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Bearing Witness

July 14, 2019


Bearing witness is a term commonly used in therapeutic circles to mean the sharing of life experiences with others, whether talking or via various art forms. In telling our story, we are better able to process our experiences and to integrate these into our whole self. This ultimately can lead to healing of trauma, and an overall sense of wellbeing.


I’ve been aware of how witnessing our children can help validate their experience, to develop and strengthen their sense of self. This practically can be as simple as being present with your child as she plays, maybe show you part of his pretend game, maybe invite you into her imaginary world for a moment. Putting mobiles away to simply be.


What I’ve been with recently, is the power of the witness, and specifically: the importance a child bearing witness.

Previously, I’ve only thought of this in terms of negative experiences, like a child witnessing domestic abuse, perhaps as simple as father ignoring mother or putting her down, and the messages this ultimately penetrates baby.


However, in the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to share parts of my non-mothering self with my children, which felt significant to both child and me. As someone who only takes on limited freelance work, largely due to childcare issues, I am limited in having much of a life outside of the domestic sphere. So opportunities to share such parts of myself feels particularly important to me. 


One example has been attending last Friday’s Central London meeting of Mothers Who Make, a support network for professional/ passionate artists who are also mothers. I’d been interested in the group for practical networking reasons, to try to get back into my creative practice, but last Friday, with both my kids near, I felt how important their presence can be as I share my artist self with others. I write and sometimes paint, but do both when the babies are asleep or in their part-time nursery. I have shared work in 2017 and taken on short freelance jobs, but again, the babies are tucked away. So here, they were very much part of my dreams and ambitions, and integrated into a community that I belong to (be it in a limited sense for the time being).


Another opportunity has been including my babies in my helping out at their nursery’s summer fair next Friday. I’m part of a parent choir, put together over 5 weeks, to sing at the fair. I couldn’t secure childcare, so brought my kids along to their nursery after hours, where they snacked and played with a few other children, and listened to us rehearsing. Simple, and somehow this felt important. Initially, the headmistress had intended to keep the kids in her office or the staff room, away from us, in order to avoid their disrupting the rehearsal process and for her to get on with the ever piling load of admin. However, with the long daylight hours and gorgeous weather, we managed to convince her to keep the kids in a contained outdoor area near us. Within ear’s shot, they wondered in and out of the musical action… excited, and visibly aware that they are part of something bigger than their usual time at this familiar space. 


I’m not sure I can articulate the importance of the above. 


In a baby music class in San Francisco, back in 2017 when my youngest was a few months old, the group facilitator talked about the importance of baby hearing mum/ dad’s voice in the choral singing of the group. In doing so, baby can gain strength in developing their own voice and sense of self. Perhaps this is what I’m imagining, namely, my children witnessing their mother sharing her voice (literally and metaphorically) and being part of this process.


Such moments feel significant. Especially when the majority of my job as mum is left unwitnessed. There’s no-one to witness when I read, sing, take them on the underground, soothe upset, cook, book dentist appointments, book theatre tickets, clean, feed, play, break a fight, bathe, laugh at their shenanigans, put them to bed (with varying success)… the moments of a job well done, as well as the more challenging moments. I don’t have someone to share these moments with, even on a daily chit chat sort of way. This leads me to Maya Angelou’s often quoted:


There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”


So here I am, telling. I realise, now as I write this, how this blog site came into being and my need to share with whoever reads, parts of my story as it unfolds. 


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Anyone interested in joining Mothers Who Make, I’m now part of the North London Hub, with details here.

From → Community

2 Comments
  1. syndish permalink

    Beautifully said. I will add that there will be moments when you watch your children grow and achieve their mile stones and you will sit in the quiet of the unwitnessed moments and hold them close knowing they are what got you all to that moment in time. It is an unspoken bond between all of us who take on the task of raising children.

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