Motherhood and the Creative Life


Traditional wisdom requires an artist to put her art, whether it is writing, performing or making, at the forefront and center of her life. This is challenging and often impossible for a mother.  Because of this traditional assumption, the artist-mother can end up feeling that her life is fragmented, and that her art is compromised. Both Motherhood and the creative life can feel shortchanged, with one working against the other.

This dilemma is particularly charged for the artist-mother as compared to a mother who has another, perhaps more “traditional” career.  That is because creativity accesses and depends upon a space, a capacity, a kind of self that is also the a key ingredient required for loving children. I call this space, this kind of self, “the mediated self.”

The mediated self allows something other than “self” in the traditional male sense to speak for it. Artists allow their art to speak for them: their art mediates their self. For mothers, children can do this to/for them.  Mothers accept children as part of their “self,” and let the demands of motherhood take over their voice, their desires, and their mundane daily time planning.  Urgent self needs such as artistic expression can take second place.

As artists, we are conditioned to have some very particular assumptions about ourselves, and the life requirements from an artist.  We believe that an artist must put her art first.  If anything else subsumes this requirement, an artist is presumed to be left gasping for creative air.

Perhaps there is more than one way to be an artist. Our assumptions about what makes for a true artist have not been informed by the voices and real life experiences of artist-mothers. My work with artist-mothers of all callings, and my own journey as a poet and singer, has led to some different conclusions about the requirements of art and the reality of the creative life.

I believe that the fragmentation of an artist-mother is the deepest inspiration for her art, when she is supported to hold and sustain it.  When this is done with genuine caring, she can intentionally immerse herself into the seeming contradictions between her calling as an artist and her life as a mother, After all, this is the core reality of her daily experience.

Contradictions and fragmentation are a goldmine of creative inspiration. The work lies in integrating these “contradictions”  rather than splitting from them. Being supported to mine her reality, nurture it, and then express it, can lead to a radical transformation in the life of an artist-mother, and in her work as an artist.

When held in this way, all of life becomes an art.