Creativity and Mothers
Little "c" versus Big "C" Creativity
Posted May 12, 2019
Mothers are among the most creative people on the planet. A great deal has been written about the idea that motherhood tends to reduce a woman’s chances of making a substantial or important contribution to a creative field, what we call “Big C” creativity. And that may be the case. The fact is that right up to this day, there is a large and significant disparity between the acknowledged creative accomplishments of men versus women. Example: Of the 835 Nobel Prizes awarded between 1901 and 2018, only 52 have been awarded to women. Most researchers suggest that at least part of the disparity in accomplishments comes from the choice that women must make between creation and procreation. Unlike men, even in our enlightened age of gender (almost) equality, moms still carry the primary burden of childcare in most households, spending nearly twice as many hours per week on child-related duties as their male counterparts. And many women have found that they either have to put their creative interests on hold during child-rearing years or make the choice to remain childless. Educator and creativity expert Jane Piirto puts it this way, “The bind of delaying having children, or having children early and not being able to single-mindedly create, seems to be the crux of the problem for many creative women.”
Despite this, many creative women do continue to produce creative work while raising children, even though the nature of their creative work may be less “Big C-ish” than it might have been before children. Writer Erika Hayasaki said in an Atlantic article, “My own creativity these days may come out in a thought tapped and auto corrected on my phone at 2 a.m., or it could come out in a method of bathing three small kids without anyone drowning.”
Which brings me to the main point I’d like to make today. Mothering is intensely creative work, even if it doesn’t register on the “Big C” creative scale. Each day mothers complete hundreds of creative acts. Just as writer Erika Hayasaki finds a creative way to safely bathe three small kids, mothers everywhere are finding creative ways to get daily tasks accomplished: There is no guidebook to get a toddler going through the terrible two’s to stop throwing his food. A creative mother makes up a game and suddenly the food is a train and the toddler’s mouth is a tunnel. Mothers find creative ways to get their 5-year-olds to brush their teeth and pick up their toys. Mothers find creative ways to get three children dressed and out the door in time to catch the school bus. How do you comfort a 10-year-old who didn’t make the travel soccer team or a 15-year-old who just got dumped by her boyfriend? Mothers engage almost daily in these creative improvisational therapy sessions.
Another aspect of mothering that is highly creative involves food and what has traditionally been referred to as “feeding the family,” a task that, despite modern gender roles, still generally falls to the mom. Anthropologists Maryann McCabe and Timothy Malefyt note that this task has changed considerably from what it used to be, say, in the 1950s. However, it is no less creative today. While feeding the family may not involve as much “home cooking” these days, it nonetheless requires considerable creativity to find ways to combine children’s taste preferences, hectic family schedules, budgetary concerns, and available food items in a manner that provides some sort of nutritional value several times a day to one’s offspring.
Much of the creative work that mothers complete may be called acts of everyday creativity, or “little c” creativity. These acts may not be recognized with a Pulitzer, Oscar, or Fields Medal, but as developmental psychologist David Feldman says, these “little c” creative acts are equally as important as “Big C” creativity for the “preservation, enrichment, and continuity of culture” Mothers, through their daily creative work, are preserving and enriching society.
To mothers everywhere, thank you for your creativity.
Piirto, J. (1991). Why are there so few? (creative women: visual artists, mathematicians, musicians). Roeper Review, 13(3), 142-147, p. 146.
McCabe, M., & de Waal Malefyt, T. (2015). Creativity and cooking: Motherhood, agency and social change in everyday life. Journal of Consumer Culture, 15(1), 48-65.
Feldman, D.H. (1999). The development of creativity. In R. J. Sternberg, R.J. (1999). Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.