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Since I was a ten-year-old peddling my homemade cookies on the sidewalk in front of our house, I’ve considered myself a creative person. Creative work in its various forms has always deeply fulfilled me.

Fortunately for everyone, as I’ve gotten older, my creative pursuits have looked less like selling overpriced lemonade-stand snacks and more like writing—something I’ve always found enriching and life-giving.

This past year, we welcomed our second baby in under two years, after a high-risk pregnancy and traumatic premature delivery. With limited time and even less energy, creative side projects were first on the chopping block. But as my baby turns a corner developmentally and I’ve found a bit more margin, I’ve begun to write again. I feel energized and invigorated, a higher and better version of myself, a self that, at risk of sounding dramatic, I felt was lost in the challenges of the past twelve months.

This dramatic shift from a dearth of creativity to regaining my artistic footing has made me think about the impact of creative work on my life as a mother.

The symbiosis of motherhood and creativity

So much of parenting young children is about faithfully completing simple, essential daily tasks, like changing diapers, feeding, nurturing, and running a household. While the constant pouring-out of oneself that this demands can be exhausting, I believe there is another way to think about it. For me, the simple and unglamorous work of parenting can inspire creativity.

Watching kids take in the world around them can shift our own thinking, forcing us to notice phenomena that we would otherwise take for granted. Our two-year-old, for example, is fascinated by lights, captivated by the pattern of dried leaves on the sidewalk, and transfixed by watching me cook. Our baby can sit for hours, taking in an adult’s facial expressions or watching his brother play. Viewing the world through their lens makes me see ordinarily mundane experiences as uniquely inspiring, making the ordinary seem remarkable.

Likewise, the all-consuming nature of parenting young children can force us to slow our pace so that we can notice and appreciate life and the world around us. Late nights spent rocking a colicky infant, long hours in the pediatrician’s office, or quiet nursing sessions, for me, have forced a slower cadence that creates space for deeper thinking. A little less frenzy, a little more focus. A little less productivity-obsession, a little more noticing. And in turn, a little more fodder for things to think about, write about, share, and create.

Carving out more time for creative work has transformed the way I approach parenting, not just because it fuels me emotionally and intellectually (spoiler alert: it does!), but mostly because it helps me think of motherhood, too, as a creative act. At its core, parenthood is an act of helping to form and shape people—people with virtues and values and creative loves of their own. Understood in this light, motherhood and creative work are not fundamentally in conflict, but rather, two different expressions of a common goal—that of harnessing our gifts in service of the world.

The beauty of creating for its own sake

Creative work is significant for everyone, outside the context of motherhood. Not only does it have significant mental health benefits, but it is also beautifully countercultural. In a society that champions a hard-nosed work ethic, and in which most people need to work a traditional nine-to-five job to keep the lights on, creative pursuits can seem impractical. But creative work is important, too, and it has inherent dignity, not just because of how it fulfills those who create it, but also because of how it affects those who consume it.

Think about how many times in a given day we benefit from someone else’s penchant for creating: a garden that stops you in your tracks; a novel that captures your imagination; a Netflix series that grips you; a song that you feel in your bones; a recipe that comforts you and reminds you of your most beloved childhood traditions. Some of the most popular media right now, like the wildly popular Magnolia Network, the beloved HGTV show Hometown, and the delightful Great British Baking Show, involve watching other people lean into their own creative gifts.

Even when creative work doesn’t yield a direct economic benefit, its power is undeniable. Few other human pursuits are so capable of making both creator and consumer more whole, healthy, and fulfilled. And in a throwaway culture that so often commoditizes people and their work, there is so much good to be gained from prioritizing a task whose only direct benefit is our own delight.