This month in my Artist Residency In Motherhood experience, I noticed the importance of the commitment to practice in both parenting and artmaking.
After receiving some guidance from Yamaguchi sensei (Kobo Yuu in Tokyo), I went back to printing last month’s image ''Finding The Way Home.''. The second round produced more satisfying results:
In the prints from the second trial, the mother figure stands out more than she did in the first. The holes are more integrated into the background and the grass is brighter. This is how I want to remember my story: I showed up as a mother who was willing to walk the path. There were possible downfalls, but I was able to navigate them okay. And there were enough nurturing elements around us, like the green grass in this image, for us to grow together through this process of being a mother and daughter. It can be empowering to choose how you tell your story, by revising your narratives about an experience, much like how it works in Narrative Therapy.
The experience of revising and experimenting this month led me to ask, “What is common to parenting and Mokuhanga printmaking?” Mokuhanga teaches me about parenting and life. Here is what I found:
1. Aiming for “good enough” can bring a sense of joy.
Not perfect, but "good enough.” This is what the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott suggested as a beneficial way of being a parent. Accepting ''good enough'' can bring more joy in both the printmaking process and in parenting.
2. We are allowed to experiment.
A word of wisdom from Yamaguchi sensei this month: ''Instead of hurrying up to produce more images, perhaps there can be some space made to experiment with different expressions by varying ways to print.” In Mokuhanga, there is a lot of room to express in the process of printing—e.g. changing the way you lay out the ink or applying pressure with barren. The parent, like the printmaker, is allowed to experiment and try different parenting strategies. The process of exploration is as important as the outcome achieved, which is one of the essential principles in art therapy.
Experimenting with the embossing technique
3. Exploring is a way to understand what is in front of us
As I reflected on the importance of exploring, it reminded me of another piece of wisdom from Yamaguchi sensei: “It helps to get to know your plate. Which part needs more pressing? Which part wants you to stay away?'' Through exploring parenting strategies, I get to know my daughter more. Experimenting facilitates my understanding over who she is as a person.
4. Commitment to practicing is necessary.
The process of doing a study print and practicing Mokuhanga techniques slows down my pace. Practicing is important in art and in life in general. In my role as an art therapist, I often reach for a sports analogy--Learning how to play tennis requires practice. Learning how to paint on a canvas requires practice. Changing our negative self-talk also requires practice, and so does finding helpful ways of parenting. I don't need to aim to master these things. In each, I think what's being asked of us is this: Are we willing to make the commitment to practicing what we think is important to us—and to others?
Suggestion Box (Bi-Cultural Parenting)
Mokuhanga, 7 x 9 inches, 2023.
The different cultural beliefs my American husband and I hold appear often in our parenting experiences. In my culture, parents are authority figures who are responsible for the child’s future. His culture operates on the idea that parents relate to their child as if they are his/her/their friends. I say, “No you can’t/shouldn’t” more than he does. He says, “It’s okay, honey” more than I do. I welcome negative experiences and tears as parts of life. He uses jokes and a sense of humor to deflect the heaviness of life’s struggles. (I believe this cultural difference results in how sad movies gain popularity in Japan, unlike how Hollywood movies with happy endings become popular in the U.S.)
When we became parents, other parents took our new situation to be permission to give us advice. My husband and I remember receiving suggestions and ”evaluations'' (judgment) from others about our parenting, especially when our daughter was little. Their unsolicited advice left me feeling like a suggestion box has been set up at our home. Though there were times we purposely sought advice from others on what to do. Our commitment to practice negotiation and flexibility with each other empowered us to manage these outside influences and two cultures, so that we find our uniquely helpful ways of parenting our bicultural child.
Thank you for reading—and let’s stay in touch. I will share my February experience at the end of the month.