Women as Writers: Take What's Useful...

Thursday, January 17, 2008
A few months ago, I seemed to keep running into the same theme concerning women as writers: that once women start families, the vast majority of them stop writing.

I read it in Alice Walker: A Life, where she recalls one encounter with a woman she upset with her assertion that having more than one child hampers a woman's full creativity (I'm paraphrasing). Ms. Walker, of course, only had one child. The woman who reacted was bothered by the assumption, prompting her to write a letter to the author, who in turn told the woman that she should take what is useful and ignore the rest.

On one hand, I often say that same thing: take what is useful and ignore the rest. On the other hand, it does nag at me when I continue to run into the idea that women aren't allowed their full creativity when children come on the scene. When men become fathers, no one expects them to stop writing, but for women, who most often are the primary caregivers (whether they work outside of the home or not), unless she's a bestselling author, she can be expected to put her writing on the back burner.

If you've always been a writer, this can be akin to setting your dreams on the back burner, on a low fire and watching it slowly die.

Yes, it can be more difficult to find time to write when you have children, but if writing is truly your passion, what you were called to do, then it shouldn't matter if you have one child or five or ten. We all find time for what we truly value, whether it's reading, exercising or scrapbooking.

Of course, this may hit closer to home if you're a mother, but whether you have children or not, take what's useful: you're a writer, and ignore the rest: the idea that women always have to sacrifice the best of themselves.


Annette said...

Del, what a thought-provoking post! I'm in a weird place right now and most of the time I just try to wish it away, though I know I will need to make a decision soon--before my eggs are like raisins. =/

My son is 19. I was a single mother (sole support and care of my son for 15 years) before I met my husband. We've been married now for 4 years and I know my husband wants a child of his own. He doesn't have any and we are both 41.

That's where my dilemma begins. I have put my dreams on hold since I was 21. I am now just starting to see my dreams come to fruition (which has happened because of my husband's emotional and financial support of my writing). My first book, The Break-Up Diet, comes out on Valentine's Day. Woo-hoo! =) And I have so many other ideas and plans for my writing career.

But on the flip side, I'm not getting any younger. If I do decide to have another child, I would have to go through IVF because I had my tubes tied 10 years ago. It would be expensive, time consuming, and painful (lots of shots and I'm not a needle person). And no, he doesn't want to adopt. He wants a baby we both create together. But I had a tough delivery with my son, and I'm terrified to give birth again.

There are so many reasons for me NOT to do it, but two incredible reasons for me TO do it. I love my husband and I know he wants this more than anything.

A person could go crazy trying to make a decision like this...

Anonymous said...

I agree that this is a thought provoking comment. I think I struggle with this dilemma every day. Lately, though, I think I've received a little bit of clarity on my life as a mother and as a writer. It comes down to two words:honor myself. Whether it is writing or getting a shower in the morning, the temptation as mothers is to put everybody before ourselves. There is an underlying message in this country (in this world?) that a woman's life has to be all about everyone else 24/7/365. The fact is if our fuel tanks are on empty, we will have nothing to pour into our children or husbands or friends or whoever. For me that is where this concept of honoring myself comes in. When I honor myself by writing everyday, taking care of myself, or calling a friend to chat, I am filling up my tank so that I can fill up the tanks of the people around me.

I think I have approached life for a long time with the the attitude that I could either be a mother or be a writer. Lately I see that I have to hold both in tension (which is different than balance). For me tension is holding writing in my right hand and mothering in my left and stretching the rubberband in the middle with equal force on both sides.

Right now my 2 1/2 year-old daughter does everything that I do. I can't "just be a mother", though that is very important. For her (and myself) I need to be fully a mother, fully a woman and fully human because her toddler brain is taking notes.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such a compelling post! Reminds me of Virginia Woolf's Angel in the House. I may be too self centered, I may be too ambitious or I may just have the spouse from heaven, but I've haven't recently had a problem shutting the office door. Perhaps it's because I used to work full time, and now that I don't I fee entitled to some quiet work time.

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