By Fiona Dowd

Creativity in Motherhood

Introduction – My Path
I am a mother of two. Along with a friend and fellow volunteer, I trained and set up a support group for mothers in Southwest Dublin. Through my local women’s group, I completed a female empowerment programme and went on to study Women, Gender and Social Justice from that. On this journey I have heard many women’s stories, they have been from all walks of life yet are connected by the universality of motherhood.

Throughout my studies and real-life experiences in Ireland I have become increasingly aware that the burden of childcare falls mainly on women. Many mothers feel overwhelmed by the invisible mental overload of family organisation and care work. The pressure of perceived parental perfection is heightened on social media platforms. The extortionate mortgage and childcare rates add further pressure on parents particularly women in terms of the gender pay gap. I wanted to examine the value in using creativity as an outlet for this burden and to show the mental health benefits of having a creative release valve.

Phenomenal women
I photographed and interviewed five creative mothers from the areas of Clondalkin, Drimnagh, Rathcoole, Leixlip and Celbridge. I chose mothers who are creative in diverse ways, and asked them all the same questions from the headings below. I have written about the relevance each topic has to the project. The final question I asked all participants was, “Describe in three words what life would be like for you without creativity”. I found the answers most revealing. I hope you enjoy these women’s stories. I hope they inspire other mothers to invest in themselves and explore their creative source, for both themselves and their future generations.

Creativity and mental wellbeing
“I believe creativity can save lives, I really do. I think a lot of people are missing it from their lives, doing something creative.” 

I whole-heartedly agree with this statement. I think the relevance of creativity in general as a means of proactively taking care of our mental wellbeing has taken on a much greater understanding by the general public now that we are beginning to emerge from this global pandemic.

The pressures of parenting, particularly on women, should not be overlooked by our political representatives, and any opportunity to support women’s resource groups and creative outlets should be given the respect they deserve. I hope to show the positive impact creativity can have on mothers and the generational legacy this can have.

Creativity and maternal legacy
Some of the women fondly recall their mothers or grandmothers sewing. Whether it was sewing clothes out of necessity or as a hobby, these fond memories saw a placement of huge significance and admiration for the sewing machine. There was a real desire to continue this legacy and allow the next generation to appreciate such skills. I wanted to explore and show the generational impact of creativity and the impact seeing mothers being creative has on their daughters.

Motherhood and Pandemic Parallels
Motherhood can be extremely isolating, particularly in the early years. You can be cut off from your usual routines, friendships, and work (whether that be for the duration of maternity leave or by becoming a stay-at-home parent). The imposed pause forces a period of deep reflection, a time to examine who you are and what your purpose is. In much the same way that the global pandemic has done. Having interviewed the women, I noticed the parallels of the pandemic and motherhood. In terms of isolation, reflection, re-integration, overwhelm and the uncertainty that comes with knowing life will never be the same again. It’s a life experience that changes you from the core on the deepest level. We saw on social media the huge shift towards creativity as a way of coping with the isolation of lockdowns. Many turned to old hobbies or embraced new creative practices. You will see through the interviews that this was a common trait through motherhood too.

The COVID pandemic forced humankind to re-evaluate what is profoundly important to us. It like motherhood has taught us that time is a precious commodity, and the value of connection. I will end on an excerpt from Lucey Pearce – The Rainbow Way, a book I recommend for further reading on the topic of creativity in Motherhood. “I realize as I come to the end of this all-encompassing project, that the key to it all, to health and happiness is as simple as it is hard: maintaining connection. With our bodies, our children, our partners, our creative source. What that connection looks and feels like is up to each of us.” 

Alpana Delaney – The songwriter and autobiographer

Alpana’s mother was musical and creative later in life. It was one of the few things she did for herself, it was self-care. It taught Alpana that self-care in motherhood and creativity in motherhood are extremely important. Growing up Alpana was always into music and dance, and writing poetry was extremely important to her. Creativity was the one thing that she gravitated towards when she was young because it was the only source of positivity in her life that she could tap into.

Alpana is a survivor, when her soul hit rock bottom at a young age, she was drawn to creativity like a bee to nectar. She was drawn to it because she had the will to survive and the will to thrive inside of her. She believes that when trauma happens at a young age you have the chance to rise back up again. To her the pinnacle of life is creativity, music and love. That is why motherhood and creativity tie so well together for her. A big part of Alpana’s healing is being a mother and a wife, it is something she is very proud of. She wears the housewife badge as a badge of honour because it allows her the opportunity to give her children the childhood she never had. It also gives her the opportunity to explore her creative side, something that continues to heal her.

After she became a mother, Alpana saw things on a much deeper level and her understanding of life took on a whole new perspective. She found herself again and recognised that you can be consumed by motherhood, especially in the early years.

Her soul took on the pandemic. It was like a challenge to overcome. She delved into creativity more as she tried to make good out of a bad situation to protect her mental health. Being part of a choir, Alpana was involved in a project were the singers each chose a painting in the national gallery and wrote a song inspired by it. The choir then performed in the gallery.

People mention how moved they are by her lilting almost haunting voice and heartfelt lyrics when she perfoms at spoken word events. Her ultimate goal is to eloquently put her life into a book. That and just being a survivor.

Alpana would describe her life without creativity in three words:
“Soulless, Empty, Lacking”.

Jenny O’Sullivan – The Baker

Jenny never decided to be creative. It was just a given growing up in that atmosphere and she just accepted that that is how she would be.

One of Jenny’s most prized possessions is her grandmother’s sewing machine. It still smells like her Nana’s house and even has her notes. She made Dorothy’s first teddy bear which they called Levi because it was denim, and she made one for her son Harvey too ‘Peppy’. Bigger forms of creating came because of Motherhood. With play when they were bored it encouraged her to be creative. She returned to nursing after baby number one. After her second baby she got chest pains thinking about leaving the baby to return to work. This spurred her on to start her own business working from home. She has found solace and says her creativity is supporting her Motherhood.

Throughout the pandemic Jenny has been actively looking after her mental health through creativity.

Jenny’s daughter Dorothy sensed her mother wasn’t happy in nursing, “I hate your work” she would say. Now Jenny wants to be a role model for her children and to show them the enjoyment you can have in work. They love her baking business; Dorothy decorates her mums birthday cake, experiments with taste and they enjoy baking together. Jenny’s mam writes and can create stories on the spot for her grandkids. Dorothy writes now too. She comes up with her own stories and it came from her grandmother’s storytelling as well as Jenny regularly reading to her at home. The stories are like a little bubble capturing her version of the world.

Jenny is completely self-taught. She has had personal messages on social media asking her for guidance on setting up your own business. She has done live behind the scenes baking videos with Q&A’s and she would love to teach in the future.

At the start baking was something for her. Now it is her business as well and she wants to get back into a creative process that is for her, like crocheting and sewing. She also wants to learn and develop the business side more too. COVID pushed the business forward in a way she never thought possible. She wants to put the time aside and do more piping and cake designs. Jenny balances wanting to be at home with her children and her ambitions of pushing her business forward. “The push and pull of it is so tiring,” she explains.

Jenny would describe her life without creativity as:
“Boring, Dark, Monotonous”.

“Creating is the thing that brings energy and light.”

Nicola Lilly – The Painter

As a child, Nicola saw her father being creative. He wrote poems and drew. Her grandmother was a dressmaker, she made her own clothes including her wedding dress. She didn’t notice her mother being creative but as the main breadwinner her mother had two jobs and inevitably little time to be. Now that her mother has time she is learning to draw and has started writing a book. The message Nicola received when she was young was that science and business were seen as valuable, but creativity was not. It was something to do in your spare time.

Before motherhood Nicola tried a few creative things but felt like she wasn’t good enough. When the kids were young she did the artist’s way and became more creative as the years went on. Motherhood has had a huge impact on Nicola’s creative journey, “I lost who I thought I was and found who I really am”.

Even though she had less time with the kids at home during the pandemic, she found herself being more creative. Seeing their mother being creative has had a positive impact on her children. Her daughter Maya is creative, if Nicola is doing something she wants to do something beside her. She is hard on herself and compares herself to Nicola though. Nicola does this herself and compares herself harshly to others, she thinks Maya might be picking up on it. “I think comparison is a killer of creativity”, says Nicola.

Nicola set up a creative group for mothers in her area. It has been a great outlet for the women attending who are all creative in different ways. She is developing her brand as a floral artist and has designed a website for her work as well as social media platforms. As her children get older, she would love to make it a full-time job. She feels it’s what she has always wanted to do. “I think motherhood allows for the best of both worlds. It allows you to be with your kids and slowly work on your creativity.”

These are the three words Nicola would use to sum up life without creativity:
“Mundane, Soul-less, Grey”.

Pauline Byrne – The Poet

Pauline grew up surrounded by fabric. Her mother was a dress maker, and her father was a tailor. Her mother cried when she had to leave school at 13 to work in a sewing factory but it was a good trade. Once she became a dressmaker, she didn’t even need a pattern. It was called piece work; it gave her mother a sense of independence and a bit of financial independence too. Pauline remembers having to help her mother take up the dresses with her siblings.

Pauline did crafts when she was young, but her creativity got stifled because of childcare. She always loved looking for treasures in charity shops though. After she had her youngest child, she did a dressmaking course with the local women’s group. Her mother use to say, “Not one of yous can thread a needle.” Her mother would be proud of her now.

The pandemic opened up a new creative vein for Pauline. She began writing poetry and set up a poetry page on social media and created a website for her work. It was set up as a way of sharing her poems about the pandemic and helping to connect and heal the readers within her community. It became part of her daily mental wellbeing routine. It was a lifeline and kept her connected. She also started doing online journaling to challenge myself to write.

Pauline also shares and reads her poems virtually for the local women’s group workshops and on International Women’s Day 2021 as well as with a national poetry project.

Pauline is an unstoppable, phenomenal women. She is multi-passionate and has many creative talents, such as painting and reiki. She teaches the artists’ way and sees working with groups in her future.

This is how Pauline would feel about life without creativity in it:
“Wounded, frustrated, it is a release valve, it gives me a sense of purpose”.

Deirdre Mullen McGuinness – The Art and crafter

There was always a sewing machine in the house as far back as Deirdre can remember. Her mam was a dressmaker; it was her hobby. She was always making clothes and when her daughters got into Irish dancing, she made their costumes. She knit all the children’s cardigans. The creativity came from Deirdre’s grandmother who made her own clothes, a necessity as there wasn’t a lot of money back then. Deirdre’s grandmother was also a good baker, so Deirdre found that both her grandmother and mother were always quite good with their hands.

Deirdre has fond memories of sitting late at night coming up to a Feis and her mam would be sewing. Deirdre always sat with her and asked if she could help and when she was a teenager, she started making hairbands and bobbins for the Irish dancing performances. She never really questioned why she was doing it, it was just because she saw her mam doing it.

Deirdre also enjoyed doing hair upstyles for friends. People would say ‘you need to advertise that’ but she just enjoyed it. She enjoyed it as a one off or doing them now and then. She thought if it was something she would always be doing the enjoyment wouldn’t be there.

When Deirdre became a mother, a friend gave her a handmade gift for the baby which inspired her to start making her own. She made a glass box gift for a friend who then ordered more to give as Christmas gifts. This gradually started into a part time business for Deirdre. She doesn’t want to put too much pressure on herself to make a certain amount of money or take on too much work.

Deirdre didn’t have access to her craft supplies or have the space to work during the pandemic as she was moving home. This meant she wasn’t as creative during that time as she might have been. This draws an interesting link between access, space and creativity.

If there’s one thing Deirdre wants in her future, it’s to use a sewing machine so that her daughters can see her sewing in the same way that she watched her mother. The legacy is already unfurling as her creative daughter Lillian sits and makes bows with her mam, gluing and cutting ribbon. Her great grandmother would no doubt be proud of the legacy she has left behind.

Deirdre would sum her life up without creativity in these three words:
“Empty, less cluttered, less pressure”.

Belinda Byrne – The Children’s Author

Belinda’s mother died when she was 24. She fondly recalls how her mother baked, painted watercolours and won competitions for her flower arrangements. She smiles as she remembers a time when her mother had her colours done and loved experimenting with colour swatches after that.

Belinda gave up art for the leaving cert in favour of science and business subjects, a decision she regrets now. She was creative as a child but then there was a 10- year gap when she was not creative at all. She is more creative since motherhood. She likes interiors and has put her stamp all over the homes she renovated, the most recent being their 1960s family home. A stunning artist’s haven in Celbridge which has recently gained some interest from a national magazine.

She writes children’s stories inspired by the stories herself and the kids came up with on their family walks. Inspiration also came from interpreting funny dreams the kids had. One special story was about her mother, it was a way to tell the kids about her. Another funny story was written about how their granddad ate his porridge to give the kids a chuckle. 

Life during the pandemic was all about trying to keep a balance. Belinda started taking free online art classes with the children, Peter was two and showed an interest, so it was something they could all do together. She took part in acrylic and illustration classes online.

Both of Belinda’s daughters have been encouraged to take on more art classes and projects as they see their mum doing them. Beth the eldest always did art but during the pandemic she saw her mum doing loads of classes, so she did them too. She loves having an input in her mum’s creative process and jokes that she loves telling her mum what to do.

Gemma, the youngest said, “When I see mum going to the shed to work, I think I might do something creative too”.

Belinda is part of a creative group of mothers, who were due to have a local exhibition of their work pre-COVID, hopefully they will still get to do that.

It is obvious the girls are proud of their mum’s work, and the collaboration is lovely to see. Beth, “My school is doing a good deeds project for the community, and I am going to bring in mum’s book to read to the junior infants”. Belinda’s friend looks for smiles in things on walks with her child after reading Belinda’s latest book where the main characters do the same. “If I can do that for families who read my books then that makes me happy”, Belinda says with a smile. 

She is considering self-publishing and selling the book herself, a trend that helps authors take ownership of the process. Like most of the women Belinda has more than one creative talent and is also working on stunning eco-friendly fabric prints for interiors.

Her daughter Gemma answered the final question without pause when asked to sum up a world without creativity in it:
“Everything negative in the world”.