Embrace family life with creativity at its heart.The Creative Family Manifesto (Roost Books, 2017) is a guide to using the simple tools around you—your imagination, basic art supplies, household objects, and natural materials—to relax, play, and grow together as a family. When you learn to awaken your family’s creativity, wonderful things will happen: you’ll make meaningful connections with your children, your children’s imaginations will flourish, and you’ll learn to express love and gratitude for each other. This book is just what you need to get started.
At the heart of every mindful and loving family lie the seeds of endless creativity. With patience, support, and just a bit of guidance, that creativity can flourish and grow in beautiful ways. In our modern lives, it’s all too easy to get swept up in the busyness of the day-to-day—meals, cleaning, school, work, and other life details often stand in the way of the time we need to pursue our creative endeavors. As parents, it is both our responsibility and our privilege to be sure that our family’s creative spirits have all the room and tools they need to soar freely.
Fortunately, we don’t have to “teach” our children to be creative—inherent in the very core of children’s beings is the embodiment of creativity. To think of something in a new way, to inquire about something that others don’t even question, to come up with something truly unique and new is what children do best. When we give our children the space and encouragement to explore their own creativity, they can become our most inspiring of artists, our most inquisitive of scientists, and our most original of philosophers.
As their parents, we are blessed to have these amazing teachers. I’m reminded of this each and every day as I watch my children in the simple and small, but fully creative and dynamic, things they do: Adelaide, our one-year-old, finding pure delight in a basket of fabric from which she can recover her favorite piece of purple silk and start a game of peekaboo; Ezra, our three-year-old, lying on a riverbank and examining handful after handful of the earth’s rich clay, which he later portrays in a painting; Calvin, our five-year-old, rushing out of bed to draw his dream before he forgets it—a gigantic half-pipe with a dozen or so skateboarders, kids on scooters, and inline skaters spinning around in circles, all with gigantic smiles on their faces. These seemingly simple acts of childhood are small, yet full of wonder, appreciation, and imagination.
Given the creative nature of children, it is no coincidence that so many of us are led to seek a more creative life in their presence. Either an old creative passion or pursuit that has been forgotten is internally churned up, or we suddenly feel a need for something else in our lives when we’ve never considered ourselves creative before. Being around even the youngest children—and the purity of their rich creative energy—brings out our need for that same innovative spirit. They inspire us not only to nurture and embrace all of who they are, but to nurture and embrace our own creative selves as well.
For me, my creative spirit was awakened—and awakened loudly—through the presence of my shining children and the lessons I’ve learned from them. As a child, I never would have defined myself as “creative,” nor do I think my parents or teachers would have done so. I thought creative meant something much different—something having to do with skill and talent and “art.” Surely, I would not fit into that category. In school, I stumbled my way through art classes, managing to do just enough to get by. In high school, during the one semester that home economics was required, I came one pillow project away from my first failing grade. I would make things here and there; I just never thought of that as “creating.”
I would often make things with my paternal grandmother on the weekends. She was an accomplished seamstress and knitter, and my visits with her would start with a trip to the fabric store for a pattern and materials. More often than not, I would return home at the end of the weekend with a new garment that we’d made together. I learned from her the skills of sewing, and I enjoyed our time together immensely, but I was never thrilled or passionate about the projects. In fact, I was rather turned off by the details and confusing nature of all the “rules” of sewing by pattern.
Later on, in my college years, I would periodically dabble in one crafty project after another—trying to teach myself to knit, playing with clay or pottery, sewing an apartment curtain here or there. I enjoyed all of it, but it was never anything that stuck, and eventually, I would pack the sewing machine (or whatever the supplies of the moment were) back up and store them in the closet.
All of that changed for me in a life-altering way when I was pregnant with my first child. I found myself suddenly consumed with wanting to knit. Which is just what I did. I knit morning, noon, and night. I knit with a passion that surprised and changed me. There was something powerful happening when I was knitting for my little one. I felt peaceful and soothed and calmed, and at the same time, fully present in the moment. The simple act of wrapping some yarn around two sticks was repetitive, meditative. As I would knit a baby sweater, blanket, or hat, I felt as though each stitch carried my intent and thoughts of love for the child who would be wearing it. It was becoming something before my eyes. So I knit and knit, and when my hands tired of knitting, I embroidered and eventually began sewing. It was truly a gift to me—a gift of connection to the past, of mindfulness, of intent.
I had long had a love of vintage textiles, a love that came from my maternal grandmother. When I was a child, we would go on many grand adventures together through rural Maine to yard sales and antique shops looking for “treasures.” Even as a young girl, I was drawn to the textiles—old quilts, embroidered linens. Years later when I was discovering knitting, all of this made sense for the first time. These old objects that I had loved and the handwork that I was now loving were a connection to the past, a connection to women before me who had made such beautiful things. Their objective was one of practical reality—keeping their family warm and clothed. Yet, also in the process, their love came through as they created amazing works of art.
By the time my first child was born, I realized that my newly found creativity was too important to lose. I began to notice that when I was able to fit a bit of creating into my day, I was more centered, at peace, and fulfilled. All those things made me a calmer, more patient, and more mindful parent. My needs were getting met, and I was therefore able to meet the needs of my children even better. Creating quickly became an essential requirement. I was determined to find a way and time to make creativity a part of my life as a mother. Knitting was a pretty easy medium for that. I changed the projects I was working on to accommodate our daily lives. I kept baskets of knitting throughout the house, so if I ever had just a minute, I could easily grab my work and knit while my son played on the floor with me. I’d work on simpler projects that required a bit less of my attention. And I’d always travel with a project, in case there would be a moment I could claim for creativity. Yes, I would even knit at long stoplights.
I know that I am not the only one whose creative life was sparked by the birth of their children. I have talked to so many other people who felt the same need arise once they became parents and to people who are searching for ways to incorporate their creative passion into family life—parents who are inspired to create themselves after watching their young children’s creative spirits growing and soaring. Whether you’ve been creating your whole life or have been inspired to do so since becoming a parent, there are ways you can incorporate creativity into your day-to-day activities. It may take some tweaking, a bit of juggling, lots of rearranging, and much patience, but I assure you, it can be done if the desire is strong enough. And it is worth it. A large part of nurturing a spirit of creativity comes from being mindful, slowing down, observing, and looking around you at the beauty and inspiration all around. We are blessed as parents to have the best teachers for this—our children. Stop and watch your children often. Really stop and watch, and you’ll see them using such creativity in everything they do—a toddler picking dandelions, a young child making something out of blocks—they inherently work and play with creativity, intent, and imagination.
I now have a need and desire to create every day. It may be as simple as a walk with my three-year-old during which we find a pinecone to bring home and draw together, or it may be handwork on a quilt that I work on in solitude. In many ways, it doesn’t really matter what the daily outcome is. What is so deeply important to my soul and the soul of my family is the act and the process of creating itself.
As my need to create things on my own has grown because of my children, so has my desire to create with my children. I see both my personal creative efforts and the act of engaging creatively with my children as being on the same continuum of creative living—they feed into each other. Being creative (in whatever capacity) is important: important to me, because I feel myself to be a more complete person when my creativity is expressed; important to my children, who witness adults growing, sharing, and learning creatively; and important to my family, who grow and connect by creating together. It is so important to me that my children not only see this creative pursuit and drive in action, but also that we do it together and that they fully know, love, and embrace their own creative selves. A lot of my time and energy goes toward making this happen—thinking of things for us to do together and visiting the issues of why I want us to do them together.
This book is the result of that labor, and I hope that it will speak to you and give you practical tips and ideas toward making creativity happen in your everyday life as a family. The joyful act of creating together can be positively magical and truly a gift for everyone. Much of our cultural energy is spent filling our minds, hearts, and time with things outside our families, as is evident in the smaller amount of time that families spend together and at home. There’s a missing piece in this search for fulfillment—the piece that’s home, connection, and heart. While all the external events and energy are wonderful, it is often forgotten that the home and family can be a tremendous source of balance, happiness, inspiration, and creativity. The experience of turning inward toward our family for creative fulfillment can be an amazing and powerful experience for the entire family— young and old.
The ideas in this book are written for the creative family, with a focus on the following four elements:
Self—the discovery or continuance of your own creative passions and interests
Child—the development and nurturing of your child’s growing, creative spirit
Family—the deepening of parent-child bonds through the acts of creating together
Community—the ways in which we can connect to others around us, in both our local and global communities, through the act of creative living
Living a creative life doesn’t necessarily mean that your time is spent with paint, markers, and sewing machine. Perhaps those aren’t of interest to your family, which doesn’t mean you are not creative. Living a creative life does mean that you and your family seek ways to nurture your creative spirit in whatever ways please you. Living a creative life can encompass all areas of our family life—from our hobbies, to the way we connect with nature, to the ways we connect in our community, to the ways we celebrate our days together, and to the ways we cel¬ebrate each other. This book attempts to offer a wide range of ideas on living creatively.
All of the activities included in this book have in some way had a presence in my family’s life. They are a collection of projects we have loved in the past, projects we are currently in the midst of, or projects that we are planning for the future. There is a wide range of ability levels required, and great variety in the creative mediums they use. None of them are intended to be firm and rigid ideas that must be conformed to. Don’t be afraid to be, well, creative about your use of these activities in your own family. Start at the beginning and do a chapter each month or skip around to what interests you the most. Just find something that speaks to you and get started creating with or for your children.
My great hope in writing this book is that something you read here will spark a project in your family—and that fun will be had, connections will be made, and creative spirits of all ages will soar. The most important lesson I think we can learn is simply to create. Let your children see you creating. Create for yourself and for them. And create with them. When you do this with love and intent, I promise you there will always be beautiful results.