Before I had a baby, I had a very specific mental image of what I was going to be like as a mother. I'd wear adorable vintage-inspired aprons over flowing peasant skirts. I'd make everything from scratch, and my children would be constantly snacking on fruits and veggies. I'd lead them in daily enriching and educational activities, and my baby would know how to use a paintbrush by age two, at the very latest.
In my mind’s eye, I envisioned myself starting craft and art projects with my future child as early as possible. Any projects I couldn’t do with him, I intended to do for him. He would wear only winter hats and slippers that I had knitted myself. I would sew him endless quantities of play food. I even started saving various patterns for little kid stuff on Pinterest — handmade dinosaur hoodies and the perfect play kitchen and knitted booties — long before he was born.
While that image in my head changed over time, one thing stayed constant: I was going to be crafty as hell. Well, as it turns out, being a crafty mom is hard. And while it’s no surprise that parenthood turned out to be different than my fantasy of parenting, I think it’s important to talk about how freaking difficult keeping up with this stuff actually is.
I've always considered myself an artist, long before I went to art school; in fact, I started considering myself a serious painter at the ripe old age of seven. I've also always known I wanted to be a mother, so it was deeply important to me to share my sense of creativity with any kids I might have. It had always been a deeply important part of how I planned to parent.
That changed, however, almost immediately after I had my first kid. When every moment of rest feels stolen, when your nightly sleep average goes from eight hours to five, when are you going to find the time to do that seasonally appropriate hand print craft? Some days, I’m just trying to think of any excuse to put off giving my kid a bath for one more day. (“There’s not that much sauce in his hair!” is an actual sentence I have said to my lovely wife.) On those days, there’s no way in hell I’m going to stick his feet in red paint to make those perfect little cardinals we all saw going viral a few weeks ago.
I manage to do a few arts and crafts projects with my son, and I feel good about them when I do them. I spraypainted a few pieces of my son's IKEA play kitchen before slapping the thing together while staying up all night watching Gilmore Girls. I've also made him homemade, toddler-safe watercolors, and I cut a few fall leaves out of felt when I was desperate for something simple to do with my hands while trying to decompress at the end of a long day.
I’m glad that I’ve been able to be crafty sometimes, and if I’m being honest I also enjoy the praise I get when I share photos of these projects on social media. Parents and non-parents tell me how great I’m doing, and for a moment, I kind of believe it. But the reality is more complicated than that.
The truth is that being a crafty mom to a toddler is hard as hell. Most days, I’m happy if my kid just pushes a toy truck back and forth on the floor long enough for me to catch my breath. Most days, we don’t accomplish anything more creative and enriching together than listening to music for twenty minutes. Most days, by the time my wife comes home I am practically screaming that I just want to be alone. I feel like I’m never doing enough. The list of things I want to do is long, and the list of things I feel like I can actually manage is practically nonexistent.
I have attempted to paint with my son exactly twice. Both attempts were a bust — he just tried to eat the paint and then ran down the sidewalk. And those felt leaves? I had to cut them myself while he was finishing his lunch, because he tried to eat the scissors when I took them out. I haven’t even managed to do that thing where you put glitter in a sealed water bottle for him.
Sharing our “family crafts” on Facebook or Pinterest might make it look like we live a blissful life of creativity and fun. And maybe part of why we share those things is so that just for a second, we can try to believe that about ourselves.
Sharing our “family crafts” on Facebook or Pinterest might make it look like we live a blissful life of creativity and fun. And maybe part of why we share those things is so that just for a second, we can try to believe that about ourselves. If we can emphasize the good and joyful parts of our lives, sometimes that can help us zoom in on those parts and appreciate them more for ourselves.
We, the crafty moms, are curating our lives because we have to. We are showing you the parts that we like about ourselves because just for an instant, it makes us feel better about how many Cheerios are still under the table. But we aren't special or magical or more talented than you are, and we certainly don't have more time than you do. Just like you, we are struggling under the weight of all this parenting crap, trying to find room to breathe. And if we can occasionally find the time to cut out a few felt leaves for our kids without them trying to eat the scissors, then so much the better.