I work in television arts documentaries as a producer-director. I worked my way into this position before I had children by working for several years as a researcher and assistant producer. I got pregnant while I was editing my first ever programme as a director, a South Bank Show on the Royal Shakespeare Company on ITV1.
But I had other ambitions. I always wanted to direct and write feature films, and to begin with making a few short films. And it is working my way up in the feature film world that I have found most challenging to combine with having young children. When I do paid work in TV I find that I can afford the childcare to cover my time (I usually hire temporary nannies which I find through word of mouth and have ended up using three or four over the years, sometimes the same ones, or finding good people through the Sitters website). But when I am working on my own projects, writing, or making short films, I can’t really afford more than 3 hours a week of paid child care, before the children are at the age where the free nursery provision kicks in.
Over the last few years (now my children are 5 and 2) I have come up with a few things that I have found helpful as my ambitions are as strong now as they ever were beforehand. My interests lie in how to write and be creative rather than letting all your energy sap away. It’s not a very practical list for those in roles on set all the time, but more if you are writing or developing ideas.
- While as home with very young babies I was very strict with myself on letting the flat go to rack and ruin and working while they were asleep. Laundry and cooking etc had to be done while they were awake.
- If I needed a rest myself I would let my imagination wander while dozing, using on a creative problem at the same time, using a different part of the brain (I hoped anyway!)
- Speaking to other parents who try to be creative whilst still looking after young children was very helpful. I didn’t know any so I started a Mother’s Writing Group, then a Women’s Filmmaking Collective with a friend. We meet once a month at one of our houses or a pub and share our goals, obstacles and generally give support and encouragement to each other. These are mainly people I met online through local websites and Facebook and playgroups and parks who were interested in writing or artistic pursuits.
- Children are attracted to computers and don’t like to see you at work on them ignoring them, so sometimes I take a notepad with me to playgrounds or when they are playing nicely on their own and tackle a creative problem on paper. This speeds things up massively when I later have time to go onto the computer (at night or during a nap time)
- I used my first pregnancy as a natural deadline to get a short film shot. Then while my daughter was 6 weeks old the editor kindly came and worked on his laptop in our flat so it was easy for me to feed and look after the baby at home at the same time as working on the film while sitting on the sofa. (see picture)
- Very small babies can be quite transportable and sometimes sleep for quite a long time, so I used this time to do some sound-editing and grading etc. Taking breaks for the screaming of course.
- I have also done some research into links between mothering and creativity in order to encourage myself and carry on. I did a talk for the NCT on being creative while being a parent of young children, read several books and gathered the testimonies of successful parent-artists and how they did it.. I read Tilly Olsen Silences (which was a bit depressing and made me more determined to work and build up a body of work long term), A Question of Balance by Judith Pierce Rosenberg and Double Lives – Writing and Motherhood.
- For me, doing a little bit of writing / work every day works better than a lot of time once a week. If I leave my writing to once a week the fear builds up and it takes me a while to remember what I was doing.
- I enjoy the fact that children naturally diffuse writer’s block. As soon as I see their mad games I can forget my creative problem for a few hours, then come back to it later with more perspective and feeling fresh. Before I had children this feeling used to last for days.
In recent months I’ve started a production company and am working towards making a feature film. I am spending about 12 hours a week writing, which is a very small amount. But I try to be patient and remember that my children are only small for a very short time. I am hoping to store up all the inspiration that life brings now and see it flower in the future. The near future, I hope.