Valuing the Art of Parenting

            I was at the PIPA (Parents in Performing Arts) campaign launch at The Young Vic on Thursday. I was one of the ‘Spotlights’ because of Mothers who Make, an organisation I founded to support mother-artists, across all art forms. It was a fantastic launch with many wonderful speakers on the panel and in the audience but I came away dissatisfied with my own speaking, humming with the things that I did not manage to say or at least not with the degree of clarity that I would have liked – hence this blog. 

           When I became a mother I was shocked by the disparity between the significance, the subtlety and intensity of the work of caring for my child and the status this work is given in the world. I started Mothers who Make because I wanted a space in which my work of mothering and my work of making could both be held with respect. I hold both equally dear and I do not want to compromise on either. I continue to be fascinated by the points of connection between the roles of mother and artist. Mothers who Make is an on-going research project into the relationship between these roles. We hold peer support groups, workshops and platforms via which mother-creatives can share their work. We are committed to the radical proposition that becoming a parent can enrich an artist’s practice rather than undermining it or stopping her output altogether.

           Mothers who Make is not a campaign group so I am very glad that PIPA has come into being. Its work, as was clear on Thursday, is much-needed. Of the many issues discussed at the launch, childcare was one of the most prominent. Flexible, affordable childcare. I agree wholeheartedly that this is vital. However in the midst of clamouring for this I am concerned that a quieter but perhaps even more profound change may get overlooked. This change is the value we give to the art of parenting. Mothering and fathering are not currently valued, not economically, not socially. This underlies the reason why there has to be a PIPA campaign at all. Yet parenting is important work: it is political, personal, philosophical, emotional, physical. It is about the next generation, their views, their values. My concern is that in the midst of demanding better childcare options – which is essential – we do not notice the ways in which this corroborates the strong cultural trend that places professional work over and above the work of parenting, that holds that any intelligent, creative, capable woman or man should be back at work ASAP because being at home with a baby is going to drive them to despair and could not possibly be demanding enough, fulfilling enough, important enough – just, in other words, being a mum or a dad is not enough.

           What does this mean in relation to PIPA and its many brilliant ambitions? It means that alongside campaigning for better childcare I believe we need to be campaigning for a deeper cultural shift as well, for an industry in which a woman could put this down on her CV:

           2015-2020, role of mother to my children… 

….and this would be seen as an asset. This would make her more employable because any casting director reading it would know that she must have huge stamina, patience, resourcefulness, creativity, compassion and the other qualities that are essential to parenting and that I know, from experience, can make people better artists, better at their work.

           There is another survey I would like to carry out, following on from Laura Wells’ fantastic work: I am curious to know how many women would choose to look after their own children for longer if they could afford to do so (3 years paid maternity leave, such as in Germany) and if they knew that this choice would not harm their careers, but rather that their work of parenting would be valued. I have no idea what the answers to such a survey would be. It may be that I am in the minority - I found that I wanted to be the primary carer for my child and I have been lucky enough to be able to make this choice as my husband has supported us financially since our son was born three and a half years ago. This does not mean that I have stopped creating. I cannot. I completely understand how fundamental the need to make is, to be engaged in a creative process. I have had to find ways of doing both my mothering and my making alongside each other. Since my son was born I have written a novel and done at least a dozen (improvised) shows.

           None of this would have been possible without my own mother’s help (hooray for grannies!) and my husband’s. Networks of support are essential – back to the need for flexible childcare. Childcare is vital but let us not allow our longing for this to undermine the work we do when we choose to care for our children ourselves. Let us give this the same value that we give our professional work. I want PIPA to stand not only for ‘Parents in the Performing Arts’ but also for this: ‘Performers in the Parenting Arts,’ because it is also who we are and what we do.

           If you are interested in joining Mothers who Make please email me at mleyser@mac.com

            Our next meeting will be on October 29th at Camden People’s Theatre from 11am to 12.30pm. All mothers, of any profession, welcome and bring your children too.