If you, like many parents, think your child is missing out on creativity, mum-of-four Ursula Hirschkorn has a simple answer. Take yourself out of the picture and it won’t be long before you see their imaginations run riot
Ask me what I dream of my children becoming when they grow up, and once I’ve got the pious answer that ‘I just want them to be happy’ out of the way, I will admit that I would love to boast that I was the mother of a great artist or musician, an award-winning author or a playwright.
This is because I value creativity far more highly than an ability to win a tricky legal argument or perform a particularly challenging audit. Naturally, should my boys decide to become lawyers or accountants I shall request that this article be expunged from the annals of the internet, but as someone who has always earned my living through my creativity it’s no surprise that I value it so highly.
Which is why I was shocked to discover that encouraging my children’s creativity was such a chore. I had fondly imagined sessions of finger painting, glitter gluing and biscuit icing would form the jolly, colourful backbone of parenthood. How wrong I was!
Like most parents who answered the Yano survey, I was most disappointed by my sons’ lukewarm reaction to my enthusiastic pedalling of creative activities. Their response was generally to sit down in front my carefully prepared activity for precisely a nanosecond before proceeding to spread all the arts and crafts paraphernalia across the house in a gluey mess. I was picking glitter out of the carpet for years after an ill-fated attempt at homemade Christmas cards when my eldest was a toddler.
But therein lies the problem. My tendency towards control freakery takes over whenever a creative task is mooted. When we iced biscuits I wanted them to look like the pretty picture on the packet, not a half-eaten mess of psychedelic icing swirls. I wanted Christmas cards with fluffy snowmen and jolly Santas, not manky bits of card smeared with snot-like glue stains and a bit of flaking glitter.
I had a limited amount of time to spend on these activities so I wanted them to be satisfying sessions of togetherness with pretty-as-a-picture results – not a fraught battle to get my boys to ‘do it right’ followed by a disappointed hour tidying up the sticky residue left behind.
I had missed the point that creativity is about allowing the imagination to run riot and letting the children create something unique. The solution to the expectation-versus-reality problem, I discovered, was to take myself out of the equation. Once I’d removed my paranoia about mess, my desire for everything to look pretty and neat, and my preconceptions as to what creativity even means, things really took off.
Left to their own devices my two older sons’ obsession with Harry Potter meant that the poster paints, glitter and glue went to good use being mixed into potions along with my shampoo, Fairy Liquid and a spot of mud. I would never have condoned this activity previously, but it kept them happily and creatively amused for hours.
Equally, when I refused point blank to come up with anything for them to do during the school holidays and imposed a blanket ban on screen time, they responded by creating their own shows. My punishment for this lax mothering was that I had to watch these productions, which were inevitably noisy, shambolic and seemingly endless, but they certainly ticked the creative box.
When I commandeered their old playroom as a home gym, I inadvertently gave them a ripe new avenue to express themselves by moving the old chalkboard easel into the dining room. It has now become a blank slate for the whole family to express themselves. In the past week it has sported many unidentifiable pictures drawn by my three-year-old twins, a Halloween birthday message for my nine-year-old, a tableau of fireworks for Bonfire Nightand, my favourite, a big pink heart surrounding the words ‘I love Mummy and Daddy’ by middle son Max.
So perhaps we shouldn’t rush to condemn ourselves for not pouring our life’s blood into coming up with creative things for our children to do. Instead, we should recognise that often they are better left to their own devices if we want to get their creative juices flowing.
And creativity comes in lots of shapes and sizes. Just as some adults adore opera, while others would rather listen to fingernails scrape down a blackboard, we can’t dictate which creative activities will appeal to our children.
I always hankered after a child who would love to decorate fairy cakes with me. What I have is sons who are quite happy to lick the icing from the bowl and nick the Smarties I was going to pop on top of my cakes, but when it comes to a fun activity, creating a den out of freshly washed bed clothes is way better. Just because all I can see is mess and destruction doesn’t mean that it isn’t as valid an expression of creativity as daintily iced cakes.
Luckily, we all agree on one thing when it comes to getting creative and that’s making up stories. Like many a frustrated novelist, I love nothing more than coming up with fantastical tales to amuse my sons – the series about the brave Prince Max and his wise sidekick Wizard Jacob, named after my oldest two boys, are firm favourites.
My sons appear have inherited my love of weaving stories, but sadly I have yet persuade them to practise their handwriting skills and write down their tales. I think they feel this is just another dastardly maternal ruse to stifle their creativity, but the upside is that this leaves the field wide open to all those other budding JK Rowlings and Julia Donaldsons out there.