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  • bethnietfeld

Motherhood, careers, and expectations.

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

After the birth of my third son, I started thinking a lot about motherhood, the expectations people have regarding it, and how those ideas affect my identity as an artist.

My husband Kenneth and I both come from deeply religious communities, where there is a strong emphasis on the importance of motherhood, and a sense of respect towards those who take on that responsibility. There always seemed to be certain expectations about how a woman should go about fulfilling her role as a mother.

Being the youngest child, I had seen my sisters all take on this responsibility, and in some cases, setting aside their professional ambitions in order to more fully be able take on the role of mother. For many women in our community, an Associates degree is as far as they manage to make it before the duties of motherhood take over. The idea of this happening to me made me uncomfortable. So when Kenneth and I got married, we decided to wait until after finishing our Bachelors to have a baby.

At the end of the fall semester of our senior year of college, I found out that I was pregnant. Luckily, I had a very easy pregnancy, and was able to continue with school and work with few noticeable differences.

As the spring semester began, word finally got out about my pregnancy. My husband and I received so much love and support from our friends and professors in the art department. However, I noticed a change in the expectations many of my friends, and some professors, had regarding my potential as an artist. Many of my friends were middle aged women who had set aside their aspirations to raise a family, and there seemed to be the assumption that I would as well. They would share what they assumed were comforting statements about how once my children were all grown up, I’d have plenty of time to be an artist again. Some professors began to place more interest in Kenneth’s future art career, even though we were both top students from our graduating class.

There was one other professor that treated me differently from everyone else in the art department. Del Parson is something of a celebrity in the Southern Utah art community. He is a successful religious painter, and loved by those who know him. Del would frequently talk about how tough it is to make it as an artist. Often he would encourage students to choose a different career path, in the kindest way he could. When he learned I was pregnant, instead of assuming I would set aside my ambitions to take care of my baby, he sat down with me in his office to talk. Del told me that out of the students in our class, he saw me as having the greatest chance of making it as an artist. He then told me about his daughter who recently completed her MFA, all while raising her own children. We looked at her website and admired her portfolio. We talked about how an art career would be difficult, but doable, if I desired to make it happen. I don’t think Del ever asked me once about Kenneth’s plans for his art. He was a good mentor and is a friend to me.

Thinking back on that conversation with Del has helped me feel so much peace and encouragement about my journey as an artist. I don't have to give up my desires and ambition to make room to love my children. Being a mother and an artist are not mutually exclusive, in fact, I’ve found many ways in which they strengthen and compliment each other.

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