Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Creativity and motherhood

Since having children I can honestly say I have never felt more creative, and more frustrated.

I found the process of pregnancy and birth stirred up my desire to write fiction in particular, but also my general interest in making, doing and creating.

Creativity as I experience it, as a process of flow from mind to hands to page, is a deeply alone experience. I shut out the entire world and that includes voices. I can get so absorbed in what I am doing that I don't even hear my own husband (or boss, as it used to be, or teacher, before that) calling for my attention.

And of course now I am a mother, I am never alone. I don't just mean physically, although yes I do spend large portions of the day (and night!) with a child on or about my person. I mean emotionally and mentally. The best analogy I ever read on this subject was that leaving your child physically 'isn't like parking a car'. Even when I'm not with them, they're always on my mind.

I think there's a deep biological fear around stepping back into that creative space, whereby my mind is fully focused on something outside of and unrelated to my children. Evolutionarily speaking mothers needed to have their children first and foremost in their minds and hearts, all the time - the survival of the species depended upon it.

But even more than that, it's the everyday reality of life with children that is often the most frustrating of all.

I have so many ideas - SO MANY - and like the fluffy airborne seed heads of dandelions or the witches on broomsticks about whom I read to my children, they float tantalisingly past me. I make a mental note to myself that is almost immediately forgotten in the everyday demands of life with young children. Somebody's bum always needs wiping or hands washing or stomach filling or shoes taking off or other urgent, pressing task.

By the time the need has been fulfilled, it's too late. The witch taps the broomstick and whoosh! They are gone.

I do find the frustration is eased by creating with my children, and our life together involves a great deal of time in nature, making, doing, planting, growing, painting, drawing, sticking, stirring and general making of enormous messes. Both Cherry and Violet love to create - I think all children do. They certainly love to make a mess too and I have always been happy to let them, even if as a result my home does terrify the more houseproud out there.

Of course all of these activities also stimulate the creative flow. I have noticed some really pleasing side-effects of life as a stay-at-home mother that I wouldn't have anticipated. My photography has improved no end, while I'm still very much point-and-shoot I can see a massive difference in composition and use of light and colour (although not in the photos of my children making a mess!). My home has the odd (very odd) little creative touch here and there, as does the garden. I can turn literally any combination of vegetables into a soup - that my children will eat.

And the biggest evolution of all is I no longer view creativity as self-indulgent, unnecessary, a waste of time or pointless. I can see that the process is valuable in itself, the outcome is not so relevant, and that doing what you love does lay the foundations for more and more of the same.

Motherhood has taught me the vital importance of remaining true to myself and what I love to do. It has showed me that I cannot enmesh my identity with that of my children and live vicariously through them, stand at the sidelines and coach, criticise and push. I cannot put the burden of my own frustrated creativity on them. I can't allow them to live my dreams for me. That responsibility is mine alone.

I can see ahead to a time when I have the self-belief to finish a novel and present it to my agent. I can see, no doubt many years down the line, a garden shed turned into a writing studio. But I don't just see my creativity limited to writing. All these things I make and do with the children - or just for myself - count. It's all creating. It's all connected.

It is frustrating still, on a daily basis. I have been reading The Rainbow Way by Lucy Pearce, a truly epic book on this very subject, and it has come as some kind of epiphany to realise that the way I feel about creating and motherhood is entirely normal.

There is ambivalence there. I have chosen motherhood first and foremost, decided that 'serious' creativity and career can wait - I do not regret that choice and I wouldn't change it. (I have considered childcare and at times attempted small amounts with Cherry that were successful to a degree, but by and large it's not for me or us as a family and that is a choice I am happy with).

But I think I can feel a little softer now on the sides of me that are frustrated, champing at the bit, counting down the months and weeks and days until Cherry starts school, Violet starts pre-school and I can take a huge, deep breath and be alone. I can see that this doesn't make me a bad mother. It just makes me human.

I can also see that if I adjust my expectations and perceptions of what I 'need' in order to create, and instead just look at what very small pockets of time are still available to me, I don't have to hang up my creative boots completely. I can still do. Just smaller things, smaller amounts, and expect it to take a lot longer. I can see that it's important I carve out some space at weekends, even just an hour or two, for that complete aloneness I crave.

And in the mean time, we continue to co-create. Because our house just isn't messy enough already.


  1. Love this post - a subject that swirls around in my head endlessly. I definitely appreciate creativity (and finding the time to do it) a lot more since having children. Balancing creative urges around caring for my children is my greatest motherhood frustration. However, if I had more time to be creative, I wonder if I would appreciate it as much.

    1. That's actually a really good point Chloe. Noel and I often look back to our lives pre-children and wonder what the hell we DID with all our time and why we weren't writing/creating THEN in the way we wish we could NOW.

      Having such severe constraints on your mental and physical time and space certainly makes you appreciate it when you get it.