The Messy Truth

September 9, 2008

I have recently gotten a couple of comments about how the projects we do seem to be effortless and mess-free. Here's the truth. The pictures I post don't show it all. When I first became a mom I couldn't wait to pull out the paint, glue, clay, etc and let my kids run free with their creativity. I had memories from my childhood of the pure joy that comes with creating things all by yourself. I had images in my head of perfect sunny afternoons filled with happy, shining little faces creating, painting, building one masterpiece after another.But many of the early arts and crafts experiences with the kids felt more frustrating than joyful or fulfilling. But here's what I have learned from my kids. It's not a new lesson. It's one that seems to pop up in my life in various's the process, not the product; it's the journey, not the destination and it's messy, not neat.

I quickly learned that my expectations and desires were unrealistic. Part of that came from my frustration during early experiences...the "mess", the time it took to set things up vs. the actual time spent doing a project together, and disappointment when Noah didn't enjoy it the way I had hoped he would. Reading Susan Striker's book "Young At Art" was very helpful (and still is) because it gave me a developmental framework and guidance for introducing different mediums and techniques in age appropriate ways. And most importantly it confirmed the message I had received as a child from both of my parents. Creativity comes naturally and shouldn't be forced. Coloring outside of the lines is good and being messy is part of the process. Here's a great interview with Striker on Artful Parent.

The photos on the blog don't show all of the work that goes into setting up and gathering supplies for our projects. I have learned that it is better to have everything needed out and ready before getting started. I try to keep our supplies organized in one closet. I keep things for everyday use and easy access on lower shelves. The kids can get paper, mar
kers, crayons, etc anytime they want to, but I keep other supplies like scissors, paint, hot glue gun, etc on higher shelves. And I try to do projects that will work for the different ages of my kids. Now that Noah is older, I am excited to be trying new things with him but if it is something that will be too challenging for Camille we'll do it during her naptime.

The photos also don't show the reality of time or my kids' responses. Sometimes my kids just aren't into the activity and they only spend a few minutes giving it a try. This used to bother me, but these days if it is something I like doing then I will just keep w
orking until I am done (it is easier to do this now that my kids are older and can entertain themselves for a bit). I want my kids to see me doing things that I enjoy and that allow me to be creative. If they want to join in and give it a try that's great, if they don't that's ok too. I have written about this in past posts but I have come to realize that Noah will probably never enjoy drawing the way I did as a kid. He goes through phases when he draws more than other times, but in general he is a very tactile and three dimensional guy. He loves clay, sculpture and constructing things. Camille on the other hand loves to draw and paint much more than Noah ever did at this age. Different kids, different addition to developmental stages, individual temperament and preferences play a big role in which activities are more appealing to my kids. Part of the process is discovering each child's interests while introducing them to new experiences that will perhaps prompt to explore more.

The photos also don't show the clean up process and sometimes it really
is messy and time consuming. I try to anticipate and do messy stuff outside or in the bathtub. I keep lots of washrags, paper towels,baby wipes, and garden hose (if working outside) within close range at all times. And I try to embrace the fact that they will get dirty and that's ok. I also try to remind myself of all those time as a kid when I was so happy to be covered in paint or mud. I want my kids to have those memories later on, too. Don't get me wrong that doesn't mean I enjoy the clean up. It just means I have come to accept that it is part of the whole process.

The messy truth is that there are still times when I and/or my kids g
et frustrated if things don't work the way we hoped they would. The messy truth is that I don't always feel like doing something creative and we just lounge around watching movies. The messy truth is that photos don't show it all. The messy truth is that I want my kids to love art and the creative process as much as I do, but I can't force that to happen. The messy truth is that our arts and crafts closet sometimes looks like this:

plumm said...

I needed to read this post first thing this morning more than you'll ever know! It is a message that carries over into all parts of parenting...It's challenging for all of us. No matter how perfect other parents seem...they have their struggles. As a mom who is going through a rough patch with one very stubborn 3 year old...this was just what I needed to start my day off right. Thanks Lucia.

the clan mccawley said...

It's nice to hear that I'm not the only with messes, movie days and endless hours of clean up. I love the suggestion of Young at Art and have it on my list of books to read!
Thanks for the confessions...

Corinne said...

Oh man. If only you knew how important and empowering this post is. I think so much of parenting is letting go of our expectations for ourselves and our children and just letting it get messy and then putting a smile on when its time to make things right again.

Andrea said...

You are definitely right, sometimes my kids want nothing to do with something I think is fun. I also sometimes say no to things when I can't deal with having to do the clean-up (like play dough 30 mins before bedtime).
I think we all have ideas of what it's going to be like but the reality is a lot messier! And the reason we don't remember that part from childhood is probably because we were already off playing while mom cleaned up.

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Thanks for the comments...glad to know I am not alone!

Melissa said...

I agree with the other posts. It's nice to find another mom who is fine with their children making messes and enjoying themselves and not forcing activities on their children. I get comments from so many people that I'm too permissive with my daughter. But I remember making huge messes when I was a kid and how much fun that was.
Thanks for the book name also. I'm going to look for it. It sounds interesting and helpful.

Amanda @ said...

This is so true. Friends who read our blog have asked how we do all this cookie baking, crafting, etc with the little time we must have. I think they imagine us as baking cookies every afternoon or something, when this really isn't the truth...but who wants to read (or write!!) about the cleaning, messes, little crying fits, frustrating trips to the grocery store, messy car, fighting kids, etc, that make up too much of our daily life?

Great post, thanks :)

Best, Amanda @

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