A woman’s writing vs. her children

IMG_55521I have been thinking about a recent debate regarding women authors and childbearing. Author Lauren Sandler wrote an article for The Atlantic professing that the secret to a successful writing life for a woman is to have only one child, giving as examples writers like Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Hardwick, Margaret Atwood and Ellen Willis. If a woman has more than one offspring, then she risks becoming more of a mom than a writer, was the assumption. The article got a lot of attention, but one of the best things that happened was that Zadie Smith replied in the comments section in an effort to disprove the theory, giving herself as proof (she has two children), but also writers like Heidi Julavitz, Nikita Lalwani, Nicole Krauss, Jhumpa Lahiri, Vendela Vida, Curtis Sittenfeld, Marilynne Robinson and Toni Morrison.

Then, let’s not forget, there are those “studies” that somehow come up with results showing that the more intelligent a woman, the less likely she is to desire children. That might explain why humanity finds itself in such an impasse today that is produces crap research like that.

I myself am now a mother of two, so you know on what side of the barricade I wave my flag.

The problem with writing is that you are at home with every good intention of taking care of everything: writing work and house work and parenting. In the brutal reality light you realize that you cannot do everything well, not even well-enough most times. There is a lot of guilt involved, and a lot of doubt, pressure and often too few rewards, because the children will always complain, the house will never be sparkling, the dinner will always need to be made, again and again, and your inner critic will never, for the love of God and country, just shut up.

I do worry these days more than before. I have a novel that’s asking to be finished this year, and I as much as I was hoping to be done with it by now, it’s still in works. The baby, as much as I hoped for a more quiet and sleepy one (thinking that I have paid my dues with the very demanding first of my progeny) still does not sleep more than two hours at night, at almost three months now. So everything is very much uncertain. I cannot hold on to a schedule because my time is not my own right now. And when I am mercifully being offered half hour breaks during the day, I am often too hazy brained to do any proper work, and only succeed in putting on fresh clothes and feeding myself, and maybe picking up a dirty diaper from the living room floor.

So, yes, I confess without pride that sometimes, with teary eyes, I think of the past two or so years when my soon-to-be eight year old has been very independent and has given me plenty of time of my own. And then I think of the future, full of unattainable hopes, and the present full of moments that I tell myself I should be savoring, and I try to make the best of it all. This most days only means managing to not actually hate my life. That’s why I chose this half hour of blessed morning baby nap to write a blog post while still in my messy pajamas, in the middle of a living room that looks like a large, sunny diaper accident. Because one has to prioritize, and there are times when (I know you’ll be surprised to find out) I would rather write something than clean the house. Crazy as it may sound. As long as the children are fed, clothed and emotionally secure (as much as I can take care of that), I can consider my mom job done, and I feel free to do this writing thing. The sun will shine again.

Update: Here is an article in The New Yorker that continues the discussion: Writers and the Optimal-Child-Count Spectrum (good title, right?). Thank you, Charity, for bringing it to my attention.