Mothers Apart: Life in the Goldfish Bowl (2014)


In 2013 92,727 children were in local authority care in the UK and 4,692 children were adopted from care. Despite this staggering statistic and the complex experiences involved, the subject of mothers living apart from their children is rarely discussed. WomenCentre works in collaboration with mothers to harness their wisdom and their experiences of stigma, guilt and shame to raise awareness of their needs and to support others.

Designed and created by the women working with WomenCentre, this exhibition examines the effect of working with services in and amongst grieving the loss of a child in everyday life and explores the process in which women fight for their roles as mothers, whether against an ex-partner or a local authority.

This exhibition draws on the links between the mental health issues which may have led to the separation of mother and child, and those which are a result of being apart from their children.

This work was originally exhibited with the Mental Health Museum in Wakefield in 2014. We would like to thank Claire Maw Photography for helping us revisit our pieces in 2020/21

Mothers Apart: Life in the Goldfish Bowl

Without your children and having to work with services can feel like living in a goldfish bowl. You feel you are being judged – and you are, by the people who are paid to make professional judgements about you and your ability to parent.


This process generally induces feelings of powerlessness as your voice and status as a mother is diminished.



Where relationships reinforce feelings of powerlessness, memories are triggered of other times when mothers felt unable to take control. Our spoon puppets examine issues of power – imagine being a mum sitting in a room with social workers, psychologists, teachers, support workers and judges taking about your private family life – how would you feel?

The people with power are looking in at you.

But you have your own power as well.




Witnessing abuse effects children’s development and its consequence to families is immense. Failure to protect – usually from an abusive partner – is often the basis for a child being taken into care, can feel like further punishment. Emotional abuse (ignoring, name-calling, monitoring texts and calls, isolating you and, at times, turning your children against you) is often described as being far more damaging and with longer-term effects than other types of abuse.



Judgements of a mother apart from her children are very different to those of an absent father. The masks are representations of group members ‘inner critics’, internal voices who often try to regulate our behaviour by reminding us of our failings. Telling us we are stupid, ugly or incapable. Recognising these voices limit and hold us back we begin to understand that getting to know them helps us to weaken their hold. They don’t control us.

A whole selection of masks were created click here to see more.


Photo Albums


In absence, mothers wonder about their children. Photographs and letters are precious links to children they may or may not see any more. Sadly, with the event of social media, adoptive parents are generally discouraged from sending photographs.



Our work builds on the trust, bravery, vulnerability and struggle of individuals. The ordinary magic of women with shared experiences coming together strengthens the collective voices of mothers apart from their children on issues which matter most to them. Being part of campaigns such as the Million Women Rise march against violence against women and children has made the link between domestic abuse and the effect on families.


Mothers were given books to work in. Some became scrapbooks full of collages, some journals, some a place for reflection and honesty, some workbooks for notes and hand-outs, some to be shared and others strictly private. Our book and this exhibition is born out of struggle, co-operation and hard work of mothers who fall apart differently ad pick themselves up differently. Mothers who are different but the same.