Welcome to the first interview with one of the parents in Justseeds. I decided I needed to interview my fellow Justseeds parents as a way to reflect on my own experience of being a parent for the past 6 years. I was hoping to gain some insight as to how other artists I respect are handling their role as parent/artist. I never grew up around artists of any sorts and never had much other than the patriarchal model on view as to how raising a family might look. While I always assumed there must be other ways to live life I just wasn’t exposed to too many other examples as a child. Having spent my teens to late 30’s immersed in underground culture I have since experienced a multitude of other ways to live in this world, which is great, but I still hadn’t found myself around many parents in the subculture I move through. I had my first child at 35, right when I went back to school to get an MFA and was the only one going through the life altering experience of raising a newborn. While other MFA students were actually worried about what their work looked like, I was learning how to be a full time stay at home dad trying to finish a MFA, teaching a class, never ever sleeping, and make art if I could scrape out a moment or two from the day. Needless to say there were no shining examples around helping me through it; it was trial by fire and I was surrounded by a bunch of people that had no fucking clue.
It has seemed to me that the balance of parenting and being a productive and public artist of any sorts isn’t often talked about. We may well be familiar with the woman who gave up her personal artistic ambition and channeled that into her child rearing, and we often we get the father that continues on his artistic career as his wife/partner take on the bulk of the child care and homemaking. I know things are changing these days but in reality things change pretty damn slow. However, I assume I must know some people that are thoughtfully approaching maintaining a creative life with an engaged parenting style. So I thought I’d start with some of the good folks here at Justseeds.
Many of you may not realize that while some Justseeds artistes seem incredibly prolific they somehow are managing that with raising a family, which can be pretty challenging so lets find out how they do it.
Here’s my interview with: Sanya Hyland. Take a look at Sanya’s incredible art work here. And thanks Sanya for the great in-depth answers.
So how old were you when you had your first child, how many children do you have.
I got pregnant at age 40 and now we have one 5-month-old baby boy, named Felix.
What are you finding to be some of the unique challenges to parenting as an artist?
As an artist, the biggest challenge to parenting is probably money and the insecurity that comes with working freelance and without benefits. I’ve always tended to downgrade how much of an “artist” I was, and now its even easier to put that work on the back-burner in favor of a good, steadily paid job. It’s a daily dilemma.
Do you work a “regular” job in addition to being an artist and parenting?
I teach English to adults here in Mexico City, although I’ve culled them down to just a few hours twice a week. There are no benefits.
Do you feel supported as a parent by your artistic community?
This is an interesting question. I really wish I had been in a stronger production groove before the baby came along, but I wasn’t. So it’s harder now to ramp up to the level where I want to be at. So in some ways I already felt out of the loop with various art communities I’ve been part of. On the other hand Justseeds has been great and gives me a lot of inspiration and support. For example, I couldn’t finish printing my CSA print back in the spring because of imminent childbirth (!) and fellow Justseeds member, Thea Gahr, offered to finish the print run for me.
I feel more estranged from the scene in Mexico City since I’m not making it out to events regularly. There are key people (all women) who are keeping me in the loop and trying to help me stay involved. Also the studio space where I rent is a big collaborative space and they are very understanding to the fact that I’ve seemingly abandoned my workshop and it’s covered with dust 🙁
Did you consciously plan out having children with a time when you imagined that would work in your life?
Hmm, Yes and No.. It was a now or never type of decision. Although I am not in the ideal situation in terms of money and security, I’m much better equipped to parent now — with a great partner, emotional stability, etc. — then say, 10-15 or even 5 years ago. And having reached 40, I was more attuned to the fact that it could be harder to start a biological family, fertility-wise.
How do you feel your gender has played out in choosing to have a child or possibly not? Were you worried about losing your personal identity in the process?
In the last five years or so I had a real desire to start a family and I do think it has to do with being a woman. Whether “hormones” or socialization I don’t know, but as I approached 40 it was something that I wanted to try to do. Of course my life was not exactly conducive to starting or supporting a family at the time but I started to try and change all that. There’s an intense amount of fear mongering in the media about being an older child-bearing-aged woman. You know, after 35 supposedly your egg quality goes down the drain. Of course there is something real to that and people have difficulties conceiving, but there’s too much stress around it, and so perhaps some of my own desire to have a family came as a reaction to all the anxiety.
And yes I was worried about how I’d continue a creatively-driven life with a child, especially as a woman because you hear and see how much women usually have to give up if they’re going to be the primary care-givers. I wasn’t as worried as much as I used to be, though, because I also feel more secure with myself and what I want to do than I did in my 30s. A good friend told me something to the effect that everyone warns how much your life will change with a baby, but really your interests and who you are will not change. Life shifts, but it doesn’t change who you are.
Do you consider yourself the “primary care giver”, how do you work this out with your partner?
We share a lot of the care giving, but I end up being the primary care giver because my partner makes more money than I would working. He teaches in different universities and has a craft beer company, while I teach English classes and have a nascent letterpress workshop — not big bread winners but the English classes at least are easy quick money. I teach only a couple of hours two days a week and Pepe takes the baby. He also does most of the childcare on weekends so that I can work on creative projects, which is great but the kinks haven’t been worked out quite yet!
I also breastfeed, so the babe is never far from the source.
Did you go into having a child thinking you would be the primary care giver… was this something you “wanted” in having a kid, do you feel like that was inherently part of your makeup or did you imagine it might create conflict with what your personal goals are/were. I ask because I personally thought being a stay at home dad would be ideal… and really wanted our kids to have a parent around, probably since my mom was around, and I was never a daycare kid. I think I also thought being a stay at home dad would be a little easier than its been and that I’d still have some free time after my kid shift was over… but turned out the kid shift lasted pretty much 24 hours a day more often than not.
Great question. Yes, I (we) did think it was ideal to have at least one parent around – and Pepe would’ve loved to be the stay-at-home dad (well that’s what he said six months ago anyway!). I love being at home with Felix, too. It’s wonderful to watch him stare in amazement at each new thing he understands in his world, as that world gets bigger and bigger every day. I had an early childhood with my mother around, too. I think she created a solid creative foundation for me, something which I would like to give to Felix as well. And yeah, I definitely had a romantic vision of me wearing the baby in some kind of sling, working on drawings as he slept or something. Didn’t realize slings are great as long as you are moving constantly, and are not that conducive to sitting still.
It’s like I knew theoretically that parenting is a full-time job, but thought I could squeeze in the part-time projects with just a little tenacity. And I think it’s still possible but just very very slowly. There is a part of me, however, that keeps saying “Give up trying to do everything!” You have to prioritize the baby, and everything else is really secondary.
The big question: How do you balance your creative life with raising children?
We are new at this, so not very well! Felix is only 5 months old so it’s a learning curve. I find myself more motivated than ever before to produce work and be creative, yet my hands are tied — literally — most of my day.
I’m realizing that the way I work/ generate creative projects really needs to change. I’m used to spending a lot of time mulling over my ideas, doing too much research, working very slowly. Now there’s really no time for all that self-conscious mulling over. If I have 20 minutes before the baby wakes up I need to be as efficient with and jealous of that time as possible. I was recently chatting with Meredith about this, how we value our “free” time so much more! At the risk of sounding like a free-market system, I need to learn how to produce more efficiently, and not get as bogged down in self criticism, which sometimes kills the projects I start.
On the other hand, I’m starting to see the value in and take advantage of my “down time”: when I’m holding the baby, breastfeeding, playing with him, (or carrying him up and down the stairs endlessly so he’ll go to sleep!) I can’t use my hands but I can use that mental time to work out ideas and play with scenarios I might not have thought of otherwise.
Interesting, do you think this will change your practice overall?, or maybe just temporarily, what are some ways you are thinking about making work now? I know some people that have been told they should work on small projects for the first 4-5 years in raising their kid. I feel like I personally haven’t altered the medium or size I typically work in but my production is way down…and when I do work smaller and actually finish something I feel so much happier that having the weight of the unfinished work looming in my head.
Funny, after I wrote that above about having to “get more efficient!” I passed by a Scientology building with a big advertisement to “Become more efficient in your personal life and career!” Not what I wanted to convey, but I guess L.Ron was reaching out to me! I guess I’m not sure yet how my practice will change overall, although I do use my “thinking time” much more productively and try to plan what is possible to do within a certain time frame. Also, I think I was already working on small projects before, so not much has changed in that respect, and I’m not going to take on anything really ambitious right now. Finishing something does feel great! And if there is a magic bullet in terms of the number, kind, or amount of work you can indeed accomplish while parenting, I’d love to hear about it.
Time has a new dimension being a parent. It stretches into the vast distance, speeding up as it tumbles past you, but leaves you moving as slowly as a sloth.
Do you see yourself as living in a privileged position?, How do you see class playing into all of this?
Yes, I’m a educated white person from the U.S. living in Mexico which gives me tons of privilege. Just by being a native English speaker gets you jobs and access. Here in Mexico I have a more middle class lifestyle and live more comfortably than back in any high-cost city in the U.S. In the US I am in a decidedly working class/lower-middle class economic rung, with not a lot of resources except my public education and the state health care. I probably wouldn’t have been able to have a child in the U.S. without a lot of difficulty economically.
Now with the baby we even have a housecleaner who comes to help. It goes even deeper than economics, however. I could traverse through the most elitist of environments and be accepted without question because of being white and/or foreign. Mexico is a very classist and racialized society. There is a racist order to that classism, that puts the country’s indigenous and darker skinned on the bottom of the stack.
Do you see your parenting choices as challenging the patriarchal model in dominant culture.
Yes I hope so, especially in the long run. On the surface, I’m a quasi-stay-at-home-mom and my partner is the main bread-winner, and I’m really happy that I am able to be at home with the baby while he’s so little. My partner takes over childcare as much as possible, but I’m probably doing about 75% of it. And that’s fine because that’s our arrangement under our particular circumstances. It’s important to both of us to be really involved in the baby’s life and development.
We are trying to be conscious about how other parents, our families, and society in general treat boys and girls differently, even in the baby years. Mexico is very gendered, like in the US, but even more entrenched. As he gets older we will face more of the dilemma about how to raise a child, in particular a boy, concerning gender, race, and other issues. I’m a feminist and am raising him in a way that correlates with my values, though I don’t really know how that translates yet. I think bell hook’s Feminism is For Everybody is a great guide.
I worry about raising my son in such a misogynistic and homophobic environment honestly. Although things are changing slowly, probably mostly due to youth culture and social media. And in the US its not much better with the Trump hydra spewing hatred and violence — oh my god I can’t even imagine raising a child under a Trump presidency!!
How much do you sleep?
I sleep probably 6 – 7 hours a night (interrupted for feedings), with a stolen nap with baby on occasion. Although there are those glorious mornings when Pepe mercifully lets me sleep another 1-2 hours while he and the baby hang out!
6-7 hrs not bad!, though the interrupted sleep part makes it still so weird and crazy, I think I averaged 3 hrs sleep for the first 3 years…. now I’m in the 5-6 range, but I know the only way I get free time is to not sleep. Do you have a plan for finding the time to keep making work, other than less sleep!. I wonder because for myself the easiest thing to push aside or give up is the thing that is not making the real money to survive on, yet my personal sanity is so tied to being a person that makes things that I need to have some time to do this. 5 years later and I still have no solution to this other than no sleep! (note I’m writing this at 2 am…)
I have to sleep! I don’t know how you do that! Hmm. Well, the thing that keeps me sane is doing a modicum of self-care, of which my artistic practice is a part of, I’d say. So I already spend a lot of time preparing healthy food, getting in some kind of exercise, and even doing meditation. I think its a really important part of parenting, actually, to model the kind of self-love that we hope our children learn to have. For me, that means getting enough sleep (in general!!) so that I’m not disfunctional and don’t get sick, and finding time to do those other things. Artistic practice is part of that, but like you said, can easily be put on the back burner when push comes to shove. My plan to keep making work is to do stuff really early in the morning when the baby has gone back to sleep or is happily playing by himself, and to keep taking advantage of my weekend “free time” while Pepe takes care of Felix. [And importantly, not get hijacked by house chores and other mundane shit. This is hard for me because I was raised to constantly care-take and I could easily procrastinate an important art project by doing the laundry, for example] This may all be really naive on my part.
Are there examples of artists/parents you’ve seen that inspired you or gave you the hope that you could pull off having a life with kids and leading a life as an artist/academic etc.
This is a theme that has somersaulted through my brain like a tumbleweed for years now. As a woman in particular parenthood brings a unique set of dilemmas. Will you have to put on hold your career? Wll you shoulder most of the childcare and housework, just by default? And Whenever I read about women artists, I’d secretly wonder if they were also mothers: How had they done it? Were they rich? (Louise Bourgeois comes to mind) Had a great support system? Unfortunately, there weren’t many, and of those maybe even some “bad” or neglectful mothers, who prioritized their careers or lifestyle over their children. So no, for the longest time I didn’t have a lot of hope that I could pull off having a life with kids and be an “artist” at the same time.
However, more recently we’ve seen the industry shift in response to a wave of contemporary female artists who have demanded that they can have both worlds. A friend posted the article “You can be a Mother and a Successful Artist” in Artsy, (https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-why-motherhood-won-t-hinder-your-career-as-an-artist), which highlights that shift pretty well. In it is a link to a cool project: the “artist residency in motherhood,” (http://www.artistresidencyinmotherhood.com/online-planning-tool) which is an online tool for organizing your time as a new mom — and importantly, organizing your thoughts about how things have changed in your life in relation to your creative work.
I’m still working on the “residency” for myself. In fact, writing these responses for the blog has helped me suss out some of my feelings about it all. 🙂
Also I think watching people from the punk subculture become parents has always convinced me that it’s possible to do without losing your creativity or values.
Would you say the community you tend to align yourself most with is the punk world or art world (or other) and are you seeing differences in parenting expectations or styles in those worlds. i know I’ve been surprised how an activist/artist dad will so easily fall into the father roll of letting the mom take on the majority of the parenting, while they pursue their creative career to the detriment of the mother’s creative career. Just curious if you see different subcultures addressing this differently in general. I think maybe society overall is simply getting better about this but it’s strange to me how much conventional roles are assumed even in progressive subcultures.
Yeah good point – We’ve seen stereotypical parenting roles in every subculture certainly. Having been more closely aligned with the punk and activist scene in my 20s I saw more close-up examples of both the good and the bad in those scenes. How have different scenes addressed gender roles in parenting? That’s a great topic for someone’s thesis. I think the punk scene was/is (depending on what punk scene you are talking about) a lot more creative about breaking down stereotypical gender roles. There were zines and song lyrics, and a tight knit community that offered a constant feedback-loop. The activist world, you could argue, has a more intellectual approach rooted in academia which is in itself very important in understanding how patriarchy works as a system. Plus, the activist/feminist declaration that “the personal is the political” broke down the aloofness of the purely intellectual approach of many revolutionaries and activists regarding their politics “at home.” Translating that message into everyday life was one of the most profound effects of feminism, and also shows how punk/activism (where one informed the other) really did help shape changes in society in general.
The art world in the broadest sense, I have had much less involvement with, but I would say to the degree to which a subculture has been influenced by politically progressive ideas, those ideas will be tested in the personal sphere. Yet, there is nothing in practicing “art” itself that is innately progressive or feminist.
How has parenting affected you creative work?
Well like I said it’s kind of ground it to a slow trickle. But it’s a mean and tenacious trickle, determined to carve a rut out of the limestone.
Aside from the issue of time to actually make work, do you think it will or it is affecting not only the way you make work but has it so far changed you to the point that you see or foresee formal or thematic shifts in your work or even just how you approach art in general?
Oh, ok, in terms of themes of my work, not really yet, although I do have a lot more ideas for childrens’ books circulating in my brain now. I had already been shifting to focus on themes of hope and positive visions for the future, instead of despair, pain, always reacting to the latest atrocity, etc., and I think that’s only been reinforced by becoming a parent. We really need to put more concrete images of our hoped-for-world into the collective imagination. If our society’s collective imagination can only envision Terminator-style doomsday climate disaster for our future, we are already limiting our choices regarding how to move forward.
When do you make work (time of day or time of year?)
Right now I doodle and brainstorm on whatever paper is available while I have Felix in my other arm. And when Pepe takes him on the weekend I’m freer to sketch, work on the computer, work in my studio, take a shower…
Did you typically work at a specific time of day or even time of year before having a child, for myself I’ve always been a night person, and oddly enough a morning person, but my personal creative work is almost always done at night, and continues to be since that is the only time I get to free my brain up from responsibilities.
I’ve almost always been a morning person, at least since my 30s, haha. That’s a good point though – to see if that changes just based on what free time I can carve out for myself. I think I’d still rather get up super early. But, Like i’m learning about everything — it’s all subject to change.
What are the best parts about being an artist/parent?
The best part is having your creative side amplified and being able to share that with another human – we are constantly making up songs, thinking of fun things to play with, and taking the time to see the beauty in every little small thing. I think that will only get better as we read books together, make up games, etc.
What have you found particularly challenging about parenting in general or parenting and art making?
In general it’s been hard to put the energy and time into our relationship, my partner and I. We prioritize the baby so much, that there’s not a lot of time for us, or for each of us individually, for that matter. I think self-care is extremely important, whether its emotional self-care or being healthy (sleeping, eating right, exercising, etc), and that’s been hard to sustain.
What are your kid(s) into?
Right now Felix is really into playing with his toes, staring at his (very chubby) hands, sucking on anything he can get in his mouth. He likes feeling and drooling on books, looking at shadows, listening to the rain, and getting tickled.
That’s it thanks again Sanya!