Our next interview in the Creative Mom series is with Mandy Steward, a wife, artist and mother I’ve been privileged to get to know personally this year. There is a lot of meat in this interview so grab some tea or coffee and hunker down for a great read!
1. First, tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Mandy Steward and I am 31 years old. I feel younger than I did in my 20’s, as far as energy and a directed passion goes, and that excites me. I have been married to my perfect-match of a husband (and I don’t say that lightly), Tony, for 10 years this summer and we have 4 kids who are 6 and under who learn with us as we do life together. I’m also an artist, and I struggled for years to call myself that. Luckily that part of my struggle is over, but I seem to unleash new struggles daily. I’m a constant learner and a passionate philosopher. I can’t help myself.
2. What keeps you inspired and motivated to create while still being a mom?
I’ve never had much of a problem with motivation. I have this insatiable urge to create, and if I’m not creating in some capacity I feel empty. I refuse to feel empty, and so that is my natural motivator. As for inspiration, when I’m in my zone, it comes to me from everywhere. Conversations, books, things my kids do, the colorful world around me, the way the sun falls across my living room floor and paints a unique pattern. When I’m not in my zone, inspiration seems to run from me or at very best, taunt me. Things that might usually inspire me only seem to make me jealous. Usually this is when I’m trying to mimic some other artist instead of being myself.
3. I love your post on finding beauty in the unlovely, even a messy house. What other ways do find beauty and joy while fulfilling your role as a mom?
I believe in a God that loves beauty and created it so that we could experience joy. I believe at all times there is beauty around us to be discovered, that there is joy in the midst of every situation. That being said, it can be extremely difficult to see this beauty around me. My joy is easily robbed. My eyes become focused on the ugly things and I begin to think that’s all that can be found. The simplest things can blind us to beauty. A dirty living room, a messy kitchen, a house plundered by kids with endless energy to pull things out and a lazy will when it comes to putting things away, a husband that has to work a lot and is drained when he comes home, a car that won’t start, a runny nose that won’t stop, a roof that leaks, a bank account that won’t stay full and a house in constant need of repair. Given the opportunity we can fixate on the ugly.
When my mind, or my children’s minds start to fixate on the ugly and start harboring a spirit of joylessness, I try to remember to put on my artist’s eyes. As artist’s we have the unique ability to see things differently, to take a situation and apply creativity to it, and to transform it into something new. I try to find beauty in what I am given. I can’t always instantly change my circumstances, but I am in control of my reaction to them. I distract myself from the ugly, or I find how even it holds beauty. I fixate on the things that are lovely, pure, full of truth. The bigger things that bring me joy. I don’t have an easy, tangible solution as to how to do this, but I do believe it’s something that takes a lot of practice, so I’m practicing, a lot! My life gives me plenty of chances.
4. How are you incorporating creativity into everyday life with your kids?
The question is a good one, but I think the better question is how am I withholding creativity from my kids? Children are naturally creative. More often than not our most creative days are the ones where I follow after them and give them space to imagine, invent and explore. This is not to say I neglect my responsibilities as keeper of our home or guardian of their lives. It just means I’m willing to be flexible to fit those responsibilities around their big adventures. I’m horrible at forced creativity. It never seems to work for us. My attempts at any sort of planned event only seem to withhold creative moments from us. I think it’s because when I plan I expect things to unfold in a very particular, perfect manner, and then I get frustrated when my kids don’t follow my plan. I’ve found that as I follow their creative urges to play with crayons or to climb a tree or to read a book together or to build with blocks, I often feel myself come to life within those moments. I know it’s been a good day when we all have totally lost track of time, so lost are we in our creative play.
5. You’ve written on your blog that you have an “insatiable urge to create.” How did you satisfy that urge when you became a mother? And did you ever feel guilty for taking the time to create?
My closest artist friends will tell you that I am invariably chasing down the answers to these questions. I certainly do not have it all figured out. I’ve lived on both far extremes. I’ve sunk everything I have into my art: working from home, working part-time outside of the home, staying up way too late and setting my kids in front of the television for countless hours so I could conquer some big looming artistic deadline. I learned much from this time in my life, but I wasn’t fulfilled. I always felt guilty for not investing in my children like I knew I could be.
Coming off that lifestyle I swung to opposite extreme, giving up all personal artistic pursuits and using everything for my kids. I was so surprised to find emptiness here as well. How could this be? I thought giving up my art was a sacrifice that God would honor and thus give me the joy I was so longing for. Not so. Instead I felt like I was losing a piece of myself. I was moody, irritable that I was defined only by what I could give my children. Yes, we were being creative together, but I didn’t feel like I had anything to call my own. I was a full-time Mom, but I was not joyful to be around. I was drained.
That brings me to where I am attempting to live now. I’m searching for that balance between mama and artist. I think when we are living out of both roles healthily the two can actually bleed into and support each other. I have narrowed down what I want my personal artistic energies to be used for (writing), and I have narrowed down the excess fluff in my life to make the best use of my time, both as a mom and as an artist. As a family we have cut out lots of extra stuff in our lives, so that we have time to clearly and simply go after our creative goals. I have orchestrated my schedule so that I can write and read during periods of time that my kids don’t need me. I have learned to ask my husband for personal time, so that I can have a chance to get away from home and get filled back up. I have found that making time for my art and taking my artistic pursuits seriously leaves me with a deep joy that helps me to be a better mom. And I have found that loving on my kids and partnering with them as they learn to fall in love with learning, has added a richness to my life that feeds into my art. Each day I find new challenges, but I’m determined that the mother and the artist can live together peaceably.
6. What are your mother’s day wishes?
I’m not sure by Mother’s Day wishes if you mean wishes for myself for others. Regardless, my wish would be contentment. That we as mom’s would be able to find contentment in whatever season we are in. Contentment as a mom, contentment as an artist. Contentment in the journey of trying to make those two words collide. Contentment in the journey, as we change and make mistakes and grow more and more into who God is calling us to be. Our hearts are planted with rich dreams and passions, I hope that we will be content as mother’s to be specifically who God created us to be, rather than spending our time wishing we were like her or her or her. What we each have inside us is enough. Contentment is my wish.