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Reliability, Professionalism and Why Creative Parents Are All So Stressed

I come across articles all the time touting the value of “reliability” in your career. It is presented as the thing that separates the winners from the losers, great from the average, and the opportunity getters from the opportunity missers. 


Reliability is Key 

In general I agree with this perspective. I have always been a big “say what you’ll do and do what you say” person. I try to set realistic expectations with artists and songwriters and deliver my work on time. Being someone people can count on to get the job done is important to me as a creative professional, and it is reinforced by the stereotype that “creatives are flaky.” This belief annoys me to no end, and so I end up doubling down on my value of reliability in an effort to prove to Nashville that, yes, we can actually have our shit together.


Take this quote I saw this morning from respected author and self-improvement guru James Clear


“Being good at what you do is partially about competence, but not exclusively. Two other things that matter:

Reliability. You do what you say you’re going to do—on time and as expected.

Enthusiasm. You’re excited to be here and eager to work on this problem.

Skills matter, but in many cases it’s your reliability or attitude that separates you from the pack.”


Great! I care about success, you care about success, so we’re all team reliability right? We’re all waking up early, opening our calendars and task management apps, ready to get out there and crush some checkmarks. 





Help! I Procreated 

But then….ENTER PARENTHOOD. There is no quicker way to inject a massive dose of chaos into your professional life than to procreate, and this is something many of us (including myself) were fully unprepared for. 


Kids are Inherently Unreliable

Being a parent is a beautiful journey full of deep life satisfaction and joy, but kids are also intrinsically a little bit……..unreliable. For example, do you know how often the average toddler gets sick? 


 

“It is very common for toddlers and pre-school-aged children to have as many as 8 to 12 colds, respiratory infections and/or stomach bugs a year.  

School-age children and preteens average five or six illnesses annually; teens and adults may have two to three colds or illnesses per year.”


In my experience, this tracks. As soon as my daughter started preschool, she was sick about once a month. Both my husband and I were fully blindsided by this reality. No one told us that in addition to navigating around holidays and parent teacher conferences we were going to have to navigate around a constant onslaught of rashes, runny noses, and unknown viruses.





Cringe Conversations 

What this means for your schedule as a working parent is an average of one tense conversation every month (per child!) between you and your partner deciding who is going to make the cringeworthy sacrifice of canceling their day at the last minute.


What this actually translates to is who is going to miss a deadline, who is going to piss someone off, who is going to have to disappoint a colleague, or worse—who is going to come across as uncommitted. Which one of us is not going to be able to crush it today like James Clear is suggesting we need to if we want to be successful?? Which one of us is going to jeopardize our professional future?? Why can’t we just give them some Tylenol and send them back to school like our parents did to us???


The Emotional Rollercoaster 

If this sounds dramatic and overwrought, it’s because that’s how it can feel in the moment. If a parent has to contact you and cancel their day, just know that they are probably trying to play it cool but inwardly they might be having an existential crisis. 


This might especially be the case because most of us are freelance creatives that do not have any paid vacation time, job protection, or workflow predictability. If the phone doesn’t ring, we don’t work, and BOY can that keep you up at night if you let it. 


We’re All Feeling It

Surely this is one of the many reasons behind the creation of Family Alliance in Music,  a new organization dedicated to helping music business professionals navigate the balance of family and work in our industry. Clearly, there are many people who are feeling overwhelmed by their current reality or even the prospect of a future reality, and I’m glad to see that someone is taking action.


A Cultural Shift

My argument is that it doesn’t have to be quite as chaotic as we think. Establishing a culture of acceptance of family obligations (even within our own minds, me included) can go a long way towards bringing down the stress level for everyone. 


Managing production and recording schedules better so timelines are not as tight, always being ready to switch to remote work, and dialing back the “everything is an emergency” attitude will do wonders. Also, feeling comfortable bringing a child in to the office, to a tracking session, or to a meeting is really not that crazy. Why do most of feel like it is?


Not expecting people to respond (or pressuring yourself to respond) after business hours or on weekends would also be a welcome change. Parenthood comes with a long list of responsibilities, and we need uninterrupted time to fit in the additional 97 hours a week that caring for children requires.  


What Does Reliability Even Mean? 

Most of us are in this business because we love what we do and often willingly sacrifice our OWN well-being in the name of a great project, but it must be a given that as fathers and mothers, we should never be asked to sacrifice the well being of our children. 


If you are caught in between the burden of being reliable for your colleagues and being reliable for your child, I see you. I feel it too. Does reliability mean keeping the money coming in the door so the bills can be paid? Does reliability mean your physical and emotional presence? How many episodes of Bluey is a kid allowed to watch anyway before they’re irreparably damaged?? These answers, in my experience, are constantly shifting. We continually need to ask ourselves, “what does this value look like today in this moment for myself and my family?” And even if the answer is not super clear, we just have to be good with good enough. 


A Collective Deep Breath

We are all out there doing what we can for our careers, and can do even more for each other by openly acknowledging the reality of the struggle. If we give ourselves a break, others can be inspired to cut themselves some slack as well. This life can be a tricky one to navigate, but defining these specific anxieties and discussing them can take away their power. 


So cheers to our health as we traverse this chaotic path together as parents in a creative industry…may your CBD be strong and the Emergen-C be effective. And may you never forget to put the lunchboxes in the dishwasher at night before you go to bed.


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1 Comment


trey bruce
trey bruce
Apr 18

Spot on Kate. The bad news is, it stays this way for a long time. Runny nose problems turn into soccer and dance problems, turn into be-home-with-the-car-by-midnight problems and more soccer etc. The good news is, many of the people in any camp that we work with, also have the same kid problems (except for the artists that aren't even adults yet). The financial nut & bolts can be stressful for sure, but most all of us have been in the room when someone got 'the kid call' so.... I appreciate the work ethic you describe, it's an attractive quality when looking for someone to work with on a project. Super fun stuff to talk about - thanks again!

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