Giving Yourself Grace & Letting Go
“You don’t need to take care of me. I’m ok.” This is what Kate had to learn to say to people when she stopped creating art and felt fulfilled enough with ‘just’ being a mom. But it was a long journey to get there. She had to first let go of the expectations she had of herself as an artist and learn to accept herself as she was.
Kate’s love of art began in high school when her art teacher taught her what art and being an artist really meant. Instead of teaching the ‘fundamentals,’ this teacher taught her how to get from connecting to her inner self and emotions to what gets expressed as art — to explore that space between self and creation. Being an emotional person, Kate loved learning to express herself this way and living life from this creative perspective. She found her place and felt at home among other artist kids who were just like her. She felt confident calling herself an ‘artist’ at this early age and got the support and validation of her family, teachers and friends.
Knowing she wanted to live and breathe a passionate, creative life, she ended up at RISD, a prestigious art school in Rhode Island. It was such a wonderful experience for her and she focused on her art, creating pieces that reflected her feelings about womanhood and vulnerability. While she valued her time and creative freedom there, she felt unprepared to live in the real world once she graduated and moved to the west coast. The difficult reality of having to support herself with a Bachelor’s in Fine Art hit her. She taught art classes and worked in retail, while maintaining studios and participating in various art co-ops. Kate married her husband, whom she met at RISD, and moved into their house to settle down.
Over time, Kate found herself moving in a direction away from her art. The changes in jobs, moving and new friendships all contributed to this but she really felt a shift when Sidney, their first dog, became part of their family. She loved taking care of her and getting outside with her, going for long walks and exploring nature. Jack, their second dog, soon followed. She started looking outward after focusing inward for decades. And while her creative drive dissipated, she finally accepted the fact that she may never want to make art again. Even though everyone around her still wanted to identify her as an artist, she stopped looking for recognition from others and in that shift, claimed herself. Eventually, her daughter came into this world and she realized how much she loved being a mother. She was good at it and it felt like this was what she was meant to do. Being a mom was enough. It gave her a reason to feel ok about not doing her art and permission to stop, to let go of any expectations she had of herself as an artist and embrace who she was.
As a full-time mother of two, Kate encountered and made friends with other moms. They would frequently ask about what she used to do before she became one. When she told them she was an artist, they would ask if she was creating and if not, when she planned to create again. Kate clearly remembers the days she spent on the beach or on a hiking trail with her kids and dogs when they were little. On those days, she would tell herself, “this is precious, it will not last and one day you won’t be doing this anymore.” This presence, this ability to just ‘be’ allowed Kate to give herself some grace, see that she was enough and to respond to those questions with “You don’t need to take care of me. I’m ok.”
I think all of us start our adult lives with so many expectations. We have expectations about what kind of career we’ll have, what our families will look like, what kind of house we will live in, etc. This constant pressure we put on ourselves, and inevitably on others, can become stifling. We are so consumed by them that when life gives us something different, we struggle with the disconnect. And when we struggle, we miss what is right in front of us. Life keeps moving whether we are present enough to recognize it or not.
Now that the kids are getting older and Kate gave herself the space and time to breathe, she is starting to feel her artistic stirrings again. She had always struggled with whether or not she really wanted a studio but let go of that expectation a while ago. Now that she’s ready, she’s finding her way back to it again. She is setting up her studio on the main level of the house that used to be the media/play/guest room instead of the basement, which she never liked and where her former studio had been. Now that the kids don’t have as many toys to store, the tv’s moved to the living room, and overnight guests only come sporadically, she’s claimed the space as her own. And so, she’s in the process of setting up her studio and unpacking some of the work she did years ago, reconnecting to the artist she once was.
The expectations we have and resulting disconnect create a lot of conflict within ourselves, conflict that takes up a lot of space in us. When that space is taken up, there isn’t much room for much else — room to breathe, to know what we really want or to be kind to ourselves. We need to let go of our expectations — the expectations about our careers, of what a mother should be, of what a marriage should look like, how our children or husbands should behave, about how we should live. We need to give ourselves the grace and permission to just ‘be’ and to realize we are enough. Only then will we be truly present in our lives and in the lives of those we love. Letting go means we are able to embrace and accept who we are. When we are able to do that, we will be able to embrace the people who surround us and give them the same grace and accept them as they are…people like our children and partners.
Kate doesn’t know what kind of art she will create, when she will do it, or how often. What matters to her is that she is excited about her studio and the possibility of creating again. She doesn’t have any expectations of herself. All she knows is that this is for her and that is enough. She is enough and she will be ok.
*Featured image is of her unboxing the art she created a long time ago. This was the first time she’s looked at it since and was happy to see it again.