The cost of being a mother-artist
Over the past several years, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, research, reflection and thinking about the relationship between motherhood and the working world, particularly that of the artist.
I was reading an article recently (Performing the Maternal in Public Space by Laura Endacott) in which the artist, applying for a faculty job at a university, asked what kind of evening and overtime hours she could expect. She was treated as if the question itself was unprofessional and ridiculous—the hours will simply be what they are. She wondered, as I do, how mothers were supposed to prepare and plan for hours outside regularly scheduled hours. Anyone who is a mother knows that childcare is hard to come by, expensive, and needs ample time to be scheduled. The message seemed to be that if she had the need to know and plan for hours, she was inconvenient and not the right fit for the role.
Beyond the financial implication, schedules themselves are a barrier for mothers. Over the past couple years, I moved from an office job to freelancing, which often fits our family’s needs better. I remember having a conversation with a professional creative mother with now grown children when my children were very young. She advised me to move to freelancing because in her experience it was the only way to could juggle it all.
It’s true. When I was working my 9-5 job, before my kids were in school, I couldn’t help but constantly thinking about what the hourly cost was for me to work. Childcare x 2, driving and parking (I cost out public transportation, but with the additional time it took for commuting, and the fact that I had 2 kids to pick up, driving was more cost effective), buying lunch downtown (because I’d gotten 2 small children up, dressed, ready, fed, packed them snacks and lunches and changes of clothes, I did not have the time to make myself food), and all those other associated costs had me making about $2/hour. And I was being paid a “professional” wage.
Still, even with now with the increased flexibility of freelancing, and both kids in school, meetings are scheduled without a thought about what it takes for a mother to get there. Meetings in after school hours, work itself on weekends, or running past the end of the school day. When mothers speak up about these challenges, we are treated like Endacott was when she applied for the university position.
How can we, as mother-artists, use our practice to change this narrative and advocate for authentic participation?