I am still a young mom with so much to learn, but there are three solid things I know about self-esteem, mental health, and happy parent-child relationships:
- Kids blossom when they have creative outlets.
- Adults need stress relief and moments to help them feel like kids again.
- Parents and children both need quality time together.
When I was in the first grade, an art contest at school provided a theme which students were asked to respond to. The theme was “It Could Happen…” and was left open to any kind of interpretation. My child-at-heart mom encouraged me to imagine something fantastical to create for this theme. I wanted to make something about animals and was especially interested in drawing my bright green parakeet Cheeky, but there needed to be something special about my drawing to make it fit the theme. Mom and I looked through picture books at home, zeroing in on “As Dead As A Dodo,” a colorful book about exotic animals who were hunted to extinction.
I wanted to draw many of the animals from the book, and mom had a fun idea of how I could fit them into the theme. What if I made a pretend, secret land for them to live, where people could visit (maybe an island like on the cover?). I added the idea of drawing myself flying to that place on my parakeet. It would be like flying to Neverland, but I named this secret place “The Island of Extinct Animals.”
My mom made me feel grown-up and capable — like I was doing something really special.
On the day I was supposed to get started, I came to the dining room table and found a large white sheet of heavy watercolor paper, a mechanical pencil, a black micron pen, a bamboo and weasel hair calligraphy brush, and a white palette dotted with beautiful watercolors squeezed from shiny metal tubes. Wow… I felt like a pro! Mom was sharing her grown-up materials, which were expensive, and she was trusting me to do a great job. She showed me how to take care of the supplies, like how to keep the brush nice and pointy and how to use microns without flattening the tips. The project took several nights spread out over a few weeks.
“It could happen… Flying to the Island of Extinct Animals”
Mom helped with the story of my project and brought reference images to me, but she kept some distance as I worked, never touching the painting. This was a rule for the contest, but I think she also did this to help me feel a greater sense of accomplishment. She showed me techniques on a separate piece of paper when I couldn’t figure out how to draw complicated parts. She pointed out beautiful details on each of the book’s illustrations and encouraged me to replicate them. Talking and imagining at the table brought us closer and foreshadowed her supportive educational involvement in years to come. As a kid, that specific experience greatly strengthened my self-confidence and willingness to try new things. Those memories often resurface while drawing or reading with my own daughter.
Left: Proud with my painting in winter 1996 at Hogle Zoo’s annual art show. Right: Mom and a younger me.
My mom wasn’t an advanced painter or illustrator. I want you to know that you don’t have to be a professional artist, writer, or musician to give yourself or your kids amazing creative experiences. You also don’t have to be a parent to share creative experiences with loved ones. Ponder a topic you care about and explore it with paint, a notebook, or a musical instrument. This will be a relaxing, fun experience if you:
- Prepare to get a little bit messy.
- Go into it with an open mind and don’t take anything too seriously.
- Use nice materials and try to learn something as you go.
- Ignore the worldly pressure to create a social media-worthy masterpiece, and only share photos later if you feel like it.
I hope this little story shows you how much creative quality time can mean to a child. If you want to be TOTALLY inspired by a parent-child art collaboration, check this out.