Support. I know I need it. I know I cannot do it alone, neither the making nor the mothering. I even know that being able to ask for help and receive support are an intrinsic part of doing it well. The support of others is not a necessary inconvenience that I could do without if I were superwoman. It is a good and vital part of the process – good for the children, good for the art, good for me. One of superwoman’s skills should be that she is super good at asking for help. I am not.
Even in small everyday ways I find it hard to ask for support. Even when it is freely offered I all too often decline it or accept it only with reluctance, as if it were a defeat. For instance…. I arrive at St. Margaret’s train station. There is a substantial flight of stairs and no lift up to the street level. I am wheeling a large suitcase on top of which my 5 year old is lying. I have two bags slung over my shoulders and a 1 year old, breastfeeding in a sling on my front. We get to the bottom of the flight of stairs. If I am lucky someone will stop and offer to help me with the suitcase. I accept, but as we start up the stairs I am barely breathing. My son, no doubt picking up on my lack of ease, hates it when others help us and insists on trying to ‘out-help’ the stranger by pulling at the straps of the suitcase as, altogether, we make our way up, step by step. My sense of tension lasts until the helping is over, I have thanked my helper and s/he has gone off into the night. Phew, I am on my own again, managing two children, two bags and a heavy suitcase, alone.
I even feel a subtle edge, an awkwardness about asking for support from my husband. I notice the effort, the close-to-embarrassment sensation I feel if I have to ask him to do the housework that any self-respecting feminist would think he should be doing anyway. Why? Why is such a simple thing so hard?
I think it is because, also as a good feminist, I am afraid of being ‘the helpless woman.’ I go back to the image of superwoman: our heroes and heroines do not model the kind of strength it takes to admit vulnerability, to be courageousness enough to sing out like my son (a newly enamoured Beatles fan) “Help, I need somebody!” To admit to being unable to do it alone, to being a necessary part of an interdependent network of relations and support. Instead our superheroes model the muscle power to lift, not only suitcases, but cars, people, monsters, mountains, completely unaided.
There is one exception to my pattern of stubborn independence, one person from whom I find it easy to ask for help: my mother. Luckily for me she is very ready to give it. Even when she is 76 and her child is 43. As my mum, and as my children’s Granny, she steps in, our superhero to the rescue. Grandmothers. Mothers. They are the first support we have. They are, literally, our lifeline. I value this maternal lineage highly. It is a large part of why I started Mothers who Make, a network of peer support for those who carry this particular, precious, privileged role of being a supporter, supporting our children into life and onwards into the world, cheering them on all the way. And so it is why I find myself in the wonderful and nightmarish position of having to ask for help from hundreds of people round the country in the form of a Mothers Who Make crowd-funding campaign which, if successful, will enable us to build a national network of support that I dearly hope and believe will be there whenever a mother/maker faces any metaphorical flight of stairs, with no lift, many bags and her children in tow.
It feels scary to ask for help but I believe in the ask so I can do it. However, last week, after I had pressed the ‘Go Live’ button on the Crowdfunder page, what was the first thing I did? I sent the link to my mother, of course. And she, being my mother, gave us our first pledge. “Congratulations” said the Crowdfunder page: you have a supporter!
There have been teenage times in my life, especially as an artist, when I have dismissed my mother’s support, discounted it precisely because I can always count on it. Now that I am a mother myself I dismiss it no longer. I have come to appreciate how immense a gift it is to someone, to a child of any age, to be their committed and constant supporter, to pledge for them again and again. I also know that another hard part of my job as a mother is slowly to help my children less and less, whilst also always being there. My aim is to help them not so much towards fierce independence and super-heroic self-sufficiency but towards being able to ask others for help, not only me, to join and build a web of relations out in the world. They learn to ‘stand on their own two feet’ in order to walk towards others.
So I am growing up at last: I am saying a huge thank you to my mother for being my first support, and I am walking out into the world to say (deep breath in)………”Can I have your help?”…….
Go here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make to make a pledge and support Mothers Who Make, the national peer support network for mother-artists of every ilk.