The project that Rachel Power sets out on with this book is one that has been preoccupying me for some time: finding out how creative mothers manage to balance the conflicting demands of their art and their childrearing responsibilities.

I think I was hoping for answers in it’s pages, but in retrospect I realise that was a bit unrealistic.

the divided heart


It turns out – and you’re allowed to cackle when I admit that I was genuinely surprised by this – working out how to balance motherhood and creative work isn’t some secret that everyone else has the knack to and is withholding from me. It’s just messy. And hard. And fundamentally impractical.

The interviews in this book are with mothers who are also artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians and actors, and they go a long way to giving a feel for the the immense tension and conflict that is created by having two all-consuming loves and only one self. Only one heart.

I got an overwhelming sense that this conflict is about identity as much as it is about everyday practicality. The “there are only so many hours in a day” problems are certainly tricky, but more troubling (and more resonant for me), was the sense so many expressed of being torn on a deeper level. Creativity is, as Power says “an expression of the self”, yet mothers are idealised as the epitome of selflessness. When one individual tries to embody and contain both of these conflicting identities, what is the outcome or their sense of, purpose, efficacy, fulfilment, wellbeing…?

Inevitably something has to give. Compromises are made, either in how we are able to parent, how we approach our work, in our relationships… And those compromises are often painful. We get on with the work anyway, and we pull together what we can.

While I didn’t get the answers I was expecting from reading this book, I did feel inducted by it into a kind of sisterhood. The sisterhood of muddlers-along, of doing our best, of feeling perpetually frustrated, and guilty, and tired.

The take home message was: it’s okay, it’s not just me.