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A mum writes at the retreat while her children are cared for.
A mum writes at the retreat while her children are cared for.

ParentsSeptember 17, 2018

How a Facebook group for mothers is empowering women writers

A mum writes at the retreat while her children are cared for.
A mum writes at the retreat while her children are cared for.

An online group has been nurturing mum writers for the past two years, organising writing events, retreats, childcare and support. Single mum, writer and group member Nichole Brown reports on how it’s changing lives.

We all know what happens when the internet, the media, and the world in general, turn women against each other. We see the rage when mothers turn on mothers, when names like ‘Yoga Pants’ are aimed at mums doing daycare drop-offs, and more recently, we’ve seen a strong woman of colour turned into a racist caricature.

As someone whose livelihood exists almost entirely online, it can be exhausting and downright depressing having to be present in a world that’s not only at my fingertips, but at the fingertips of anyone with a smartphone that isn’t smart enough to filter out even the most obtuse of online commentary.

Anyone who’s ever published a column or a blog, or anyone who’s ever ventured into the comments sections of a controversial topic will know how much hate-filled and ignorance-fuelled rhetoric there is swimming around.

But what happens when women come together and genuinely care about each other? What happens when women actively create a safe space for all women who enter to be nourished and uplifted? And what happens when all those women are both writers and mothers?

What happens when women come together and hold up the walls for other women, and what happens when marginalised women are given the platform they deserve?

Can this be? Can there even be an online space that’s safe, encouraging, and supportive?

A few months into my writing foray, I was introduced to this very place. An online group of women who were all brilliant, all amazing, and all mothers, who just happened to be writers too. What I found there was life-changing in a Tony Robbins kind of way, but without the webinars.

The bones of the group will surprise you. There are no moderators. Shock! There are no rules about what can or can’t be posted. Horror! When issues of race, culture or tikanga are raised, the floor is cleared for women of colour to speak, and people listen and learn. Oh, I can’t take this! There are only a few hundred women and there’s no push to grow the group to be the biggest in the entire world. What on this green earth?

And when someone within the group is hurting, sinking, broken, or lost, these women, these mothers, rally hard. Meals are delivered, visits are made, hands and hearts are held, and when they ask, “are you OK?” they listen to the answer.

So, what comes out of a group like this? What really happens when women swing for each other instead of at each other?

  • Jobs have been created from this group, vacancies have been shared, and mums are supported back into work when they’re ready. When mums need to go away for work, other mums – sometimes from other towns – swoop in and care for their children. When someone’s company is hiring, women share the relevant positions and provide references in support.
  • Books have been written by so many of these brilliant women. Books that are quite likely sitting on your bookshelves, books that dominate entire sections of your local bookshops, and books that keep other mums company in the dark. Book in English, te reo Māori, and Samoan. Books about language, books even teaching language. And more books are coming!
  • Our children grow up inside this group too. When mums are struggling with sick kids, tired kids, or kids that make us want to pull our own teeth out to use as earplugs, we talk it through and cry about it together. And when our babies do excellent things like smelling all fluffy, saying wonderful first sentences like “smesh dah paycharkie”, or when they draw intricate robots who cook dinner from their bellies, we celebrate together.

Sometimes we even disagree! Something to do with women having minds of their own, or something. But the way we disagree is something pretty special. We do it without cutting each other down, without hurling insults, and without invalidating anyone else’s lived experiences.

This group of brave, strong women is literally changing the world you live in. There are media giants, best sellers, politicians and other Beehivers, award-winning poets, university tutors, researchers, publishers, editors, activists. But more than the collective accolades, there are women and mothers supporting each other, easing the isolation of parenthood and creating an amazing example of what can happen when women are actively encouraged and enabled to do big things.

The best part? These women are raising children, some of them all on their own, to be just as brilliant, who will continue to change the world too.

We also want to replicate these bonds at offline events across New Zealand wherever we can. Last year, we had a life-changing ‘Mothers Who Write’ retreat. Around 30 mothers and their 16 children from across New Zealand came together with money raised by the group. They were provided with a weekend writers retreat with children.

Mothers of new babies often aren’t heard in writing. They rarely have space to attend festivals, they can never attend retreats without childcare, they usually can’t do unpaid work as they’re down to one income or less, or they’re working multiple jobs including in the home. We saw that so many writers simply couldn’t write, and we wanted to change that.

The ‘Brilliant and Amazing Mothers and Writers’ retreat was a huge success. Books were born, workshops were held, and we created the perfect group offline. We took turns looking after each other’s children and we had babysitters attend as well. It was revolutionary, and proof that it really does work.

And we’re doing it again this year. We’re hoping we can get the financial support to offer more scholarships to some incredible women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend, so they can continue their writing journey with the support networks they need – both on and offline.

This writers retreat isn’t just about writing though – it’s proof that you can make and hold space for all women and when doing so, you can truly change not just your corner of the world, but art and literature itself.

Keep going!