I am on part three of my series on writing and mothering. When I began my research for this week’s blog, I was planning on painting a rosy picture of mothers who write. What I found a lot of is that writing mixed with mothering is hard.
Mothers who write often neglect their children. It comes with the job. Motherhood is a distraction. A kid wants attention. They want to play. They want food. They want entertainment. Writers need time to write. Creativity doesn’t flow freely while your kids is crying, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” about a zillion times.
I researched the lives of three writing mothers. Alice Walker, most famous for her book The Color Purple, said about mothering, yes, have children, but only one. With one you can move. With more than one, you are a sitting duck. But mothering and writing didn’t seem to work for her. She often had to leave her daughter with family so she could write. In the end, she was estranged from her daughter. It’s not easy to do two things well.
Joan Didian, writer of novels and a literary journalist, had the motto written in her home, “Brush your teeth. Brush your hair. Shush I’m working.” She was 31 when she adopted her daughter, Quintana. But her work excluded her daughter. She thought she could just tack motherhood along to her career, and go on as normal. But motherhood doesn’t work that way.
I’m going to end with something more positive. Susan Sontag, writer, film maker, teacher, and political activist, tried hard at balancing child rearing and writing. Her son, Philip Rieff, admits having a strained and difficult relationship with his mother. Yet, she developed these ten admirable parenting rules.
- Be consistent.
- Don’t speak about him to others (e.g. tell funny things) in his presence. (Don’t make him self-conscious.)
- Don’t praise him for something I wouldn’t always accept as good.
- Don’t reprimand him harshly for something he’s been allowed to do.
- Daily routine: eating, homework, bath, teeth, room, story, bed.
- Don’t allow him to monopolize me when I am with other people.
- Always speak well of his pop. (No faces, sighs, impatience, etc.)
- Do not discourage childish fantasies.
- Make him aware that there is a grown-up world that’s none of his business.
- Don’t assume that what I don’t like to do (bath, hairwash) he won’t like either. I think, on the whole, mothering and parenting are like any other endeavor in life, challenging and rewarding. Whatever we work hard at, ultimately whether we are winners or failures, we are at least counted in as those who try our best. That makes us a success story in the end.