Kids and Creativity: One Makes You Better at the Other

How parenting is a lot like my day job

The other day I passed a long-standing parental milestone. No, it wasn't the first time they did something pedestrian like use the potty or ride a bike or lose their first tooth. No, this milestone marked the first time my kid gaslighted me.

A common occurrence that my friends with more service time in the raising-kids department tell me to get used to, gaslighting, as you may know, refers to a specific type of psychological manipulation where the manipulator tries to get someone else to question their own reality, memory or perceptions. 

On this particular occasion, the gaslighting centered on a request from my 6-year-old for mac and cheese. However, when I produced said mac and cheese, I was met with a confused look from my child, who added, with a straight face mind you, "I never asked for that."

Whether my child honestly forgot their mac and cheese request, or is actually playing the long game in some twisted, 3-D chess-like psychological battle between us that only he is aware of, I don't know yet. One thing I do know is my years in the creative industry quickly revealed themselves when I mumbled under my breath, "When did this brief change?"

And that's when it hit me: Having kids makes you a better creative.

Think about it: Clients gaslight you all the time. How many times have you been given a creative brief, you execute that brief perfectly, but the client review results in massive changes that were never part of the original brief. In your head, you think: "I did exactly what you told me to do. I think I did a good job. But now you're saying what I did was wrong and demanding I do something totally different."

Welcome to life as a creative professional, and to parenthood.

Even the lingo in our industry connotes raising children. Agencies love to "grow" ideas or "foster" them. Why shouldn't they? After all, their concepts are their "babies." Some agencies even "incubate" their ideas (how very next-gen). 

Wordplay notwithstanding, there are child-rearing life lessons that do dovetail quite naturally with a professional creative life. Imagine a Venn diagram where one circle represents personality traits that will help you find success in the creative industry (advertising, design, production, post, et al), and in the other circle are personality traits you need to be a good parent. At the intersection you'll find keywords like:

Patience: Insane tantrums, irrational demands—servicing your children isn't all that dissimilar to servicing your clients. Being a good parent teaches you how to deal with a lot of irrational situations, and vice versa.

Self-sacrifice: Large ad agencies love to encourage the creative "ego" and overlooking piques of arrogance because one delivers creatively. But your kid's epic meltdown in Target will quickly rid anyone of whatever pretentiousness you had.

Feedback: Those passive-aggressive comments from your boss or clients about your work don't seem too bad when compared with actual aggressive comments from your kid, who doesn't know how not to say out loud whatever thought pops into his head. 

Repetition: Hate doing endless rounds of creative? Try doing endless rounds of feedings, diaper changes and reading the same damn book 50 times a day.

Late nights: Staying up late brainstorming ideas for that new product launch will feel like a walk in the park compared to late-night battles with the croup. 

Humble servitude: When you're a parent, doing everything right is what's expected, not a cause for celebration or a pat on the back. That notion of humble servitude is important in the creative industry and will make you better at your job.

Having kids helps you become a better creative because it teaches you patience, gets you used to doing tons of rounds (dishes, feeding, diaper changes, rimshot please), rids you of your ego and teaches prioritization. Perhaps it's not the same for all of us working in this industry we love, but for me, becoming a parent has made me a more mature creative professional. 

And hopefully someday, when my kid is an adult, we'll sit down and over a glass of wine he'll finally confess, "Yeah, Dad, that day when I was 6, I did ask for mac and cheese. I was just messing with you."

I knew it.

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Greg Matson
Greg Matson is partner at Verdes in New York.

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