Mothers Who Make is a support network for mother-artists that I founded, a cause I am championing, a crowdfunding campaign I am leading. But I am troubled. There is a voice in me, and no doubt in the world, that says, “Mothers who make - that’s a bit niche isn’t it? What about everyone else?” It is time to pause on the tweeting, facebook-posting, emailing and to give space to this voice, to listen and respond. Here goes…
What about, for a start, the fathers who make? And what about those women who are not mothers? What about those that wanted to have children but couldn’t? Or those who decided against it? What about other kinds of caring? Motherhood is in many ways the most visible and validated form of care. What about those mothering their mothers or fathers? Looking after siblings? A spouse? A friend? A neighbour? What about those (all of us?) who are struggling simply to care for ourselves?
And the ‘make’ part: what about those who make stuff but do not identify themselves as artists? What, as my prestigious plant biologist sister says, about the scientists? What about the countless creative endeavours that take place not under the name of ‘art’? What about the bakers and the candlestick-makers? What, in other words, is so special about mothers who make?
I will say what I shouldn’t: nothing.
Or rather, to be more accurate, there is something special about mother-artists but there is also something special, particular and deserving of recognition about all those other kinds of groups, individuals, challenges, experiences that I have begun to name (and my list was only a small beginning). So then why am I leading this mother/ maker movement?
Let me try to explain.
I have read two books recently. I read them slowly, two pages at a time, often by the light of my phone in the dark of the children’s bedroom once they had fallen asleep and I did not want to wake them by getting up and leaving the room. One was The Gardener and The Carpenter by evolutionary psychologist Alison Gopnik and the other was Sapiens, a Brief History of Human kind by Yuval Noah Hurari. In different ways they both name certain extraordinary traits of the human race that have contributed, for better and for worse, to our domination of the world.
One of these is the incredible amount of time, energy and resources that we pour into raising our young. Another, closely related to this, is the extent of our social networks – the strength and breadth of the bonds that we build. And lastly, again linked to the others, is our ability to tell stories, to create and sustain fictions. In other words, we look after each other and we make stuff up. We love and we lie. We nurture and we create.
Underneath the ‘Mothers Who Make’ banner this is my deeper interest. It cuts across categories. I name it in the campaign video. There are two verbs that matter to me, to us: we care and we play.
What I find extraordinary about the times we live in, is how it is abundantly clear that our survival and well being still rests on these two forces of care and play – they run under everything, from Christmas to the stock exchange, from Disney to the NHS, and yet they have precious little value or recognition in the current cultural climate, certainly in the UK. The caring professions, for example, are some of the least well paid. Women still talk about ‘just’ being a mum and often need and/or want to hand their children over to others (childcarers, nannies, nurseries) in order to get back to doing some ‘proper’ work.
Meanwhile the arts are being steadily axed from our curriculum. Children have less and less free playtime, despite the fact that the research is abundantly clear: we need to play for our developmental health. Artists, like mothers are not considered to have ‘proper’ jobs. Yet there has perhaps never been a time when we more desperately need our imaginations, need to use our amazing ability to conceive of other ways to live.
I want to lead a campaign, to stage a revolution about the valuing of care and play, two things which we ALL do, whoever we are. Why then am I focussing on mothers who make? There are three reasons.
First, I am one. I am a mother, a theatre-maker and a writer and I have become fascinated by the profound relationship between the two roles of mother and maker – the multiple ways in which they connect even whilst the culture informs me I cannot fully do both.
Secondly, I know from my writing that it is more potent to be specific, more effective to campaign for ‘mothers who make’ than for the abstract and grand notions of ‘care and play,’ and to be a mother-artist is to be a clear champion of those forces. Mothering is, hopefully, the first kind of care we know. We learn how to care from our mothers. Meanwhile, to be an artist, of any kind, is to make a passionate commitment to play. To play seriously, beyond childhood. To believe in stuff that does not yet exist. Mothers Who Make is for women who are dedicated to their children and their art and do not want to compromise on either – it is there to help these people keep on being champions for care and for play.
Thirdly, there is work to be done in this area. I was shocked on becoming a mother at how marginalised I felt. On the one hand this was not an elite group – motherhood is common. There are many of us. And yet I felt immediately less sure of my place. As one mother wrote on our FB page, “I had no idea that the apparently vanilla act of breeding would lead to feelings of radical otherness.” So I feel there is a big piece of work to be done specifically around valuing this work that women do, of child-bearing and rearing, even as we encourage the men to play their part. And there is another, perhaps more obvious piece of work still to be done around supporting women-artists of every ilk to be able to practice, share and grow their work.
BUT I am writing this blog because it is important to me that Mothers Who Make is generous and expansive, not exclusive. The reason I want to be specific is, ultimately, to better honour and explore the deeper forces at work that cut across categories. In running a network for mothers who are artists I hope that everyone who is busy, working with all their might at caring, playing for all their worth, might also feel better valued and recognised.
So if you are not a mother or a maker but you care for anyone, you create anything, I hope this work can, albeit indirectly, be a part of changing the way your work is valued too, your care and your play. This is the quiet revolution I want to stage. Please go here to make it happen: