There are good artists who have children. They are called men – Tracey Emin
When Tracey said this, she did go on to say there were exceptions, but there is some truth in it. Amy Jenkins discusses her own experiences of motherhood in this article about Stevie Smith, and how she herself has found it a lot harder to write since having a child.
I remember being quite surprised when I read the author of Booker long-listed The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce has four children. She must be incredibly disciplined, but even if there is time put aside when they are at school, I personally find the mental fog of children’s impending needs can be very hard to clear. The article suggests that the experience of those who grew up with an artist principle parent are the only ones to say if they have felt hard done by, if they were placed second to the work, and I remember one of Shirley Jackson’s children, when interviewed as an adult, saying how they knew when they were not to disturb their mother. But then, for the bulk of my childhood my mother was wearing a white dress and cleaning people’s teeth. I couldn’t disturb her when she was elbow deep in someone’s mouth, either. But then maybe the fathers in these artist marriages are parentally active. My dad worked away, and when he was home, was as helpless as a puppy. He would sit there hungry, waiting for my mum to return, unless I made him a sandwich, that is.
Having a child, now she is a teenager, doesn’t interfere with my writing. She’s always playing guitar in her room. I disturb her far more often than she disturbs me, and there is only one of her, which this article says makes a difference. Men, on the other hand, I find a trial. My ex-husband worked nights, or was out a lot. It was easy for me to write and study in the evenings. Since then, other men I have seen have had this thing about wanting to watch TV together. Go out together. A lot. They see my spending the evening reading as anti-social. They are way more time consuming than a child (although lighthouse keepers/international space station staff feel free to apply here).
And with regards to breaking my concentration disturbing my mind, my parents are far more intrusive than any child. I like to wonder and wander around a the woods near my house, and I have to take my phone in case my daughter texts me to say the house is on fire. My parents both have health problems and are periodically demanding, calling and texting often. And that sets me on edge, and combined with worry, damages my thought processes.
It obviously is a case of every person and situation being different, and I think the annoyance and responsibility level is what is important, not whether it is a child, parent, or gerbil that demands attention. But, I do wonder how Jane Austen would have been if she had had to deal with three hours sleep, chicken pox, never ending laundry and an embarrassing biting incident (‘But mum, he stamped on my biscuit!) which necessitates a meeting with the nursery teacher.