It’s kind of crazy how many unknowns there are when you’re starting a family: who is this little person going to be? Am I going to be a good parent? How are we going to afford this? What will my life look like now?
Can I still live this freelance artist life…. and be a mom/dad?
So I sent notes to some of my artist friends who had recently started families to see if they could shed a little light on the unexpected (and expected challenges) of starting a family while balancing a career in the arts.
The full piece will come soon, but I got one response that I couldn’t bear to cut down, and so as a teaser… This is my dear friend Lindsay answering my 5 questions about the challenges and successes of raising her son in a double freelancer artist household. (Make sure to read to the end when she talks about her greatest performance… absolutely beautiful.)
What was the biggest unexpected cost in the first year?
In our case, we were extremely fortunate to have inherited a huge loot of pre-loved baby gear (my older brother and his wife had had their two girls a few years prior and no longer needed any of the baby gear…huge score!!). Had we not, there would have been a few thousand spent on setting up for baby…furniture, baby swings, clothes, it all starts to add up fairly quickly.
One financial sacrifice was the chorus contract I gave up which overlapped my due date. This may seem like an obvious choice….to not take a contract that conflicted with my due date, however, in the non-artist world it would have been feasible to work until a few weeks before the birth of Matthew, and then begin maternity leave (which of course, doesn’t exist for self employed artists). Instead, I gave up a two and a half month income….luckily, Peter had a contract during those months, so we at least had some income.
Oh….and the diapers….so many diapers!! Ka ching…
What’s been the best thing about starting a family as an artist?
I’m not sure that being an artist makes parenting any more unique an experience than if I had another vocation. I think Matthew finds us very entertaining…there is a lot of banging on the piano, random song and dance parties and we’re definitely in the running for noisiest household on the street! I do love that I have the flexibility to be at home with him all day, especially in these early years when he’s developing at lightening speed.
I also love that I still get to sing. In the evenings, several months a year, I can still go to work and sing with a professional company and be fulfilled as an artist….and make a very fair salary! I also sing in church on Sundays, and am fortunate in that I’m frequently asked to perform as a soloist nationally. It may not be exactly what I had envisioned in my “school days”, but one thing I do know now, that I did not know before having Matthew, is that I personally would not be comfortable or happy leaving him for an extended period to work.
I have a lot of respect for our colleagues that do make this sacrifice to provide for their families. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was say goodbye to Peter when our baby was only 5 weeks old. Peter had a three month contract in New York. I simultaneously went back to work at the COC, so I was taking care of a newborn (a very non sleepy, colicky…read: adorable one!!;) while working evenings and weekends, and having a husband away in another city (with no breaks to visit one another) and in the middle of winter no less…it was very, VERY, difficult.
What’s the one tip you would give another artist couple who’s having a kid?
Well, obviously every relationship is different and so it’s hard to give advice here. In our case, we had to make a decision about who was going to choose a more stable job and stay closer to home in order to provide the stability we felt was necessary to start a family. I am fortunate that I have had some consistent work here in Toronto.
The only tip I can offer another artist couple is to build a strong support system. If you have family nearby, or good friends you can rely on, don’t be shy about asking for support. It sounds cliche, but it absolutely takes a village to raise a child. I’ve been on the “island”, thinking I ‘should’ be able to do it all myself…but there are only so many nights you can go without sleep before you have to call in some reinforcement!
Artists travel, it’s a built in caveat, so if your partner has to be away, you need someone you can call for backup every once in a while. 🙂
There’s so much advice out there when you’re about to have a baby. What’s one thing you heard before you had a baby that turned out to be completely untrue?
I still want to punch people in the face when they say…just sleep when your baby sleeps, like it’s that easy!!
(Disclaimer….please don’t blog that I would actually punch someone in the face…I would never…I do have some impulse control, not much, but some 😉 )
(DOUBLE DISCLAIMER: She later gave me permission to blog it… because I think it’s funny, she doesn’t mean it guys… she hasn’t slept in forever.)
TRUTH: Not all babies sleep. If yours does, count your lucky stars, sit back, have a latte and catch up on Vikings (bitches). If you get a live wire, know this: there will be no singing…at least no good singing. Your nerves and your voice will likely be shredded….along with that postpartum body (and not shredded in the gym-junkie fun way either!).
Again, some people have babes that sleep….I didn’t. I don’t know how I learned a single note in those first six months….heck, I crashed my car while it was in park (long story), I was only operating on fumes of adrenaline. So it would have been nice to stay home and go to “sleep when the baby sleeps”….but when you’re self employed, you work when there’s work, and you sleep when…well, I’ll get back to you on that one. 🙂
What’s the hardest thing to adjust to? And have you figured out anything that helped in adjusting?
The two hardest things I’ve had to adjust to are definitely the sleep deprivation (which at 20 months in is only now starting to improve…confetti please!!) AND the spousal separation.
It honestly never bothered me before! Peter and I have travelled and been apart so so often. Months apart for summer programs, piggy backed contracts (those are pretty sweet…until it means single parenting and sad Skype!).
It all takes on a different gravitas when a little tiny person is involved.
“The single greatest performance of my life….”
Children change and grow so fast. It honestly goes by in a blink and it is extraordinary. It is the most profoundly beautiful and gratifying experience. My son claps with sheer joy when I sing Itsy Bitsy Spider….and says..moh moh (more), that’s baby talk for “encore”…for Itsy freaking Bitsy!!!! I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars studying and honing the most difficult coloratura passages, belting out bel canto with every artistic fiber in my being only to welcome constructive criticism on how I could have done it a little bit better. And yet, here I sit, pony tail, no makeup (gasp), no sequins or fancy jewels, no gown, and this little guy can’t believe how lucky he is that his momma knows the Itsy Bitsy Spider song….uhhhh, correct me if I’m wrong here, but I think this is the single greatest performance of my life…and he’s so worth it.