I have found in motherhood that one of the greatest challenges has been having the time to do the things you want, and with that, it feels like often some things have to give. So does that mean that creativity and motherhood can’t be bed fellows? I talk to composer Michaela Polakova and singer/lyricist Natalie Kocab, a formidable musical force who have recently released a collaborative album Ellis Island to hear their thoughts on the topic:
What do you think about the notion that mums need to choose between creativity and motherhood?
Michaela Polakova: I think it’s not true nor a good attitude to have. I recently watched an interview with Madeleine Albright (American/Czech politician) who said that she never understood when women tried split into two teams: one team – women who want to be ‘stay at home mums’ full time but look down on mothers who want to have a career as something selfish, and team two – mothers who want to have a career as well but also sometimes look down on mothers who are just stay at home mums and don’t go to work. I couldn’t agree more with her. We are all very different but we should be one team and support each other in whatever decisions we make and do what we think is best in our lives – ‘full time’ mothers, mothers with full time careers, mothers with part time careers. But obviously we have to keep our children our priority always. The society we live in doesn’t always support mothers well. For example, it’s a shame that paid maternity leave is quite short in UK and childcare is very expensive. In the Czech Republic a woman can choose between 2 or 3 or 4 years of paid maternity leave.…
Natalie Kocab: I never had to choose. I´ve been a mum since I’ve been 19 years and active in showbusiness since 15 years old. I wanted both and I have both. It is very exhausting and difficult, but if you are an artist you will always produce art, no matter what. Artists always had children.
Is it possible to follow your creative dreams and have children?
Michaela Polakova: Absolutely. But it means that you have to be really good at time management, multi-tasking and have patience. And there might be times when you can’t do much about your dreams. When my son was very little he didn’t sleep well during the night or day. I suffered from sleep deprivation terribly for couple of months like every mum of course, but it was really hard for me. I couldn’t do much. It got better when he was five months old. Now I usually work when he takes a nap during a day for two or three hours and then when he goes to sleep in the evening I work too. This is how I composed the music for Natalie’s theatre play. But I am also very lucky to have help from my mother, who supports me in looking after my son, if I am really busy with projects.
Natalie Kocab: Yes – if you really have a dream you will follow it in any case. And it is possible to be a good mum and have a career. You´re just different. Who said being only a mum and housewife is the best background for kids? Artists kids are different, but so are kids of teachers, scientists and others.
Have you ever experienced that wrench between motherhood and your creative lives?
Michaela Polakova: I got pregnant in my late thirties. I was very happy. I enjoyed that special time immensely. But I was quite active and was still going to a studio mixing the album just a couple of weeks before my son was born. The album was released when my son was just one month old, so I couldn’t fully focus on promoting the album. But I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Natalie Kocab: Yes. It gets tough at times. I have the advantage that I became both almost at once, so I do not know what it´s like being just an artist without kids. I believe it´s more difficult for a person who was used to creating alone, to become a parent and manage both sides. The key is – you just have to be that type of person, capable of such a thing, you generally need way more energy than others. And you have to be able to switch off one side instantly. When I write, nothing else exists. When I¨m just a mum – I´m a mum.. although I still think about my work!
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced when trying to combine motherhood and creativity?
Michaela Polakova: Time management, tiredness, living far from my parents who could help more if they lived nearby. When I compose music, I need a lot of time to concentrate on what I’m doing and also a lot of time to listening to music. I am in my own world and need to be focused. But with a baby or a toddler, you have to organise your daily routine and plan ahead to find a time for your work. On the other hand, I experienced that it can create a certain pressure that is actually good for being very productive and creative. If you’re alone and you have a whole day ahead of you, you might end up not being productive at all and get lazy sometimes.
Natalie Kocab: After my daughter was born and I was able to leave her for 3 hours, I would hire a nanny to watch her for three hours once or twice a week. During that time I wrote. It was not only very productive, it also kept me sane. It was the best time of my life life, because if you look at it the other way – being a mum is incredibly inspiring. Not only in general, it creates a certain microclima, a very private world which, in my case, was very inspiring. For a writer. I just make up all these dreams, plans and ideas. I am most productive with a little child.
So what is the secret to making time for creativity in motherhood?
Michaela Polakova: Good time management. Asking for help whenever you need it – your partner, family etc. Staying positive. Sleep deprivation or a time when the baby starts to crawl/walk/climb can be challenging. Never think you are not a good mother. Sometimes washing dishes or ironing can wait and it’s good to use this time to do what you like and be creative!
Natalie Kocab: I don´t really know. what the actual key to it is but I would say attitude. If you want do it, you will. If you are not willing enough, you won´t and it´s no big deal. Anything´s good as long as you are happy.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Michaela Polakova: My advice to other women – don’t give up your chance of being a mum, if you have a successful career and you worry having a child will stop you – it will not. Having a child is the best thing in life and you can balance both. It might not be easy at times, but it’s definitely possible to have both. Be a mum and do what you enjoy doing in your life and be creative in every way.
Ellis Island is the brainchild of Michaela Polakova and Natalie Kocab, both hailing from the Czech Republic, though Michaela now lives in England. Michaela was classically trained at Prague’s conservatoire, also studying composition at King’s College, London. Natalie, a renowned writer of both books and plays in her homeland, and Michaela first met during the making of the album, “Hummingbirds in Iceland”, which received rave reviews in Europe. This led to them collaborating “Ellis Island”, demonstrating their eve-maturing sound and leading to other notable artists contributing, namely The Verve’s guitarist, Nick McCabe and long-time Lou Reed bassist, Fernando Saunders. Watch the video to “Underwater” here. Ellis Island can be found on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, Google Play for more information see here.
Are you a creative trying to balance motherhood with your dreams? What do you think of the above perspectives? Do share in a comment below.