There is a wild abundance of books out there telling mothers how to be better mothers: better working mothers, better stay-at-home mothers, better lovers and mothers, better daughters-in-law and mothers, mothers of better-balanced babies, mothers of over-achieving babies, and, of course, better-looking mothers while they’re at.
All of these try to reconcile the relationships that a woman, who is a mother, has with the outside world. Few address the relationship that she has with her inner world, and none with her creative side, which can be just as potent a force as the desire to procreate and nurture. One mother in particular felt this was a rather acute omission.
“I was going batshit crazy,” says Lucy Pearce, who at 34 is mother to three children under eight, and is now also the author of The Rainbow Way, a book exploring the cultivation of creativity within motherhood.
And before you wander off, one of its key points is that we are all creative, even – and sometimes especially – those of us who think we’re not.
The Rainbow Way seeks to address the need some women have to not abandon their creative selves in the midst of the madness of motherhood, and to show how both elements in their lives can be embraced without unbalancing each other.
The book was published in December last year and promptly rocketed to 16th place in the Motherhood genre on Amazon’s UK site.
It has already sold out once, requiring a fresh print by the publishers, and enquiries have already come in about translating it into both Turkish and Chinese.
For Lucy, who was born and reared in East Cork, it’s all been a hugely exciting Christmas present, and made worthwhile almost three years of sacrifice made by her and her husband.
Tormented by the loving demands of motherhood and frustrated by her un-met need to create, Lucy was struck by the urge to write the book five weeks into dealing with all three of her children being struck down by chicken pox, while still dealing with her own post-natal depression.
Her initial reaction, as you can imagine, was unenthusiastic.
“It was hellish, and all I could think was, ‘Really? Now?’ But the urge was insistent.
“The idea came to me because there wasn’t anything like that out there. It was what I wanted and I needed, and I felt so alone and lost. I felt abandoned really.”
She started writing the book to meet this need, and as part of the process interviewed 50 writers, artists, dancers, teachers and mothers for their insights and opinions, which are sprinkled liberally throughout the book.
The process seemed to create a kind of synergy where Lucy was researching and writing then feeding that knowledge into her own creativity and then feeding that experience back into the book. It unleashed a whirlwind.
Since she started, she has written and published three other books, held two art exhibitions, designed greetings cards, and created book covers and paintings on commission. In addition to all of that she has continued to blog, act as a contributing editor to Juno, a British magazine on natural parenting, and to act as a blogging consultant.
She talks to me while keeping an eye on her wonderful six- and four-year-old daughters, who are simultaneously running, reading, asking questions, and making climbing frames out of cushions and a chair. She strikes me as a magnificently enthusiastic, energetic and pro-active woman. She’d have to be.
“Actually, I think I just get bored very easily,” she laughs, while deftly catching a child who’s about to go careering backwards off a pile of cushions that’s four foot up in the air.
The book goes through how to find what your creative passions and needs are – and then develop them.
It also explores every aspect of creativity from the social and cultural sides, to the more psychological elements, dealing with shame and family legacy. It is filled with reflections and exercises to guide you through your own discovery and development. Lucy is adamant though that it is a resource, and not a manual.
“That’s the crux of it. Not telling women how to be or what to do. No one needs to be told what to do, and everyone’s far too busy to have someone there telling them to be creative. It’s a permission giving. You can be creative and a mother, but I have no interest in instructing someone how to be creative.
“I am interested in sharing my story though. I’m a complete maven when it comes to information, I drink it up. My gift to my friends and people I know is to just splurge that out so they know where to find what they’re looking for and that’s what I do in my books.
“I lead people into themselves so they can without judgement see where they are, creatively, physically, emotionally, and then lead them to more resources to help them find more answers for themselves if they need to.”
The book is written in a practical, direct style. There are no goddesses here. Nor is it technical and dry.
“I sit on the fence between the alternate world and the mainstream scientific world. I think that both places have a lot of really interesting ideas, but there is this total non-communication between them – and a lot of mistrust.
“I pitch my books at people like me who are interested in the alternative, but don’t want all the weird and whacky.
“I respect science, but I don’t think it is exclusively the way forward. I also have a slight distrust of dogma and organised religion, and the word ‘goddess’ tends to get my back up.”
Lucy has already enjoyed success abroad with her earlier published books, which have sold in 20 different countries, but hasn’t sought to promote them in Ireland so far.
“Everyone in my village knows me as the harried-looking mother at the school gates with three kids hanging off her. No one knew that I write or paint. It’s kind of like coming out. Mostly I’m known as the daughter of Stephen Pearce, and that creates expectations. People think I’m going to ride on his shirttails.
“The other thing is that my topics are a bit different. My first and third books were about the menstrual cycle. It’s kind of awkward if someone around here asks what your book is about, expecting you to say pottery – and then you say ‘err, periods’.”
So, who is Lucy to talk to us about creativity? Well, it’s definitely in the blood. Apart from being the daughter of Cork’s most famous potter, three generations of painters, glass blowers, actors, fabric artists and, of course, potters, from both sides of her family, went into creating Lucy. She is, however, the first writer.
“It’s daunting, but wonderful, to be surrounded by so much creativity, and you just soak it up. There were no limits, very little criticism, just great encouragement at whatever you wanted to turn your hand to.”
This is a key feature of The Rainbow Way: turning off the critics, internal and external, that shut down the artists within us, that tell us to colour inside the lines, and be good girls.
It allows women to explore their creative interiors at a time when their creative powers may be at their greatest.
Just as importantly, Lucy feels that the book has also helped her to become a better mother.
“It’s helped me to take the pressure off myself. When I started I was a stay at home mother, so my two spheres of influence were my children and my home. I’m a useless housekeeper. And children are children.
“If you hang your self-esteem on something that you’re rubbish at and something that you have very little control over. That’s going to be really tough.
“There’s huge social pressure on women to be the perfect mother, which I deal with in a part about the ‘good enough mother’. I learned, also from watching my own mother, that I am not my children, therefore I don’t need to do everything for them.
“They know themselves as themselves and do not need to support my sense of identity as a perfect mother. That’s a huge pressure to put on them, and makes them responsible for my feelings, which they’re not.”
The response so far, other than storming Amazon’s rankings, has been one of gratitude mainly, from women all over the world.
“It’s strange to be on the receiving end of that, from people I’ve never met in my life. It’s reassuring. I’m not someone who is confident and I doubt myself all the time.
“But I think people realise how vulnerable I am when I do this, it’s an emotional gamble and it gives people permission to do the same thing. A lot of people are yearning for that. They need to express themselves and be accepted for who they are, and they’re not getting that.”