One of our Making It Possible participants – Kirsty Robinson-Ward – kindly took some time out to share her thoughts on how the parent/work/life balance affects women across every career stage, how carving out dedicated (and guilt-free) time to focus on work can bring something extra to parenting, how the battle can often come from within and why, as ever, the collective energy behind championing and fighting for a more equal and flexible industry is so very needed.
Over to Kirsty…
“I’ve learnt a few things since my son popped out, being a parent is hard, attempting to juggle work whilst being a parent is hard and at some point I need to strengthen my pelvic floor. The biggest thing I’ve learnt though is that we can only bend and stretch ourselves so far until something has to give; our sanity or this industry’s lack of flexibility when it comes to parents working within it. I’m aiming for the latter.
“I hadn’t thought much about the future whilst I was pregnant with my son Arvo, I was more focused on the present and getting as much done as I physically could before the nine months was up. It seems I’m not alone with this thought process. I was lucky enough to attend a Q&A with Greta Gerwig, and for once I actually asked a question because it’s her. Having recently had her son I was curious to know what her thoughts were about parents working within the industry and how having a child would affect her future film sets, for example would there be access to childcare or more family-friendly working hours? Fair enough she admitted she hadn’t much of a chance to think about it and wasn’t sure yet what the future would hold. I mean she did have a small film called LITTLE WOMEN going on at the time. I raise this because here’s a director at the top who is also uncertain of what lies ahead. It is the Charlotte Riley’s, Mark Radcliffe’s, Sarah Solemani’s and I’m sure the Greta Gerwig’s of the world (among many others) who are and will help push forward with this fight, whilst those of us not quite in their position, strive to get to our own point of implementing the change that is needed. Of course it’s tough, women are currently just trying to get themselves heard and aiming for equality, let alone also trying to revolutionise working conditions.
Isn’t there a place in our industry where we can work but still be slightly present as a parent whilst on production?
“However, it’s not just about the parents, it’s anyone and everyone who would prefer a better work/life balance because it’s been done before on productions and can be done. I remember reading that Susanne Bier for the first fifteen years spent the majority of her wage on childcare. I, like many, am certainly not in a position to do that as personally I’m barely scraping together a wage, but we shouldn’t have to. To be honest, I wouldn’t want to. Isn’t there a place in our industry where we can work but still be slightly present as a parent whilst on production? I’m talking about those six-day weeks and twelve-hour working days…
“One of the main shifts that occurred within me and my career was that I couldn’t quite be as nutty and obsessed about my work as I once was, a little dude was involved now and he took up a LOT of time and energy. Who knew? So although I’m told it has to be all about him, which I kind of agree with, I think it’s actually got to be about us now (our little family unit). Yes he takes priority in my book but I’ve also learnt that I’m a better mum when I have some time to continue pursuing my work and creativity. We’re taught, certainly as females, that we should usually come last on the ‘care to be given’ list and certainly shooting hours have been no different in my experience, starting off as a runner and ending up as a PA before going freelance. Actually it’s wrong and we shouldn’t be made to feel guilty or selfish because the old-fashioned views of the past haven’t quite caught up with the present, and really the present hasn’t quite caught up with the future we hope for.
To be a bit kinder to myself, more generous and feel less guilty about the bit of focus I give to my work that isn’t on my son.
“Arvo is nearly two (twenty-one months but I’ve given up on the month-age system, it’s too confusing) and it’s taken me pretty much this amount of time to be a bit kinder to myself, more generous and feel less guilty about the bit of focus I give to my work that isn’t on my son. It actually makes for a much happier and healthier family. That space I create for myself, when I can, is nourishing and re-energising and helps prepare me for the next bad night’s sleep and early morning rise.
“In the earlier days of Arvo it could be really tricky and honestly, I thought that would be it for my career, at least for a good few years. Maybe it was best for me to take a step back, and for some it is. Surely my mind would feel better with one focus rather than feeling like a Stretch Armstrong toy being pulled in all directions. I think that’s part of the battle of being a parent, the mind games we play with ourselves and pressures from outsiders looking in who can sometimes so carelessly share their unwanted views. I couldn’t win it seemed, if I was focusing on work, I wasn’t being the best mum, if I was trying to be the best mum, I wasn’t being the best filmmaker I could be.
“As time’s gone on and I’ve fought these various battles within myself I’ve come to the conclusion that they actually go hand in hand with each other. Becoming a parent has made me a better storyteller, and I think the skills I have learnt on set have certainly made me a better mum. No there isn’t enough time in the day, but when I’m given a precious bit of it, I make the most of it. I had a deadline not long ago to write a feature film, I knew I had five clear days coming up where I would really have the chance to focus so I managed to and wrote the film in those five days. Granted it could be a load of rubbish but that small victory was huge to me and made me realise that rather than using nap times as a chance to catch-up with housework or just sit down with a hot cup of tea, I could instead sometimes sit down with a hot cup of tea and do a few small manageable work tasks. This would then give me a sense of satisfaction that I’d bring to the afternoon play session with Arvo.
So much of this is basically about not being so hard on ourselves, and when we tell ourselves we’re failing, most likely we’re not.
“Yes that means I’ve got a pile of ironing that’s been sitting here for days and a slightly overflowing linen basket. So much of this is basically about not being so hard on ourselves, and when we tell ourselves we’re failing, most likely we’re not. It is also about having people around us who understand the pressures we face from our work and that mostly it has to be self-initiated which takes time and energy. To be creative does also sometimes mean diving into that creative hole with no distractions which can be more easily done when in the home environment surrounded by the project… this is all hard and can be tricky for others to understand.
“I got the opportunity to direct DOCTORS through the BBC Directors Scheme when Arvo was very young and although some questioned my decision to do it, I couldn’t refuse. I’d never been given an opportunity like this before, or been paid to direct before.
“I loved it. Throughout I got full night’s sleep and I had the excuse to stop breastfeeding early, not that one needs an excuse but I was happy to do so. (That’s a whole other issue, the additional ‘mum’ pressure we put on ourselves.)
“The next block when Arvo was a bit older was a lot more challenging for me and the mum-guilt stepped up a gear, as did a loss of confidence. It felt like I was putting unnecessary pressure on my homelife and everything was just a bit crap. All of that mixed with good ol’ sleep deprivation, baby brain (although I’m pretty sure I had baby brain before baby) and saying goodbye to Arvo each weekend at whichever lucky grandparent’s house was available (as my partner was also working). Alas we got through it.
It seems we are still very much in the midst of carving out a more equal and flexible industry thanks to all the hard work that has come before and is being done now.
“It took me quite a while to build up my confidence again and faith in myself, one of the turning points in helping with this was attending a Raising Films Making It Possible event. It opened up to me a whole world of others in the same boat with the same feelings and was reassuring and inspiring to say the least. I was a bit of a mess on the day so didn’t reap all the benefits- it was my first time travelling into London with Arvo on my own (two hour journey each way) and it was the first time he’d go in a creche. I would suggest to others doing this, ease your little one in somewhere else first… I didn’t, and spent most of the day going back and forth from the creche, Arvo’s terrible screams of betrayal following me as I sobbed my way back up the stairs to the talk, soon to walk back down the stairs again as he wouldn’t settle. It’s funny now and probably would make a fairly uninteresting but amusing short film to anyone else who’s been in a similar situation.
“I heard a bit of the day, managed to blubber to the whole group when asked my name and background, it was fun. The lightbulb moment for me though was, not only meeting the incredible community of people, but when we were given the task of writing our negative thoughts down on post-it notes and they were stuck on the wall, we were all shocked at the negative and frankly monstrous voices within us. No we would never dare say these things to others (unless we were tweeting), but to ourselves, that seemed ok and I was surrounded by hugely talented directors, writers and producers. It baffled me.
As and when I can, I will find my way within this career, bit by bit. Helped and championed on by the support that is there when looked and asked for.
“We know there’s still a massive drop-out of particularly females within the industry and we’re all aware of why this is. It seems we are still very much in the midst of carving out a more equal and flexible industry thanks to all the hard work that has come before and is being done now. It’s down to companies like the awesome Raising Films and fabulous WonderWorks (soon to be opening a nursery at Leavesden Studios) who are helping create the change that is so needed.
“It really is true what everyone says, time flies with a child, they grow up so fast and personally we’re just at the beginning of that. There have been many up and down moments along this crazy journey of parenthood and it will soon become even crazier with our second ‘pickle’ due in August (thanks and yep, no idea how that’s going to work).
“Down to the strong and welcoming community I’ve met through Raising Films and Cinesisters I feel assured that together we’re carving out a better, more accessible and equal industry for all. I’ve realised that no, I probably won’t ever get to the end of my things-to-do list, that reading a story with Arvo is way better than attending certain networking events (where people are looking over your head for a more prolific person), and that, as and when I can, I will find my way within this career, bit by bit. Helped and championed on by the support that is there when looked and asked for.
“The last question for this testimonial I’ve been asked is ‘Where do I see myself now?’ Not sure really but muddling through, doing the best I can and enjoying a well-deserved cup of tea while Arvo naps.”
When the current coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis is over, what will the film and TV landscape look like?
We’re all living in extraordinary times, where the intersection of our personal and professional lives has never been more apparent. Extraordinary times, where our caring responsibilities coincide with our working lives and as we recognise more than ever our support systems and the caring professionals who make our lives possible. As we all try to manage this present, we want to consider how the lessons we are all learning might help shape a better future for the industry.
We want to start a conversation about what that better future might look like. Join us?