During the break in our Editing class last week, I found myself discussing secret women’s business with two other 30-something women: one, an actress with no children, the other a teacher, mum to one child with one on the way.
Eleanor, the actress, twirled her auburn tresses around her long fingers and asked, “Isn’t it hard to fit it all in? The writing and the mothering? I’ve never quite known how I would make it all fit in the castle I’ve built in the clouds (referring to her acting career).”
Emma, the teacher/mum nodded, her mouth full of fruit salad and trail mix. Swallowing as she touched her hand to her mouth, she offered “Having children makes [the writing] more important. I don’t want my children to grow up only knowing a mum at home, and a dad at work. I also want them to know what it means to do what you love.”
Nodding along, I offered the view from where I sit (as a mother of 3). “While [studying] requires me to be super-organised, it’s doable. For me, writing and giving birth are two in the same. Both are creative, both require intuition and strength. I can’t go on having baby after baby, but I can write for a living. The boys will grow up and go off to school, but writing is my insurance against empty nest syndrome.”
This concern over having a career and a family is common among creatives. Some women will choose a career over family: independence over dependence.
But is the choice so markedly black and white? Can a mother with dependent children not also enjoy some independence away from their family? Even within a household, it is possible for a woman to eke out a space where writing – or any creative pursuit – can be practiced without significant or detrimental impact on her family. Words are cheap: I write (in my head) while I’m doing the dishes or walking to school. Time seems to be the most expensive part in trying to make the mothering/creating equation balance out. Where do you find the time for creative pursuits when your working day (as a full-time carer) is 12 hours a day? The answer for most is during naps or after hours when the children are in bed.
The thought of a creative industry devoid of parents is frightening. It means some stories are not being told, voices are not being heard and entire communities become unrepresented in our culture.
How do we make it work? By juggling, negotiating, being flexible, determined and by finding and maintaining a solid support network.
Oh, and lots of talking with your mouth full.
What’s your take on the matter?