Last time, I outlined the effective practices of artists and suggested we might also apply these to parenting. Let’s focus on the first one, “artists meticulously study their medium in order to understand and anticipate how it will respond to their applications.” This intensive effort to become familiar with the nature of the medium is an ongoing process.
Every medium, used by visual artists, possesses its own unique properties that can be directly affected by environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity. Therefore, the artist must observe how the medium responds in a variety of situations. Each type of medium necessitates a different level of involvement on the part of the artist. Some are applied with gentle strokes (watercolors) while others require vigorous manipulation (clay) and still others demand considerable force (marble).
In addition, every medium has its limitations. While the artist determines the parameters for a piece in terms of size, scope, theme, for example, the medium selected restricts what the artist can do. Although the artist directs the creative process, this is best accomplished with a knowledge and respect for the medium’s characteristics.
Finally, equipped with knowledge, experience, skills and tools, artists apply, carve, shape, mold and sculpt the medium toward the vision they hold in their mind. Every artist interacts differently with their chosen medium, thereby accomplishing different results. Ultimately it is the relationship between the artist and the medium that determines the outcome.
What happens when we attempt to apply this effective practice of artists to parenting? Some of us have the opportunity to begin getting to know our children before they are even born. Others of us must wait until that momentous occasion when they are delivered into our arms. Still others become parents or guardians to children at various ages and stages of development. Regardless of how or when our children come to us, the process of discovering who they are and how they respond to the world around them is ongoing.
Like the artists’ medium, each child possesses unique qualities and characteristics that are directly affected by both internal conditions (physical well being, emotional maturity, intellectual capacity), as well as external conditions (family atmosphere, social circumstances, and cultural expectations). While every child arrives with basic physical, emotional, intellectual, and social needs, the formula for meeting these needs is unique for each child. When we take the time to observe how a child reacts in various situations, the benefits are immeasurable. Armed with this information we are better prepared to interact in ways that fulfill their needs. When all of a child’s needs are being met, their ability to achieve their full potential is profoundly enhanced.
Like artists, parents undergo changes. In addition to changing physically, we are exposed to new experiences, information, and ideas that affect our performance. Unlike the artists’ medium, our children are constantly changing, developing, and growing, too. They can think, act, and speak for themselves. As they change, their needs change as well. Although the direction of influence between parents and children is reciprocal, not unidirectional, we are the adults in the relationship. Therefore, we must persist in our efforts to anticipate and understand these changes.
Just as each artist has a distinctive style, each parent interacts differently with each child, thereby generating different results. Ultimately it is the relationship between the parent and child that determines the outcome, for both. No two will look exactly alike.
I read once, “…it’s one thing to be dedicated to the idea of parenthood and quite another to be dedicated to the practice of it.” The reality is that the relationship we establish with our children lays the foundation for EVERY other relationship they will ever have, including those with siblings, friends, spouses, and of course, their own children. While artists may choose to work with different medium throughout the course of their career, the art of parenting demands a lifetime commitment.
To be continued…