feeling. It’s normal to feel as if part of yourself is missing when you are away from your children and loved ones. It’s normal to feel sad, depressed, and uncertain if you’re making the right decision to be away.
- Know that ultimately, your children are going to be okay. They have the power to be okay, to choose to be happy, to change their perspective of their family circumstances, as well.
Don’t be afraid to change things.
The more successful you are, the faster the merry-go-round spins, the harder it is to stop it and get off. But you CAN stop it if you want to. You need to give yourself permission to know that you can. This is your life. You only get one shot at this lifetime. If everyone else is happy, but you’re not, what does it matter if they’re happy? You have to live your life according to what makes you fulfilled and happy. It may mean saying no to work that doesn’t allow you to be with your kids as much as you want, it may mean finding a way to have them with you. You alone can decide what you are willing to trade.
Ask questions. Think outside the box. Keep the big picture in mind. Are your children generally happy? Are they well? Do they seem to be thriving? Do they feel loved?
Is your spouse happy? Well? Thriving? Loved?
If yes, take a deep breath and know: you’re doing enough. They’re going to be okay.
If not, then own your power to change things and create the life you want.