Families of Instagram: Pragya Agarwal, @the_art_tiffin

“When no one’s looking I lie down. It is exhausting being a parent, and trying to juggle work and life, and be the best you can be – no matter what anyone says.” Pragya Agarwal – mother of three, including twins, academic, writer, creative, entrepreneur – on family life…

Pragya Agarwal, 40, lives in Lancashire. She three girls (Prishita who is 20, April and India who are 22-month-old twins). She left a career in academia to run two creative businesses – an eco creative studio, Hedge and Hog Prints, and a social enterprise, The Art Tiffin. She’s also a writer (the Guardian, Times Higher Education, Huffington Post) and blogs.

Our mornings are hectic and … chaotic. I am not a morning person, and neither is my other half. Our twins don’t sleep very well and so after a bad night, it is tough to wake up early and start the day. I also work until quite late at night after everyone is in bed, as I run two businesses and also am writing a book, and so mornings are always a struggle for me. We try not to talk to each other until we’ve had some coffee. But the babies are full of spirit and want to run around and play as soon as they get up.

My favourite part of the morning is cuddling them in bed after they’ve just woken up with their sleepy, messy hair. One of them is more affectionate than the other, and less hyper. When we had our teenager at home, it was a different story altogether! Often my husband gets up before me, and gets the kids ready for nursery, where they are three days every week, or take them out for a walk with the dog, so that I can have a little lie-in. On weekends, we try and go to an art gallery together, such as the Whitworth or the Tate Liverpool.

I’d describe our house as … comfortable and lived-in. Is that a metaphor for messy? Perhaps! But I love it. It has huge windows, which are my favourite part of the house. Since having the twins, we’ve given up on tidiness. But we recently decorated their room and it is my favourite room in the house. It is light and clean, and fresh and has light streaming in through the windows and overlooks our huge garden. I put so much love and care into it, and it was nice to have an interior design project. I trained as an architect but don’t do that for a living so it was nice to be reminded of why I loved it so much!

The kitchen is certainly the heart of the house where we spend most of our time. We have plans to decorate the whole house, as we bought it from an old lady who had lived in it for 25 years so it needs a lot of work, but we fell in love with the big rooms and the garden. It is definitely a work in progress! I have so much art and vintage posters, that I have collected and bought that I would like to put up – it’s the next project, definitely.

My kids mainly wear … gender-neutral, comfortable clothes such as dungarees, turtle-necks, pinafores and cardigans. My eldest is very fashion-conscious but not mainstream, and she loves picking up things from secondhand shops and vintage stores. She has a great sense of aesthetics. Much like her, I dress my twins in colourful clothes. I love yellows and reds. I often buy from boys’ sections in stores, as I am not sure why there are separate gendered sections for kids when their body shapes aren’t even developed to warrant different clothes. We try and buy ethical, handmade and from small businesses, where possible.

I cope with clutter by … ignoring it. Honestly, with such demanding jobs, sometimes it is not a priority. We are trying to be minimalistic but have realised that I will never be, as I love collecting little things that remind me of our experiences and of my kids growing up. I also believe in making toys and books readily available to my toddlers so that they can choose themselves and develop independence. I also believe that it encourages imagination and creativity and helps them develop self-confidence if they have the choice. So, we have plenty of wooden toys and puzzles stacked up in boxes for them to explore and play with, and then we have to just put them away at the end of the day. I would love to have a tidier and more organised house, but it inevitably ends up looking like a bombsite at the end of the day. With our eldest’s room I cope with it by closing the door. Out of sight, out of mind!

Our favourite family meal is … anytime we are all together. Eating together has been difficult lately because of our busy schedules, and because the twins have numerous food allergies and they are extremely fussy. But we are hoping that as they grow older, we can all sit down and eat together like we used to. We recently went to Wagamama at the Royal Festival Hall just before my eldest performed at the WOW festival, and it was so lovely to have the whole family together, and enjoying food. Noodles, ramen and sushi are definitely something we all love. Food has played a huge part in my life, growing up in India, and something definitely that I want to pass on to my own children.

I never leave the house without … a sketchbook. I have these aspirations to sketch wherever we are, but of course the reality isn’t that straightforward because we are never sitting still. I live in hope!

When no one’s looking I … lie down. It is exhausting being a parent, and trying to juggle work and life, and be the best you can be – no matter what anyone says. So, I do like a nap. I think sometimes we can feel guilty about it, but just a few minutes of me-time, closing my eyes, and letting my mind wander can do wonders for me.

Having a child has made me … more driven and focussed. It made me so much more aware of our impact on the planet, and the need to leave the world a better place for my kids in some way. When my eldest was born, I was very young, and she gave me the inner strength to complete my Masters and PhD. Since my twins, I have started a social enterprise that aims to support people with mental health, encourage creative self-care, and campaign for cruelty-free art materials, and I have also launched a campaign for mothers in academia. So definitely it has given me a creative surge!

I encourage creativity by … being open-minded myself and setting an example. Creativity is so much more than just sketching and painting and drawing. It is an attitude, a mindset. I run a group for parents ‘Raising Creative Kids’ and I am really passionate about encouraging creative thinking in anyone but especially children from a very young age. We are all born creative, and somehow lose it along the way. So I want to ensure that I allow my children to have the courage and the freedom to explore and experiment, and to be able to take risks and make mistakes. I want to give them the opportunities to find out what they are most passionate about and then support them in doing what they love most. Besides creative confidence, it is so important for them to know and learn that it takes practice and hard work to be successful, and that it is important to be resilient.

I’ll never be able to part with … my books (and my children, of course!). I cannot resist a book shop, especially a secondhand one, and I buy far too many books even though I don’t have time to read anymore. Our house is full of books, and I love it like that.

Bedtime tends to be … quite stressful in our house. Since my twins were born, they have been very ill a lot of the time, and had severe reflux and colic. There was never a bedtime and we often had to rush to A&E overnight. But, they are growing stronger, and we are trying to build a routine with them. They still cry a lot in the evenings because they hate going to bed, or sometimes they are just too tired but won’t settle down. But then sometimes we have those wonderful days when all seems to fall into place, and they are content and ready to fall sleep after a warm bath and milk. Hopefully there will be more of these days as they are older. It is really the first time that we can then have a meal, and slump on the sofa – me working with my laptop, and my husband watching some biathlon or football.

When all else fails we … use sense of humour. It is really very important to us to be able to laugh together, and be silly together. So we do silly dances, and use silly funny voices, and sing some songs that we have made up.

Follow Pragya on Instagram: @the_art_tiffin