A web coding workshop isn’t the first thing you might associate with free babysitting, and Mothership HackerMoms wants to know, Why not? As hackerspaces blossom around the world, this new addition in Berkeley is the first to cater specifically to mothers who want to keep their creative lives.
“The lack of safe space or childcare makes traditional hackerspaces unrealistic for mothers to attend,” says founder Sho-Sho Smith. At the same time, young children can be a blow to parents’ creative lives–dominating their schedules and isolating them from friends and projects. “It’s easy for a mother to give up her life for her kids,” says Smith.
That was a path she wanted to avoid, so Smith and a group of nine other moms connected by, in her words, “a mind for ideas, a ‘make-or-die’ hunger to create, and a boredom with the usual moms’ groups,” began meeting in each other’s homes for regular babysitter-supported hack days. “I saw an opportunity to participate in community-based projects, have childcare for my youngest when I wanted to work on a specific project, or have an instant base of supportive, like-minded women,” says co-founder Samantha Matalone Cook. It worked. Six months later, the team had raised money and secured a 1,000-square-foot storefront at the Berkeley-Oakland border, which opened in April. Now, after building momentum and a calendar of regular activities, the non-profit has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help construct and stock a workshop and to start a workshop series for kids.
Members steer the programming together, teaching each other what they know, practicing skills together in learning labs, and inviting experts to teach new things, from will and estate planning to making baby lotion from breast milk. “It’s a mom rescue for lost creative lives and selves put on hold,” says Smith. “Most importantly, it’s where we come to have fun. If we don’t support this playful creative self, we risk burnout, depression, and two-year-old-level temper tantrums. It’s a use it or lose it philosophy to motherhood sanity.”
And yes, men are welcome too. “HackerMoms can be anyone who’s comfortable with our culture–and patient enough to handle the chaos,” says Smith. “There is a great kids’ room with terrific free child care, no one looks twice when mothers need to nurse their babies, and our workshops focus on the membership’s interests. But our workshops and events are not gender specific. We have had many men attend.”
They seem to have struck a nerve: “We have received many emails from around the world from women asking how to form their own hackerspace,” says Cook. And the organization dreams of a proliferation of mom-oriented hackerspaces. After all, says Smith, “a happy mother–that is, a fulfilled woman learning and using her talents–is good for herself, family, the community, and the world.”