Adaptive thinking

Motherhood may improve creativity in writers and artists

(Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Despite the widespread public perception that motherhood is a distraction or even an obstacle for mothers working in creative fields, it turns out that the opposite might actually prove to be the case, according to an Op-Ed written for The Atlantic by journalist and mother Erika Hayasaki.

Research done on the brains of rats, which closely resemble human brains in several important respects, has found that upon having children the mother’s brain undergoes a remarkable transformation. Not only do her priorities shift such that she will prefer taking care of her children over consuming addictive drugs such as cocaine, but she also becomes a more effective hunter — capturing crickets at four times the speed of rats without children. These adaptations translate to more creative endeavors as well, where mother rats prove more adaptable and less error-prone at solving problems such as mazes.

Most people, however, might hesitate to claim that the brains of human mothers mirror those of rats in such a way. While studies have suggested that pregnancy in humans does induce structural changes to the mother’s brain, high profile artists such as Marina Abramović have famously claimed that having children hurts women in creative fields rather than helping them.

Not only artists feel this way, however. Brooklyn artist Hein Koh, who was famously seen in a photograph showing her tandem breastfeeding her 5 week old twins even as she worked on her laptop, has said that being a mother hasn’t hurt her work but rather made it “more interesting and layered.” And as Women in the World reported two years ago, a group of rising artists was working to reject the all-or-nothing, children-versus-art premise.

As a mother herself, Hayasaki writes, “The competition between raising children and creative output is real.” But rather than looking at motherhood as “the enemy of the work,” she encourages her fellow writers and artists to try looking at the problem in a more creative light.

Read the full Op-Ed at The Atlantic.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is independent of and separate from any views of The New York Times.