When singer-songwriter Libby Johnson first became a mother, she made a daring decision: to take her then 6-month-old daughter, Shannon, on tour. Her band, 22 Brides, had just released an album, so Libby didn't want to "abandon ship" and set aside her career. She chose to embrace both motherhood and her music. That choice found Libby dashing offstage between sets and into the bathroom to nurse Shannon. "The experience was harrowing," says Libby. "It was at times funny and overwhelming. But when I think back about it, I'm glad I brought Shannon — and glad that she will know I was able to do that."
Since that time, Libby and her husband, Daniel Wise, a music producer, have worked hard to balance raising their children — Shannon, now 10, and Mason, age 8 — with the pursuit of their own dreams. "The kids grew up in our recording studio," says Libby, who adds that both children attend her performances every couple of months and are now interested in music. Shannon plays the piano and the guitar and composes, while Mason plays drums. "We don't push it on them, but there are instruments everywhere," says Libby.
To "rock," it may be said, is to open one's life and heart to uncertainty, creativity, passion, courage, and continued learning. But can you do that and still parent well? It turns out that with some planning, support, and dedication, you can — and you'll be sending a very positive message to your children in the process. "We all have fires in our hearts — true passions," writes Bria Simpson in her book, The Balanced Mom. "Amazingly, when we identify and integrate some passionate interests into our lives, we elevate ourselves. We enjoy more energy, a more optimistic outlook, and a greater ability to let go of nonsense and nonessentials. Exploring your authentic passions can go a long way toward honoring your unique self as you raise your children."
What's more, Simpson adds, the core of our inner passions is often rooted in childhood, so living out your dream sets a terrific example for your children. "If your children are your greatest priority, as mine are," says Simpson, "know that they benefit from seeing you as a whole person."
In fact, Libby recalls that her earliest influence was her own mother, who was a folk singer and taught Libby and her sisters how to play the guitar. "She played lots of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, and she often played informal house performances for her friends."
Keeping pace with your child's growth means more than meeting his basic needs and saying the right things: It means providing a living lesson of happiness for your child to absorb into his psyche. How your life plays out is perhaps the deepest lesson your child will receive. At times, you may feel that because of the daily, unpredictable demands raising a child places on your schedule, life is not free enough to pursue your passions. But engaging your own talents fuels good parenting.
Victoria Moran, author of Creating a Charmed Life, warns that setting aside your own dreams can "give your child the idea that dreams are impossible, the world is harsh, and the best you can hope for is just to get by." Author and family therapist Michael Gurian agrees, adding: "As parents pursue and express their identities, perhaps through art, it gives their children psychological permission to pursue what they love."
Making It Work
In the case of the Johnson family, making some compromises led to a more balanced and happy family life. Libby decided to let go of performing for a few years but continued to write songs. "It was important for the kids to see me as a parent who has work that I love and am passionate about," says Libby, who recently finished recording her second solo album. "I let myself off the hook about trying to be perfect. I'm a good cook, not a great one. I'm OK at housecleaning, not perfect. But if I have a song in me I have to write, the children can see how that happens."
Daniel, meanwhile, had been producing about eight albums per year and working 14-hour days — until he had a late-night epiphany. "It dawned on me that I've got about 8 years until the kids won't want to play with me anymore," he says. Daniel scaled back to producing three albums per year and rented out his studio, leaving him more time to spend with his family.
Making choices to create a balance is the key. With today's packed schedules (for both parents and kids), demanding jobs, and even societal messages about what family life should look like, this is challenging. Simpson believes that creating a full life depends on making space for what really matters to you. "To help you make the best choices for you and your family, connect with your deepest values, your core convictions about what really matters. When your decisions are led by your values, rather than by what other parents are doing or saying, you are living authentically, in alignment with your true self." This benefits everyone.
For parents Michael Wolff (a jazz musician) and Polly Draper (an actress in the hit TV series "thirtysomething"), involving the whole family in the entertainment business has worked well for them. Their two tween-age boys, Nat and Alex, demonstrated musical aptitude early. "Nat was writing songs before he could count," says Michael. Together, the family thought it would be fun to create a mockumentary about the boys' band, as if they were hugely successful like the Beatles. The boys had already enjoyed some success playing gigs at friends' parties and helping to raise money for the 9/11 Firefighters' Fund.
Polly and Michael now work together with their sons on what has become the Naked Brothers Band music and television empire for Nickelodeon. The two boys navigate lovelorn, wacky, and heroic stories deftly with one-liners written by their mom and perform rock songs they write with their dad. Polly uses the show to bring the entire family together. Indeed, in the premier episode of the second season, there are eight family members involved, with Polly wearing four hats, from executive producer to writer. "My husband acts and is also music supervisor. My niece plays the babysitter. My brother is co-executive producer. Nat and Alex write the songs and perform them with their band."
Of course, not every family ends up with a hit show or platinum records, but the sentiment is applicable to all parents. Indeed, how you find joy is hugely influential on what your children accept as good ways of living. So maybe you swept your love of journaling, painting, or singing under the rug when your little ones arrived. Don't worry: It's never too late to start again, and it's always energizing to follow your dreams and visions.