How do you do it?

Here is a funny thing: despite being the founder of a growing national initiative called Mothers Who Make, I still don’t really know how anyone else does it - how they mother, how they make. It strikes me that this is another parallel between mothering and making – they are both intensely private activities. There are thousands of books that tell me how I should be mothering. There are another thousand that tell me how to make, how to be an artist, how to write my novel. Yet despite all these books, many of which I have gone out and bought, I still do not really know how other mothers mother and other makers make.

With the mothering, I get glimpses: I have done the school pick up and am walking up the stony path that leads away from the school. There are many children running ahead of me. One little boy falls over. His mother rushes up to comfort him. I watch how she lifts him to his feet, how she kneels down, bends her head and puts it against his. I listen in on what she says to soothe him. All the while I feel like I’m spying. Later, in the playground, I watch another mother whose little girl does not want to leave to go home. I listen to the ways the mother tries to persuade her daughter, to the talk of supper, to the countdown she gives her. I give the mum a smile of solidarity and support but she is too busy, and the interaction is too private for this to be received. 

Making, of course, is often highly collaborative, depending on the art form within which you are working. Yet there is nonetheless something secret about it, about the goings on in the rehearsal room or the studio, and certainly in the dark of the evening into which everyone goes at the end of their day of making together, the invisible thoughts on the way home, the dreams, the wonderings and worryings. 

Last week, at the end of the Mothers Who Make meeting that I was running in South London I asked if anyone had any requests for this month’s question or theme. One mother said she’d love to hear about other people’s creative processes, how they get from A to Z, from initial image to final result. It seems I am not alone in having no idea how other people do it. I was thinking I should start by telling you how I do it, and in the process of trying to articulate it I found myself looking to my mothering in order to describe to you my making. I am continually surprised by how helpful I find it to align these two things, to see how my approach to both compares, overlaps, differs. 

Here is what I can tell you: I am full on, even somewhat obsessive, about both. I mother and make almost all of the time. This is not necessarily a good approach or a way of doing things that I would recommend – it’s just what I notice I do. For me what this means as a mother is that I have gone for the full on ‘attachment parenting’ set of practices – children on my back, in my bed, on my boob. As a maker it means that I work on things in the back of my mind for all of the day, and that, like my children, the work gets into my bed with me at night. The challenge with this way of working and being is that there are precious few boundaries - there is no time that is reserved only for one activity and no other. I breastfeed whilst sitting down to write this blog; with my right hand I text myself an idea I have for my novel, whilst I am carrying my daughter with my left arm and walking to pick up my son from school, back down the stony path. 

As a maker I have looked to others to set my boundaries for me. I dragged out being a student for as long as possible because in a formal learning context the teachers and courses set up safe holding structures. Even as an independent artist I have tried to figure out ways to make myself accountable to external bodies. Now as a mother, I am the one that has to provide the boundaries – it isn’t my strong point. I am learning on the job, but it has forced me to experience in a new way how important those containers are and to work on the holding of them for myself as a maker. In practice right now this means that I am taking a step back from the sprawling novel that I improvised my way through, and looking as methodically as possible at its structure. As a mother, I am trying to help us all eat our meals at the table (as opposed to on the floor, sofa, bed…), at roughly the same time each day. Basic stuff I know, but, as I said, it’s not my strong point. The advantage, I suppose, is that I do not find it hard to think outside the box – the hard bit is building the box in the first place. One thing of which I am sure: those thousands of books on parenting and on creativity may be helpful at times, but there is no ‘right way’ to mother or to make. Everyone has to figure out what will best work for them and their children, but perhaps it is useful to share with each other how we do it, to make it a little less of a secret. 

You can come to a MWM meeting to share and listen to how others do it. Find your local meeting here: https://motherswhomake.org/map/or post how you do it on our Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1484128908536006/