Welcome to the fourth edition in the Creative Mothers series! This is a space for people to reflect on the impact of parenthood on their experience of personal creativity. If you would like to take part with your thoughts, please take a look at the Creative Mothers page and do get in touch.
This week sees one of the funniest bloggers around take to this bloggy stage…I’m delighted to welcome Jodie from Mothering Frights. In the midst of writing this introduction I ended up completely lost and sidetracked in the archives of her blog, snorting my way through recognisable scenarios that Jodie captures with sharp and withering humour.
Jodie’s creative output since becoming a parent is immense with a wealth of writing (I mistyped that initially as rioting, which I have a feeling could also be true) to her name. I mean, she has written a book, and you know I’m in awe/envy/disbelief of parents who do that!
That all takes a backseat here, however, as Jodie perfectly sums up the unique brand of creativity required by parents the world over, and also introduces us to the best teachers of creativity we could ever hope to meet….
At the Intersection of Desperation and Good Intentions
So the lovely Puddlemother, or Lucy as I believe someone once called her, has asked me for my thoughts on the relationship between creativity and motherhood.
This poses challenges for me on several levels.
1. Time. I have two small boys (7 and 3) and a business. Not to mention a load of ironing, a stack of Governor work and a party to organise. They say if you want something doing, ask a busy person. What they fail to mention is that when asking, you should never, ever stipulate a deadline for fear of being laughed at, then punched repeatedly until you go away and find someone with sod all to do to help. (Otherwise known as people without kids).
2. Jokes. I write a blog, which aims to be funny. I am not the mother who posts pics of their offspring in cute hats with ears accompanied by five heart emojis (mainly because hats with ears are the work of Beezlebub’s older, more evil twin, but also because it’s not funny). I am the mother who pokes fun at her own offspring but more often at myself. I fear my gag quota will drop rapidly as I spout forth on the topic of creativity, but just bear with me, would you?
3. Clarity of thought. For someone who has made a business out of helping businesses be more creative, now I come to think about it, it appears that I have given sod all thought to how creativity and motherhood works. But that’s the thing with parenting: you don’t get time to think about anything, you just do it. And actually, that’s probably just the frame of mind you need to be creative.
So, with much ado already done, I shall begin.
As I spent a large part of my further education coming up with ideas for products and furniture (enter stage left a full-size door on wheels that transforms into a home office and no, this is not me trying to shoe horn in a joke, this is something I actually did design) and thirteen years running creative sessions for businesses and training people to be more creative, this whole ‘being creative’ thing is pretty damn important to me. And, it turns out, important for me to encourage in my kids.
Over the years, I have heard many people say to me “Oh, I am not creative. I don’t really do ideas”. Funnily enough, I have yet to hear a kid say that. Why? Because along with snot and weird smells that make your eyes water, ideas ooze out of pretty much every orifice when you are a kid. Kids are bloody amazing at creativity.
It has been a joy to watch creativity in action with my boys. Along with ‘I will never smell my baby’s bum to see if they’ve had a poo’ and ‘I will never give them the iPad to occupy them whilst I cook / have a poo / take this call’, the wish to teach my kids how to be creative has gone out the window. I was an idiot to think any of those things. Let’s face it: kids don’t need to be taught creativity. They have it in spades. My kids teach me about creativity instead.
Kids’ ability to think without barriers, to be brave enough to verbalise an idea so sodding ludicrous you don’t even know which way up it is, to make connections between things so disparate they do not even exist in the same solar system, truly makes them Kings (and Queens) of Creativity. Right there are three rules that most grown-ups could benefit from following if they want to push the creativity boat out a bit. The trouble is (if you will allow me to torture the sailing analogy a tad further in pursuit of making a point) pushing the creativity boat out means entering unchartered waters, and before you know it, you could find yourself up the proverbial shitty creek with no means of propulsion. But kids don’t care about that. Kids don’t worry if they witness the fatal collapse of their five storey Lego house supported only on a tower of fifteen ‘twoers’ (twoers in our house are the little two by two Lego bricks). They just scoop it up and try again. If I’d spent half an hour building something that didn’t work, I’d be more likely to take a rolling pin to it and flounce off in a strop.
If ever I wonder where the real creativity lies in our house, I just have to ask my three-year-old to explain something or listen to him tell a story. Let’s face it, as a three-year-old you know sod all about anything, apart from the fact that blow offs are hilarious and a box of raisins is not a proper treat. But that doesn’t stop my son. Oh no. Because he has not yet been inhibited by The Rules. The Rules that, for example, say a story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end, or The Rules that say a story need a genre. The Rules that as we grow up, we all learn – about everything, not just about stories. The same rules that slowly and inexorably squash the creativity out of our bone marrow until our imagination is trying to run free in a field approximately half a metre square and surrounded by a ten-foot-high brick wall. No, my son will tell me with gusto all about a pirate ninja, shooting the baddies before jumping in his rocket boat and zooming off to a planet with a green sky and having a party with a cake as big as a house accompanied by an otter… well, there was more but I may have got side-tracked with Facebook. I know, I know. I never claimed to be any good at this parenting malarkey.
Because in essence, creativity flourishes where failure can’t. If the notion of failure is not entertained – if getting it wrong is just not part of the equation – then the imagination can really let rip. Kids know sod all about failure because they don’t recognise it as such – whereas adults – and particularly parents – are not only on first name terms with it but often invite it to dinner. And as a parent, I think it is instinctive to help our kids avoid failure. So in being a parent who wants their kids to be creative, the one single biggest lesson that I have learned is: Shut the Fuck Up.
When my 7-year-old is making a jet pack from a cardboard box, some plastic bottles and a few odd buttons, I shut up when he tries to fix the bottle to the board on the corrugated edge. Every brain cell in my head is looking at what he is doing and tutting, sighing ‘well, that won’t bloody work, will it?’ under their collective breaths. My fingers are twitching involuntarily, desperate to take the bottle and tape and help him do it RIGHT. But I shut up. Because one of two things will happen. Either, he will watch the bottle plop onto the floor and then try a different way of affixing it, or, he will somehow, with a bit of ingenuity or luck, make it work as it is. That is the creative process. But me butting in armed with What I Know To Be True and I Have Done This Before You Know and I Think You’ll Find I am a Jet Pack Expert is a sure fire way to kill the creative process dead. As some irritating princess in a cold climate once said: let it go.
My eldest is in key stage 1 of primary school. For those parents who have not got kids of school ages, I will translate this for you: he is in year 2, which means he is in his third year of school. Obviously. I love the school he is in, as it actively encourages creativity and independent thinking. But as he goes through the school years, as tests, and marks and attainment levels are what increasingly matter, I fear for his creativity, I really do. I actually think I am trying to ‘front load’ his creative learning so that even if most of it is stripped away by our current education system, he may be left with enough shreds to still be able to draw a Star Wars weapon with nineteen different attachments, like some crazy Swiss Army Sabre for those Jedis who get stranded on a deserted planet and need to not only kill Darth Vader but also dispense apple juice, fire a miniature bomb and have somewhere for a bird to perch.
But I will say no more about education and creativity. It has been said with much more insight and humour by Ken Robinson. I will borrow my son’s favourite phrase to describe this man and his take on this topic: AWESOME. (Note that AWESOME can only be written in capitals. It’s the law). Just Google him and watch his TED talk entitled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” This may, or may not, be a rhetorical question.
So as I draw this loose collection of thoughts to a close, I realise that I have scarcely answered the question. Sorry, Lucy. Bloody creatives. They never do what they are told. What of the relationship between being a mother and creativity? There is the obvious fact that parenting started me on the blogging track, although I was already dabbling in writing before I had kids. (And if I had realised how much time I really did have in those days, I may have had fewer tea breaks and written a bit more, but hey). Since having kids, I have managed to squeeze out 172 blog posts and a book, if we are looking to quantify my creative output in some arbitrary way.
But taking a step away from that, being a parent does make me more creative, of that I am sure. From the ‘oh crap it’s raining, what the hell can I do with my kids now?’ to telling them stories at bedtime (hello Marvin the Magical Moose, with his amazing stripy scarf and dragonfly side-kick) parenting forces me to crank up my imagination, even when all I want to do is lie down in a darkened room and sob quietly. Coming up with ideas whilst the eyes of an expectant three-year-old waiting to be entertained are boring into you is high-pressure stuff. Making learning phonics a fun thing to do for my son is as challenging as designing a sofa any bloody day of the week. It is not creativity on a grand scale. It’s creativity borne at the intersection of desperation and good intention. But it is creativity nonetheless. Because after all, they do say that necessity makes mothers more inventive. Or something like that.
You can find Jodie doing the following things in the following places:
Blogger: Mothering Frights
Bad singer and bastardiser of what once were songs: https://www.youtube.com/user/motheringfrights
Tweeter of words: @motheringfright