Managing the competing demands of work and children and more means that modern motherhood can be a hectic and often isolating experience – something that for many has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Running on Friday mornings at the Herbert Art Gallery as part of our Try It! programme, Lindsay Jane Hunter’s Maternal Journal sessions aim to help mums carve out downtime for themselves, creating a space where they can begin to explore and process their feelings in a supportive and non-judgemental environment.
If you’ve never journaled before, you might not know quite what to expect from one of these sessions. But you don’t need to be an artist or a writer to take part – you can fill your journal with whatever feels most comfortable to you, and in the end, as Lindsay explains, it’s more about the conversations this inspires.
“It’s not really about the end product,” she explains. “It doesn’t matter if you think you’re good at art or not – it’s really just a way of exploring feelings on a page.
“For each session I will usually introduce a theme – so for example, we might be looking at identity and your relationship with your body. But the prompts are generally quite open so you can respond to them by drawing or writing or collaging – whatever you prefer. I find that people who do this regularly tend to have a comfort zone – some people always write poems and some people always collage, so they find something that works for them.”
Each session begins with a “check-in”, where everyone is given the chance to share what’s on their mind that day. For some, this prompts reflections on big questions around what mothering means to them, while others might use the time to share a story from their week, or simply let off steam about some of the challenges they’ve been facing lately.
Far from simply being a build-up to the main business of journaling, however, these check-ins make up a big chunk of the session, and it’s clear that participants benefit hugely from the sense of solidarity and community they create, with everyone chipping in to offer help and validate each others’ feelings.
“Really these spaces are as much about the conversation, connection and reflection as they are about the journaling,” says Lindsay. “It’s a way to get the conversation going rather than the sole focus of what we’re doing.
“I think when you’re a mum with small children you have very little time for yourself, very little capacity to process everything that’s going on. Journaling’s a really helpful practice because you don’t need to spend lots of time on it in one go – you can carry a book around with you and just spend five minutes journaling while your children are doing arts and crafts, for example.”
“I think also from a therapeutic point of view, the fact that you’ve got this book that you can put things into and then close it sort of contains and holds the space.”
Lindsay’s focus on journaling is something that has built up during the pandemic when her work began to move online.
“My background is in therapeutic arts so I guess it’s been a natural journey from there, but I started facilitating a lot more journaling sessions during lockdown, because I found that a lot of the practices I’d been using before didn’t quite translate online.
“The thing about journaling is that you don’t need a lot of resources to do it – at the in-person sessions I bring lots of materials with me and for some of the online ones I did send out packs to people, but really all you need is a pen and a sheet of paper. That made it really accessible.
“Even though we’re now able to meet in-person, I am continuing to run some online classes because for mothers in particular, there can be a lot of barriers to leaving the house and getting out organising childcare, so having online sessions in the evening is still useful for a lot of people.
“That being said, the one thing that’s I think you miss online to some extent is the small talk. I really like the tangible-ness of being in a room and journaling together. What you get in spaces like this is the chance to just make a cup of tea and have a chat.”
Maternal Journal runs every Friday at the Herbert Art Gallery from 9.30am, with tickets priced from £2. You can stay up to date with all of Lindsay's courses by following @LindsayJaneHunter on Instagram or by visiting her website.