On Mothering, on Writing, on Photography

I WOKE UP the other morning with thoughts in my head. Thoughts about mothering, thoughts about writing, thoughts about photography. Typically I was articulate and meaningful in those early sleepy moments. Now I can’t remember a thing. However, rather than ditching the whole idea, I’m running with it. There was obviously a need floating about in my subconscious. A need to evaluate the things that have directed my life to this point.

On Mothering

Sometimes I find it useful to contemplate motherhood, being a mother, as something I do rather than what I am. Mothering suggests an active role, a purpose. I hesitate to use the word ‘job’. Too often words like ‘work’ and ‘job’ are used to identify ourselves within a value system that categorises people by their working capacity, their status and their income. It’s easier for governments to see people in terms of statistics and financial worth. A human network of communities with strengths and weaknesses, with hopes and needs that reach beyond the established way, is more difficult to define and in turn more difficult to support.

Yet maybe, describing the activity of mother as a ‘job’ is perhaps to give voice and value to the role of the many people, often women, that do the hidden work of care. Much like being self-employed there is no union, no sick pay, no pension. For mothers, their work of mothering, the importance of what they do, is often forgotten, pushed into a muddy backwater with politicians and businesses paying lip service to its worth.

I am very fortunate. My husband runs a successful company. Financially I am able to stay at home. I work part-time. I am able to write this blog. Yet increasingly, as my daughters grow older, I see a troubling message forming. How is it for them to see their mother, educated, capable, remain at home, caring for them and involved in domestic work? Along the way, my identity has become entangled with the children I mother. One thing I know; being a stay-at-home Mum can suck the self-esteem out from the strongest of people.

Our identities are very much wrapped up in what we do rather than who we are. What we do can be easily explained. Who we are is infinitely more complex. We are trained from when we are very young to be defined by what we do. We pursue interests with a vague idea of the job we may want to do in the future. I wanted to be a gymnast.

The trouble of course with all of this is that what we do then becomes aligned with approval. Approval from our family, approval from the community, approval from society at large. And yet the sensible among us know that what we must do is love our children for who they are, not what they do. From here a solid foundation of confidence is allowed to build. This will help them to become people that will feel the knocks and harshness of the world but won’t be left broken by them. I try to remind myself, often, that this is where the heart of mothering lies.

On Writing

Before I had children, when I thought that maybe I couldn’t have children, I embarked on an attempt to pursue photography as a career. I took my portfolio along to various events one of which was a workshop for photographers navigating their way through their career path. In the collection of people gathered there, I recognised a woman who I hadn’t seen since we were at school together. She worked and still does work as an interiors photographer. She often writes a piece to accompany her images and sells the completed article to consumer magazines and trade publications. We got chatting catching up on the past 20 years. She asked me why I didn’t write. She said she remembered that I was good at English and that maybe I should write to accompany my images. I was surprised that anyone would remember my school achievements apart from maybe my Mum. I remember doing my friends’ art homework. But writing?

To gain a place at the boarding school I subsequently went to, I had to take a common entrance exam, the 12+. This consisted of the big 3, Maths, French and English. I failed Maths. I failed French (oral and written, I didn’t say a word or write a word). But somehow I managed to impress enough with English that I was offered a place. Much to the relief, I imagine, of my Mum and Dad.

So when I look back and think, really think, I realise I have always had this. Writing. But I never paid much heed. I was on a path of a different kind. I wanted to be an artist. Also, my Dad is a writer, a published author. Perhaps, subconsciously I felt I needed to do something different. In my early 40s, I went back to college to study photography again and I was reunited with writing once more. Secretly I didn’t really mind the writing assignments. In fact I actually I enjoyed them. I love taking a few words, making a sentence, mulling it over, breaking it apart, maybe throwing it away and starting again. I often write by hand in a notebook with a favourite pen. Endless scribbles and ramblings that pay no attention to spelling or grammar. Until it matters. And then I read my words out loud, the only way to hear the rhythm, pace and flow.

I’d like to write something longer. But I need ideas for that. I have a few that float about my mind reaching for a place to land. They haven’t found it yet. So I content myself with practice. This blog is my practice. I love to play around with ideas and themes around photography, the centre that gives something for my thoughts to hang on to. I believe in the process of doing. And then, hopefully, the rest will come.

On Photography

Back in 2012 or so, a friend emailed me a photograph of a diagram she had drawn. I was struggling with a photography project I needed to complete, wondering about the point of it all. In her notebook, she had drawn a circle in felt tip pen. In the circle, she wrote various words: mother, writing, running, baking, photography, daughter, sister and others that I can’t quite remember. They were all words describing what she knew of me. She was trying to get me to understand that photography was simply one thing of all the things that are part of me.

At the time I was immensely caught up in photography. I felt that I hadn’t reached my potential, that there was more to come. I had a need for validation, that all the decisions that I made about my life were directing me to the point where I wanted to be.

It was nonsense of course. The truth was that I just didn’t have the immense drive it takes, as an artist, to push and push and push until the person that you need opens the door just a crack and lets you in on the game. Perhaps there is also some luck, talent, a helpful coincidence, a little serendipity, but mostly artists drive their own direction and some are better at it than others. It’s taken me a long time and much self-reflection to realise that where I am now is okay. Like most people, I have failed at many things. I’m told that this is the space where we learn about ourselves.

My Dad said the other day that he was about to begin the work of writing his ninth book. My youngest, aged 11, said, “I’m writing a book too.” She said this as if about to get up and make a cup of tea. She said it while drawing a picture of tacos and strawberries. It’s just something she does. She writes books, she draws, she reads. Oh, the wisdom of children! There she is just doing the things that make her who she is.

above photograph, 2009 © Tanya Clarke

8 Comments

  1. Susan Davies
    January 31, 2018
    Reply

    What a great post Tanya. It hit so many buttons for me as it’s something I’ve also been in conflict about recently now that my youngest is reaching pre-school age and I start to look to the future. It feels at times like I’m sweeping up what’s left of me after so much time focused on caring for my two beautiful children. It really is very hard not to let motherhood define you as a person. I agree that there is a message out there regarding stay at home mums. Only yesterday I watched a clip of someone on morning TV eschewing her thoughts on how lazy these mums are and “what exactly do you do all day?” demands. It creates an us and them scenario and puts undue stress on both sides; those who’ve chosen to stay home and those who must work to make ends meet.

    There is enough mummy guilt in us all to sink a ship. We should respect each others life choices and support one another. Having said that, on a cold January morning when I’m feeling a bit lost about my next steps, it’s a hard lesson to remember. I’ve been out of my industry for three years now and I feel like entering the Earths atmosphere from space might be easier than finding my place in the working world again and finding my voice. I flit from one daydream to the next hunting for the ‘aha’ moment that will light my fire and set me on a whirlwind path to my dreams. On one hand I don’t want to compromise my life as it is and would love to be a stay at home creative, but the fear of my children not witnessing me heading out of the door to do an honest days work keeps me from these dreams. I feel though that there’s no time like the present to create the life I wanted all along and that includes being there for my children and that makes me happy.

    • January 31, 2018
      Reply

      Sue, how lovely to hear from you! I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts that you write about so beautifully here. Your words had me in tears. Those emotions you describe are so familiar to me and, I’m sure, so familiar to many more who read this. Thank you for articulating how you feel in such a moving and honest way. Hope you and yours are well x

  2. Felicity Stanley
    January 27, 2018
    Reply

    Hello to my lovely eldest daughter. How I enjoyed reading your blog. You sound so positive about your present role in life. As you know….I’ve long felt that mums are not given enough respect if they have chosen to be stay at home mums. I know there are many who can’t choose because of the family finances but it was always like that and very difficult for a working mother. Very often there were no child care facilities, no family down the road who could help….then we just had to do the best we could. There are huge pressures now as people want bigger houses, newer cars, foreign holidays and ever more clothes. Not so good at making do anymore! I am immensely proud of all 3 of you….great women, strong, capable and lovely lovely mums. I think that’s enough!! Lots of love from your mum! xx

    • January 29, 2018
      Reply

      Thanks, Mum! And thank you for all your support!

  3. Paul Nulty
    January 27, 2018
    Reply

    Lovely post Tanya. I feel much of what you are talking about. I’ m a father of 4 kids aged 5 to 12. Photography comes and goes but is always there. Working, caring and making. The subject rarely gets too far away from family. Or Family rarely gets away from any thought on working and making.
    Hope you are well. It’s nice to hear your thoughts.
    Take care Paul.

    • January 27, 2018
      Reply

      How lovely to hear from you! And thank you for your kind comments. It is a circular business, as you say, working, caring and making. Four kids. Wow. That must be amazing and intense in equal measure 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *