Every week, Preen tackles motherhood sans the rose-tinted glasses. Our columnists L. Juliano, Marla Darwin, Monica Eleazar-Manzano, Rossana Unson, and Ronna Capili-Bonifacio tell their personal experiences like it is—at times frustrating, oftentimes confusing, but always enlightening.
“…but my most important role is being a mother.”
There’s nothing wrong introducing yourself this way if you really mean it, but I’ve been noticing this penchant of reducing people to the sum of their parts. I’ve heard it so many times throughout my life, that it’s become a default—women, once they bring children into this world, get reduced to being a mother (sometimes imposed by others, sometimes imposed on themselves).
I’d be lying if I were to say it. I sometimes get asked to supplement a short profile to pieces I submit to other publications and I always spend time thinking about how I want to introduce myself.
We can argue that good parenting is a meaningful contribution we can provide to the community, and I agree with that. It’s just that I’m uncomfortable with motherhood being the main signifier. To deem being a parent as the most important role I have feels like a disservice to the other things I do in my life.
The life that I built before having a child is why I was able to have a kid in the first place. I had the privilege of being able to figure out what kind of life I wanted. I spent years cultivating a livelihood that would give me that. Before I became a parent, nailing down my design practice into an actual process also became the foundation of my philosophy towards labor, relationships, and worth. I’m the parent I am now because of my being a graphic designer.
See for yourself:
The Creative Process as it Applies to Parenting
My approach to the creative process can be summed up in this quote (widely attributed to Abraham Lincoln but the source is unknown): “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
With any project I take on, I dedicate most of my time learning about the client, the nature of the industry it’s from, and study various design approaches and case studies. I try to find research opportunities even when I’m not working—saving pegs while I’m on the Internet, checking out design practices and market insight when we eat out, or studying packaging design when I’m in the supermarket. The same thing applies to my mom role. I read books and peruse articles every chance I get. I talk to my mom friends to exchange stories and advice. I try to remember all the horror stories and the surefire recommendations. I file all of it away until I have a use for them.
With everything I do, I always gather as much information as I can first. Research is a way of being.
2. Dive In
It takes a while to get the hang of trusting the information you have on you and just going for it. If you wait too long, you either have a deadline that will coast by you or a screaming child. Even without the pressure of urgency, it’s important to hone that instinct of learning to improvise when you’re put on the spot.
The stress I feel squeezing out new ideas for a design project is comparable to the anxiety I have over finding new things to try with my kid when she’s not having it. That motivation to go ahead anyway when a client brief flies off rails is similar to gritting my teeth for the first long haul flight with an infant or soldiering through the pain of chapped nipples during breastfeeding.
3. Take a Step Back
Whenever I hit walls with designing, I push myself to step away from the desk and do something else. I can’t pummel myself through long stretches of work because that’s the quickest way to kill your creativity. There’s the danger of resorting to the same tricks, resenting the work, and coming up with solutions you’re not happy with.
The same applies to my mommy instincts. Changing scenery, working with my hands, seeing friends, taking a nap, reading a book, etc. allow me to come charging back with vigor.
4. Present Your Work
I don’t know how it is with other graphic designers, but with my practice, I also have to take on the role of educator and relator. Since the nature of my design process is collaborative, as much as possible, I try to make the client leave their imprint onto our projects. I present my research and I explain where I drew my inspiration and insights. My clients and I are partners. We look out for the other’s wellbeing. There is a lot of listening involved. I’m only as good as my clients. This relational way of conducting business allows me to go beyond mere transactions.
It’s what gives meaning to what I do and I’m proud of that. This idea of approaching people as collaborators is the heart of my parenting beliefs. I believe in respecting the freedom and agency of children. I try my hardest to treat my daughter the way I want to be treated. I seek to find the frustrations underneath tantrums. I ask her if it’s okay if I give her a hug. I take the time to explain things to her, believing that even if her vocabulary can’t hack it yet, her EQ and her bank of experiences will pick it up.
As with my clients, I also find ways to push back and enforce what I can/cannot do through respectful behavior and dialogue. As with my kid, I don’t get it right all the time, but this is the standard I hold myself up to.
5. Repeat the Process as Necessary
Of course, if you made me pick between my career and my kid, I’d choose my kid.
Is that the question we’re trying to answer though? What is the most important thing you do? What is the most favorite thing you do? What is the the best thing you do?
If you’re in a position that allows for many things co-existing in your life at once, all of them feed and flow into each other. My personal life has always informed my work. Before I became a parent, I relied on the illuminations of being a student, dating around, maneuvering the limbo after college, getting married, living on my own for the first time, etc. whenever it was applicable.
When I became a mother, I turned to my design practice as my backbone in figuring out how to get things done. As time went on, my mothering also started informing my work. Becoming a mother has made me more ambitious yet made me loosen my grip on my career simultaneously. My daughter tags along to some meetings. We’ve been landing bigger accounts. We try to end work much earlier so we can play with her and read to her. My outlook on the world has gotten more hopeful (I have to be) and it shows.
We can’t diminish what we were, what we are. It’s seeing how it all interconnects that opens up the answers to what is most important.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.