Do you remember the first time you picked up a crayon to color your first coloring book?
During that experience, you were staring at bold black lines. You might have scribbled all over the page with complete freedom. Eventually, you realized the importance of “staying in the lines”. As adults, this mindset can remain all these years later and confine us to stay inside certain lines of life we deem “correct”. Borders. Boundaries. Markers that tell you where to color. The appropriate place to make your marks. We are taught from a young age to “color in the lines”. To write in the correct spaces. To keep your colors in the lines, neat and tidy. You were rewarded for even and straight crayon marks. You were praised for staying in the lines. And as an adult, a wife, a mom, a friend, a human, you most likely are still trying to stay in the lines. To live a tidy life. To choose the best colors, make even strokes, and NOT make any mess.
I spend a lot of time in my little art studio with both kids and adults, helping to provide a space for creative freedom. And I will tell you at times it is a challenge. I have had children and adults alike crumple up their artwork and throw it away because it wasn’t “right”. I see what looks like fear in their eyes as they stare at the blank canvas in front of them asking me, “the expert”, to draw lines for them. At times I feel like I can almost hear the voice inside their head saying “be sure to stay in the lines and don’t make a mess!” Perfectionism rears it’s ugly head often, paralyzing and preventing us from living in freedom and creativity.
I’ve heard the term “unlearn” and I have realized that one of the best things I can do for those in my studio is to help them “unlearn” some of the laws of coloring in the lines they learned back in preschool. To set them free from the restraints of borders, boundaries, and markers that they have set up for themselves to live within. To find the freedom to make mistakes and see what happens!
Our culture has a beautiful book of coloring pages for us to choose from. But what if we opened the book to a blank page and just began to doodle. To scribble bright colorful lines. To make a mess. To try something new? As an artist, the best work often comes from what seems a mistake. If we can take these principles and apply them to motherhood we might just be set free from some of the hardships we find ourselves facing. What if we let our mistakes become masterpieces. If we parent outside the lines of the status quo. If we encourage ourselves to let loose and do something different. Or try something when we might fail? Taking risks and trying things from a different angle can make all the difference.
I remember when my firstborn was struggling to learn to read. I was literally in tears. Feeling helpless. If I looked around I would see other kids her age picking up books and reading effortlessly. The time we would spend together struggling over her sight word flashcards became overwhelming and full of frustration. I felt like a failure as a mom. I saw the checklist and I couldn’t check the box for my child’s success as a reader. The coloring page needed to be colored in and it wasn’t happening as I wanted. I wasn’t willing to be ok with my page being a mess or marks being outside the lines. I wanted it to be all neat and tidy. In hindsight, I could have approached the situation with creativity. I could have relaxed and celebrated each sight word we conquered and trusted that there is a unique page of color for my family that isn’t found in any coloring book. It ends up, that same child tested into gifted ELA in 6th grade and took honors and AP English through high school. Undoubtedly, the design of her life created a beautiful masterpiece and of course, it isn’t like anyone else’s.
As moms, we know our kids are amazingly special. Sometimes we just need a reminder to let go and allow coloring outside the lines, beyond the borders of standards and criteria, and be encouraged to press the boundaries we have unknowingly set in our lives. As mothers, it is ok to try something new and different and fail. We can learn so much as we creatively mother our children. What can you “unlearn” today that would set you free as a mom?