Balancing Priorities – Motherhood & Writing
I’ll keep things short and sweet this week as I practice the subtle art of being overwhelmed by life’s competing priorities—uh, I mean, as my family schedule shifts for school summer vacation. Whenever the juggling act feels a little more athletic than desired, it can help to remember helpful words from other writers on the intersection of motherhood and writing/work.
For a few years after my daughter was born, I felt almost unable to generate a coherent spoken or written sentence. To both parent and write simultaneously seemed to require that my brain split in two, like one of those orca whales that can fall asleep with half its brain while keeping watch out for predators with the other. Maybe that is what happened, except it was my writing side that went dormant while the other side, vaguely awake, gave all my creative energy to my daughter.
Zadie Smith writes in her novel Swing Time, that what children want from their mothers is “complete submission. Oh, it’s very nice and rational and respectable to say that a woman has every right to her life, to her ambitions, to her needs, and so on…but as a child…all you want from your mother is that she once and for all admit that she is your mother and only your mother, and that the battle with the rest of her life is over.” Um… yes.
I also think of Lauren Groff’s gentle rebuke when an interviewer once asked how she managed work and family. Groff explained that until she sees a male writer asked the same question, she would decline to answer.
While women may appreciate the “touché” in her response, maybe her point can also be taken as a genuine suggestion. I for one would be interested in hearing the perspectives of fathers on this topic as well—not just because it is so often asked of mothers but because it might be illuminating to see where the answers both overlap and do not. (That is, if we even accept the premise of the question. Because if the ideal of “balance” and deft life “management” has ever occurred in a single modern person, I don’t know that person. So there’s a thought to think, the next time you insist on laying superhuman expectations on yourself!)
I realize my own recommendations skew toward women on this topic, and I am mindful of the complexities that make the brief flash of a blog pretty narrow for something as encompassing as parenthood. Just this week Counterpoint Press released Krys Malcolm Belc’s The Natural Mother of the Child: a Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood, which in part explores the limits of this language to which we are bound in the ongoing effort to understand and communicate subjective experience. As Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in 1882, “You say, ‘I don’t understand you.’ Well, I readily believe that, for writing is really a wretched way of explaining things to each other.” Which is not to say stop trying, especially if you can’t paint.
I said this blog would be “short and sweet” then veered into motherhood and work. Ha! Joke’s on me I guess, as I am not that one person who has eradicated the tensions or made peace with the feeling that I am never quite giving enough either to writing or family. If you find yourself in a similar place this summer, you are not alone. So in good faith I will leave you with some wise advice via addled blogging brain on the family/work/life equation. Give half to work, half to family, half to self/spirit. Voila!
I don’t know. Maybe I need to work on my fractions. Add it to the list!