I'm teaching my daughter how to make a toast. I put my glass of soy milk up to hers and say "Cheers," thinking that she will clink her cup against mine. But instead, she quickly pours her milk into my glass, thinking that I was silently requesting for her to give me some of her drink. Obviously we need a little more practice in toasting.
This comic started out because lately I have been trying to teach my two year old daughter to drink from a cup without a lid. We both had cups of open milk and she was doing pretty good. That means most of the milk wasn't ending up on the floor. She is so funny and cute. When she gave me her own milk she looked me right in the eye with determination and really thought she was helping me. And now that I reflect on it, she was. I needed a memorable reminder of how precious my time spent with my children is. This stirred my soul to further examine a big question:
How do I balance parenthood with my artistic practice?
The short answer is, very carefully. As a married father of three children and an artist, I can't say that I have always balanced home life and artistic activity properly. Consequently, the wife and kids get the short end of the stick. The cliché of "starving artist" should be amended with, "...brought to you by suffering family." I say this because too much art, including my own, has been made at the expense of quality time with my own flesh and blood. In fact, my story about my daughter's unique toasting practice almost never happen. Why? Because that morning I almost plugged myself into my artwork, thereby cutting myself off from the rest of the world for a time to focus on my next great masterpiece. Family Translation: I almost ignored the kids for my selfish ambition.
Gratefully, after 17 years as a parent, I am usually careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past willingly. Such parenting follies are a recurring theme in my long running Silly Daddy Comics series, especially in the early years of the comic, started in 1991. Such episodes may be critically acclaimed entertainment to read about, but I have no desire to reenact life's hard learned lessons.
Balancing parenting with art-making is actually a formula for failure if taken literally. It should NEVER be a balance. The kids will always need to weigh in as considerably more important than art.
Practically speaking, how can I tell if my kids are playing second fiddle to my art?
The truth of the matter can be settled with two simple life scenarios to ponder.
1) If I am giving more of my heart to my art than to my kids, then it is time to change.
2) If I find myself dreaming more about how to build my art career rather than how to build my kid's character, then it is time to change.
Before deciding where you rate, take a sober look at your life from your waking hours to your head hitting the pillow. Where is your focus in between? Add up and compare the number of hours. As a cartoonist posting new webcomics online at sillydaddy.net multiple times per week, the pressures of sticking to my publishing schedule can easily deceive me into thinking that the art is more important than the kids. The irony that my comics are often lighthearted stories about the kids does not escape me. If my comics are about having a fun life yet my family life doesn't reflect that joy, I am a hypocrite. Continually recalling the above two life scenarios helps me combat such priority deceptions and sets me on a healthy parenting path.
Keeping such concepts in mind are only first steps in making sure that your kids won't resent your art and later admit to how absent of a parent you were when the retrospective documentary is made of your career and aired on PBS or the BBC.
Furthermore, guess who will inherit your masterpieces if you don't make it big during your lifetime... those same kids. This is another, but less important reason to put them first now. When you're gone, they may have the power to toss your precious artwork into the trash bins, rather than choosing to exhibit your work. And you won't be able to do a thing about it. You'll be too busy standing before God, giving an account of your life and facing the chilling consequences that you lived a life for yourself and your art rather than for God and the family he created for you.
To avoid such a fate, here are eight goals I strive for so that putting the kids before the art becomes not just a good idea, but a reality.
8 Goals to Put Kids Above Art
1) Plan family outings every week.
A family outing is anything you do with the family that is outside of your home, is not work related and not an errand. I even find that breaking out my sketchbook on family outings is usually not a good idea. It divides my attention and before I know it, everyone is "together," but doing their own thing. The teen has her iPod, the little ones are fighting and the wife has no one to talk to. That's certainly not going to win me any father of the year awards.
2) Keep your word to your kids. For example, if you say you will do something with them later, then make sure it happens.
3) Have a meal or other family activity together every day.
4) Look your kids in the eyes when they are talking to you. I know something is wrong with me when one of the kids is telling me something and I'm listening yet don't turn away from the artwork or computer to make eye contact. Danger! Danger Will Robinson!
5) Include your kids in the art production process when possible. On my Silly Daddy comic series, the whole family is involved. My wife colors many of the illustrations, my daughter often writes the supplemental text transcriptions for the website, my son sometimes colors and co-writes new material and my toddler... Well for now, we still have to keep everything away from her. The whole family is also involved in the critiquing process, whether I like it or not. Their input is actually invaluable, as it is a sampling of three different demographics that the comic can gather feedback from: teens, grade-schoolers and adults.
6) Use the cheapest art supplies. Does it really matter that all your drawings for the past ten years are done on acid free heavy stock French paper while you can't afford to help your child pay for college? For artists worrying about the longevity of their art, put the longevity of your child first. If your art is worth preserving in one hundred years, let the art restoration experts figure that out.
This is not a comprehensive list, yet I must mention two more "must do" items for parents, artistic or otherwise.
7) Talk to your kids and have family devotionals about the ultimate creator, Jesus Christ. "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made."
8) Tuck your children in and pray with them... every night.
As you put these parenting best practices into action, you will find that your kids will not only have a good night, but also a great and memorable childhood.
Illustration is a telephomic on Verizon Pocket PC Phone by Joe Chiappetta 2007, drawn in Mobile Painting program.
On a technical note, special thanks go to my Mom for proofreading this and finding an error and letting me know about it. I use the same editing style as John C. Dvorak uses in his various online articles. Throughout this webcomics blog, when I need to change something, wheter it be an error or an addition, I usually change it without any strike through lines or notices. Tracking changes are for the archaeologists and other detectives to figure out.