Katie Shook- Two creative ladies

Katie and Willa outside their Paris apartment
I met one of my best friends, Katie, many years ago at a rather big party in the desert. I believe we gain something unique from every friendship we make, and from Katie I learned how to open my heart.

Name:  Katie Shook
Occupation:  Artist
Hometown:  Spokane, WA
Where you are currently living: Paris, France

Isobel: You guys have been living in Paris for a couple years now and Willa just started pre-school. The book 'Bringing up Bebe', which talks about how the French raise their kids, was a best seller last year. Have you had any personal experiences of this difference, and do you think it's influenced the way you are raising her?

Katie:  I still haven’t read that book, just reviews. I think the idea is that French moms are more hands-off, hanging back at the park, chatting with other moms and smoking cigarettes, while American moms micro-manage everything their kids do and over-schedule their lives with ‘enriching’ activities. There probably is some truth to those cultural stereotypes. I definitely appreciate things about the French approach, it is more relaxed in some ways, just generally people taking their time for meals and chatting, not rushing around to get things done (or getting their kids to do things.) Some things about the way French care for children have been surprising, though—women breastfeed for a far shorter time (3 weeks, to 3 months.) Most French moms go back to work full time when their child is 3 months old. That is what is expected and supported, I think women are looked down upon who stay home with their children beyond that. In Anglo cultures lots of women go back to work, but feel guilty about it. I think our underlying belief is that it is best for the child to be home the first couple of years, if possible, so women beat themselves up if they’re not doing that.

Willa in her studio

Isobel: Katie, you are one of my favorite artists and performers. Like many women, you decided to take a break from full-time work to be Willa's primary care-giver. Can you talk a little about those choices, and how you juggle being a mum and an artist?

Katie: That’s my question for all artist moms, too! How do you do it? Right after Willa was born and I didn’t have energy to do my own work, I wondered a lot about how I would get back to it. It’s been a slow process of getting more time for myself, month by month.
It’s important to me to get lots of time with Willa while she’s small, so I kind of test out how many hours apart we can both handle, and modify it week to week. I have a vision of having a studio where Willa has a place to work while she’s growing up, so we can be a part of each other’s creative worlds.  Also, the things that inspire me about the creative process and child development kind of blend together. I am passionate about the RIE approach (www.rie.org)  (favorite blog: www.janetlansbury.com) which involves a deep respect for your child, allowing them to express their individuality from the very beginning.

My goal as a parent is to stay out the way of Willa’s creativity as much as possible (besides totally supporting it!)—like not telling her what to do with materials, or what I think is ‘pretty,’ but just letting her explore and discover on her own. I have been fascinated to watch her natural physical development (in RIE you don’t put children in positions they can’t get into themselves, so they develop musculature in the right order). And I’m fascinated to watch her creative development—exploring how she holds a crayon or brush, how she makes marks (at first she wanted to rub the paint on her face, she still ends up painting her feet in any given painting session!) Raising Willa is kind of an art experiment for me: How can we get as close to pure creative expression as possible? How can I stay out of the way and let her express herself in her own way?
Feet as paint brush

Isobel: What's the aspect of motherhood that's most surprised you?

Katie: I didn’t know love was so big. I’m serious. I had this feeling when Willa was born that my heart grew so big that I couldn’t hold all the love, and it exploded into millions of pieces, then came together again in a new way, as big as the universe, all filled with love for my perfect, miraculous child. And the most important thing I will ever do in my life is love her.


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