Anna Kellerman is the founder of Mama Creatives, a Sydney-based organisation devoted to supporting and inspiring creative mothers. Bron Bates asked her about the challenges creative women face when they become mothers, how she parents with her husband, and her own dreams for her growing business.
Overall, there are two main challenges I see for mothers who want to combine their lives as creatives with their life as parents: time and confidence. Time, especially for single mothers, is always against them. But I know some single mothers, and mothers with four or more children who are prolific and their children are also well adjusted. They haven’t overly sacrificed to the detriment of their child’s welfare. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing, it’s about becoming a better manager of time, not a time chaser.
I liken time to the ocean. It’s constant but ebbs and flows, and is precious. We need to find the best rhythms and respect it. This means prioritising what’s more important and not trying to do everything at once. It’s about improving the way in which we use time, in shorter bursts and in stolen moments that suits individual energy bursts and hormonal cycles. It’s also about integrating our children within the creative process, rather than working separately.
I know some single mothers, and mothers with four or more children who are prolific and their children are also well adjusted.
Another barrier for mothers who are perhaps less connected to their creative identity is their own confidence. They believe what they are doing is not worthwhile. In our society, we put so much focus on numbers that we have lost respect for creative expression. Of course we need to earn a living and pay our way, but it’s possible to incorporate a creative practice if only for 30 minutes a day. We tell our children that with time and practice they’ll gain new skills and a sense of accomplishment. It’s the same with adults. A small amount of committed practice over time will amount to an improvement in both skill and self-confidence, and vitally increase their own sense of self and connection with their creative identity.
My husband and I are fortunate in that we’re predominantly united in our parenting philosophy. If one of us is feeing challenged, we’ll ask to be backed up, and most often we tag team and support each other. For example, I’m more of a morning person, so I’m up early and do all of the morning tasks and activities. My husband is more involved in the night routine. Over time, we’ve created a natural flow where on the weekend my husband will spend quality time with our daughter going to the pool and taking her out for lunch and a treat. There are several studies that support the positive impact involved with fathers play in developing more confident daughters.
I respect his way of interacting with her, and he’s proud of the way I communicate with and guide her. We try to spend quality time as a family as well as carve out time for ourselves, which then helps us be better parents.
The two largest challenges we have faced, and perhaps will continue to face, relate to where we have differing philosophies.
Of course there are times when we clash. The two largest challenges we have faced, and continue to face, relate to where we have differing philosophies. One issue relates to the accumulation of ‘stuff’. My husband grew up as an only child and received a lot of things growing up. I grew up with three brothers living with a single mother. We didn’t have a colour TV or a video player, but we became excellent players of boardgames and cards. We also invented our own fun and experiences. Having an only child myself, it’s easy to want to lavish everything on her, but I believe she also needs to learn life skills and boundaries.
The other area of contention, which I’m sure most parents can relate to, is screen time. My husband introduced her to the tablet last year, which I protested. If she can paint and draw in reality, then why simulate this on a screen? There are many creative activities I’ve introduced to my daughter, where she’s learning new skills, improving hand/eye co-ordination and experiencing happy accidents. Tablet usage can become highly addictive very quickly, and can easily replace other more active and healthy pursuits. So, my husband has agreed to a compromise by limiting her usage to Friday afternoon once the school week is over.
My husband and I met and married in our 30s, so we were already quite independent and respectful of each other’s time. We’re also both creative and have always been involved in creative projects, so it just feels normal to us to integrate creative work into everyday living.
I owe my mother a lot, and salute her as the original creative mama.
All three of us are always working on various projects at any given time and actually help each other with ideas and concepts. The main support is really establishing the right space to allow creative flow. I personally don’t like too much clutter, so I spent considerable time rearranging our space so my work area feels welcoming. When I really need space to think, I’ll make time for myself by getting up earlier before my family are awake. I’ll either go for a walk, which always gives me clarity, or I’ll write down or draw anything that’s swimming around in my mind. This externalisation of ideas helps clear my mind, so I can focus on whatever I need to. I also have large sheets of paper on walls around my desk and whenever I have an idea I write it down. My family are very accepting of all my ideas and paper!
The best creative advice I’ve been given is ‘You can do it’ – again from my mother. She’s always encouraged me and I think a parent’s encouragement makes all the difference to developing a lifetime of self belief, despite whatever hardships come your way. I owe my mother a lot, and salute her as the original creative mama.
Mama Creatives just started out as a small group of my creative mama friends who felt isolated and longed to meet mothers with a shared creative philosophy. I’ve always enjoyed bringing people together, so I organised our first group in the local park with our then young children. They all got along so well and since everyone had such an interesting story, I created an opportunity for one mum to share her story and body of work each month in a very casual setting. I wrote a manifesto and draft outline of who would speak when, found a local venue and started to improve it bit by bit over time.
Sometimes we only had five people come and hear a talk worthy of the TED stage. Knowing the quality of stories I was fortunate to hear, I felt compelled to find a bigger audience, to do them and their effort justice.
Putting a mama in the spotlight is a big part of the Mama Creatives ethos. It gives them the chance to reconnect with their own creative identity and invariably increases their confidence as they are forced to overcome any fears and anxiety they might have. I also offer support and encouragement with their presentation. However, once they present at Mama Creatives, their story has been so well crafted that they’re prepared to give talks elsewhere. We’ve launched quite a few careers based on this opportunity – this platform really does give creative mamas the chance to flourish.
We offer a lot more events now and the community’s growing daily and transforming into a much bigger operation, but the one thing that’s never waned is that I just love all the mamas and making things happen that were based on ideas conceived during my morning walks and written on my wall.
Motherhood is a gift which I respect and am grateful for every day. It means to love unconditionally, to let go and be guided.
My ultimate goal for Mama Creatives is to be the best global resource for creative mamas, where they can feel supported, nurtured and inspired, and as a result flourish both personally and professionally.
My daughter is six years old, but will shortly be celebrating her seventh birthday. I absolutely love this age, as I have all of her stages. The loveliest thing about this age is her thirst for knowledge and trying new things, which I hope never dissipates. Also being affectionate and wanting to spend time with us. The least lovely? Not wanting to go to bed at night!
The single most challenging thing I’ve done was giving up breastfeeding before I wanted to. I’d recently returned to a corporate job and couldn’t continue to both breastfeed at 3am and arrive sufficiently coherent the next day. So I stopped breastfeeding, after it had taken me so long to do it. I only lasted three months at the job, so it really wasn’t worth the sacrifice. I feel most challenged when I do things where I don’t allow myself to be guided by my daughter’s needs and follow my true instincts. Guiding her to learn right from wrong, and the fine line between consequences that are effective but not punitive so we can build up from a foundation of trust, not fear. This will be especially important as she enters the teenage years.
I’m also a registered art therapist, and currently work with children from domestic violence backgrounds. The power of the creative process has always been in me, and I can also see how it can transform others in my work as an art therapist.
Right now, I’m particularly looking forward to hosting our first Red Party. It’s being held to celebrate International Women’s Day and the one thing that makes us women, our hormones! We have three amazing guest speakers including Jean Kittson, Maree Lipschitz and Dr Alejandra Izurieta next Tuesday March 8 in Sydney. It’s also a charity event to raise money for PANDA.
Anna Kellerman is a 44-year-old registered art therapist, founder of Mama Creatives and mum to six-year-old Romy. She lives in NSW with her husband and daughter.
Get tickets to attend Mama Creatives Red Party next Tuesday, 8 March 2016 here.