After a) making a new show with a new mother and b) speaking to many other mothers at a ‘Mothers Who Make’ meeting at HOME Manchester, I thought it might be useful to compile three tips for creative people who aren’t mothers who might be working with creative people who are...
TIP ONE: BELIEVE YOUR NEW MOTHER (THEN DON’T JUDGE)
If your new mother says she’ll be fine to start working again when the baby is 6 months old, you should believe her.
Don’t say: “Six months! You’ll see… you won’t want to, I’ve seen it before!”
Do say: “Great.”
Then, when she tells you that she isn’t coming back yet because she has discovered that she is totally smitten with her new baby, don’t judge her. She’s just changed her mind. Just like you did when you went somewhere temporarily for a bit and then stayed because you liked it, or when you said you didn’t believe in marriage but then when you got a bit older you realised that you liked the idea of it after all.
She may be very scared that you’ll hate her for breaking her promise, that you believed her. You have the power to make her not scared of this. Hooray!
TIP TWO: PREPARE YOURSELF (BE CREATIVE, NOT CRAP)
Get ready by knowing that the following things MIGHT happen:
Your new mother may be exhausted
Your new mother may have got a bit unfit
Your new mother may struggle to learn lines with a baby around
Your new mother may be managing a full time administration job just organising where her new baby is while she is working with you
Your new mother’s baby may get ill
Then ASSUME NONE OF THE ABOVE. There is nothing more annoying for your new mother than you assuming stuff about her. Instead, perhaps offer some potential strategies if she suggests any of the above...
Change your working hours a bit? (very easy for us luckily)
Offer to lead a proper cardio warm-up every day? (super easy)
Make sure you have things like Bank Holidays off? (again, easy)
Make line-learning part of the working day? (easy-ish)
Offer privacy for things like breast pumps? (easy if you ask)
Hire other creatives who have children? (no idea how easy this is)
And then my most light-bulb moment suggestion:
Realise that if your new mother’s baby is ill, you will have to adapt. Hopefully you will want the baby to get better anyway, because you're a nice person, but if you find yourself experiencing some anxiety of your own about the short rehearsal period, and therefore some irritation that phones need to be checked or people are distracted or whatever, remember this: the baby is an extension of the mother. Yup, an extension. So if the baby is ill, the mother is essentially ill too. Work cannot commence until this illness is sorted! Getting annoyed by doctor’s calling makes you a crap collaborator. Don’t be crap.
TIP THREE: BE HUMAN (EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED)
You may learn things you didn't expect to such as...
You new mother can feel really guilty about leaving her baby. She doesn’t want to miss a second, but she must be true to herself, do her thing, be creative, make work and so on.
Your new mother might experience a loss of confidence in her abilities due to the time off she’s taken.
Your new mother may feel as though she’s grappling with a whole new identity for herself.
Your new mother’s relationship with her partner might feel like it’s being pushed to the brink.
As an employer, you could argue that your new mother’s guilt and any of these other conflicts just aren’t your problem: they’re hers. But if you’re expecting her to be creative then by jove they’re your problem hun.
Don’t: Liken her guilt to when you leave your dog every day.
Do: Be human.
Perhaps: Create a space in the morning where every member of your team present in the room tells everyone else what they’re bringing in that day – tiredness, anxiety, hope, great sex the night before, fear… all is allowed. You don’t need to offer any advice on these things, just invite each member to share what they’re bringing into the room that day, including yourself.
Half-way into our process we begun to do this, and it radically changed how we all felt about making the work. Allowing emotion into the room in an open, shared, and regular way (that was also structured actually) enabled us to engage in a much more focused way on the work. We felt safer, more in control of our expectations too.
CONCLUSIONS / DISCLAIMERS
This is a grossly inadequate summary of some thoughts on this topic.
Firstly it makes no reference to fathers. This is because I didn’t meet any during this particular period. I feel sure many experience similar things and would welcome their input.
Secondly, it relates quite specifically to mothers working in the theatre more than many other work situations. While a very small proportion of the above reported experiences were Liz's, they are clearly readily related to by many mothers, and conversations about them feel important however small.
So what this really is, is a start. And I will be continuing to document observations throughout my partnership with Liz, and informed by her wider conversations through Mothers Who Make in the coming year. Feel free to respond...
And if you would like more info on Mothers Who Make, find the group on Facebook - there could be one local to you, or others hoping to set one up. Or alternatively, get in touch with us at The Conker Group and we'll put you in contact with our Associate Liz.