Letting go (of creative perfection)

BC (before children) I never would have thought myself as a perfectionist. If anything I would have said I had a chaotic, irreverent approach to art, crafting and indeed life! I have always loved to make, and being self taught in a multitude of crafts, I hadn’t considered myself to have high expectations or standards when it came to the finished product.

Enter child number one. Strong willed, independent, and with a need to be excellent at everything. Immediately. She gets upset when the paper tears, or if her colouring goes outside the lines, or if she can’t draw a house ‘properly’. She actually refused to join in with hand printing at nursery because it was too messy! I found myself cringing at the disregard for order – pen lids being lost under the table, paints being mixed into muddy browns, and brushes mushed out of shape by aggressive toddler painting techniques. Suddenly I see myself reflected in this little persons wants and desires – was I always so impatient with myself? Have I in fact been a perfectionist at heart? When did I start needing to colour in between the lines and have my ‘posh pens’ kept in colour order? Is it my unconscious need for control and perfection that’s causing her high expectations of herself?

Wanting to encourage in her a passion for creativity, and to embrace the chaotic style I thought I emanated so well, I have made a conscious effort to stand back when it is time to create and craft. I no longer dictate what we do. I follow E.’s lead, and let her inspire our activities and creations – and we have SUCH A NICE TIME! The stress is gone, she no longer gets upset when things don’t go the way she expects, and I get to enjoy being caught up in her imagination and seeing where it will take us next. When I get ideas for things to make and create, I file them away to bring out when the occasion or mood calls for them. This way I am always ready to expand on an idea, or reinforce learning with something messy and fun.

Being a creative soul myself, it is hard not jumping in, or even doing my own version by her side. But standing back allows her to express herself how she wants, with no adult version to compare herself too. Obviously, I am always on hand for gluing/cutting/positioning help, but mostly for encouragement and to make sure anything messy stays in the designated splash zone. While she excitedly stabs away at the paper to give a snowman chicken pox, I don’t get twitchy – she has her own pens to destroy now. An important part of the creative process is to discover what different media can do, and explore mark making techniques – but there is also the important lesson of how to look after your tools properly. Aggressive mark making leads to bent nibs, lost lids to dried out pens etc. Maybe this is how I learnt to care for my precious ‘posh’ pens!

Watching your child learn and develop is such a fascinating process… I was so excited when I saw E. draw her first picture where I could recognise what it was (a spider). And her first ‘potato people’ had me almost bursting with pride. The nights are drawing in, and we are spending less of our days outside – it is the perfect season for gathering round the dining table and immersing yourself in a project. I am starting to come to terms that maybe this Christmas it won’t be my tasteful, handmade decorations adorning our tree… it is time for the children to take over, and to celebrate the chaos and colour of child led crafting sessions.

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