Recently, my kids returned from a friend’s holiday party chattering endlessly about all the fun crafts they did. They piled adorable customized cups, bags, and hats into my arms as they climbed into the minivan. As they settled into their seats, I asked if they had a good time. “Yes!” said one of my 9-year-old twins. “We did so many crafts. It was the best night ever. Why can’t you be like that, Mom?”
The comment stung. But the truth is, she’s right. I am not a crafty mom, but I am raising some crafty kids. My crew regularly bemoans my lack of glue gun skills.
It’s not that I don’t like to make things. I am actually a very artistic person; between writing, painting and sculpting, my childhood was filled with creative endeavors. I’ve always been a twirly right-brained creative, sailing through life without much of a plan and very little organization. Our house is overflowing with art supplies, and I do not care about messes. We had a permanent slime station through the entire COVID lockdown. My kids were the envy of Zoom kindergarten.
The problem is that being creative does not always translate to being crafty. Crafting takes a different sort of mental muscle. It’s organized creativity. It’s left-brained to an extent. It’s fabrication, but with a plan. It’s preparing and executing a project that someone else has designed. These are all things I loathe. I am more likely to let my kids free-hand a mural on the side of our garage than make homemade snow globes from a kit. While this has never bothered me before — we have a lot of messy fun in this house — it bothers at least some of my kids. They have a crafty gene that I do not possess.
I wondered if I was alone in this supposed “deficit.” Instagram can certainly make it seem like that. I asked some of my mom friends and found that I am actually not alone — in fact, far from it. There are scores of moms just like me who do not, will not or cannot craft. Some of us are not creative. Some of us hate messes. Some of us are just tired.
My neighbor, , runs a health and wellness business. She assumed her creativity with food and movement would translate into crafts, but she was mistaken. “I even bought a sewing machine, determined to be able to make curtains and costumes,” she tells me. Optimistic, she dove in headfirst. “I took a class to learn how to use it, then failed miserably at making a tote bag. It was the worst bag in the class. I've given up on being a Pinterest parent and just stick to plating food and rearranging furniture as my creative outlets.”
I understand her pain. My own mom is crafty, and she can sew. She sewed all my Barbie clothes (which my kids still use) and all of our Halloween costumes, and ran our local Stitch-and-Bitch club. I still give her my kids' clothes with the tiniest hole to mend. It’s in her wheelhouse, and I am allowing her to use her gifts, right?
When I asked in a few parenting circles, I was floored to see one local mom who runs a comment that her 11-year-old daughter is frustrated by her lack of creativity and artistic endeavors. How could the mom who made our Disney World T-shirts and all types of coordinated holiday goodies also have a kid that was disappointed in her creative ability?
“My daughter loves to draw and make jewelry. I can't draw a stick figure to save my life and coloring is a form of torture to me. I truthfully asked my first grade teacher when I would ever use coloring in real life.” said Olena Welling Thomas. She and her daughter both sew, but she strictly uses a pattern while her daughter wildly free-hands her creations. Thomas says she likes to follow the rules — she enjoys the orderly nature of the tees, tumblers and decor she makes. “Good thing that there are other things we enjoy doing together,” she laughs.
I realized that Thomas's daughter is more like me, and chafes with her mom over the orderliness of her creativity. Thomas, meanwhile, is more similar to my disgruntled child who likes guided crafts, a concrete plan and a cute finished product. I don’t have the skill, and I honestly don’t have the desire. My friend Jennifer Beuse, who has been parenting longer than I have, told me to just let myself off the hook. Any craft project she tried to do was a disaster of whining and fighting. “I used to feel guilty. By the third and fourth kid, I just had no cares left to give.”
I often wonder how my kids will look back on their childhood. Will they be disappointed that we rarely completed cute holiday kits together? Will they will have fond memories of how I made my chaotic creative nature work for our family instead? I found myself recently apologizing to my 11-year-old about the way I threw his birthday party together at the last minute. "I am sorry bud, I am really not rocking this mom thing right now," I said. He looked shocked as he replied, "You're a great mom! What?!" He was frustrated about party plans, but not about me as a person.
In that moment I realized that my kids’ singular complaints about specific things were just that: singular complaints. They are not a reflection on my relationship with them, which is based on so much more.
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