Essays

The Mommy Problem

By posted at 7:24 am on October 16, 2009 27

“When I was discussing my new book with two married writers, they kept asking how I could work without an advance. I didn’t see how they could work with one. They said they needed a certain amount of money and that they had children. They made their children sound like a tremendous burden, and I felt they were using the word need when they should have said want… One day, when [the husband] was telling me how easy I have it and about the kind of advance he needed, I snapped. I said his book wasn’t worth more than my book just because he has kids.” -Stephen Elliott

I.
coverThere is much naked self-revelation in Stephen Elliott’s sharp and yet consoling short memoir, “Why I Write,” recently published in Canteen Magazine and at The Rumpus (of which he is the founder).  He writes about suicide attempts, working as a stripper, his dark relationship with his father, his drug habits, involvement in the S&M scene.   And yet weirdly, the most shocking and provocative moment in the essay for me is the above passage, when Elliott tells off a writer who has hinted that having children somehow ennobles and/or entitles him as an artist.

Reading through the comments at The Rumpus, I was surprised to see that there was no reaction or response to this.  It made me think that readers of The Rumpus must by and large be childless.

I’ve lived that scene, more or less, countless times.  In Elliot’s position, that is.  The implication slips out in different ways, but it’s unmistakable.  I’ve never “snapped.”  Part of it is that I’m chicken.  Part of it is that my conversations are usually woman to woman, and (yes, I am essentially reinforcing a horrific stereotype here) women my age tend to be a bit, um, irrational, when it comes to outside perspectives on anything related to their children.

But part of it is that “need” vs “want” is not quite the right dichotomy.  Or not the whole of it anyway.  There are times when I, too, am tempted to snap; to say, “You wanted to have children, so stop complaining.” But it’s easy to forget how seismic a shift we’ve undergone over the last generation when it comes to family-making; we are really the first generation to be quite so conscious of it – whether, when, how many, alone or partnered, naturally or “artificially,” can I afford it, etc.  If you ask a woman of a previous generation—your mother, for example, if you are in your 30s or older—how she decided to have children, she might smile a half-smile and cock her head and blink her eyes at you as if you’d just spoken to her in the extinct language of Arwi (and she’s no ditz, she may in fact have a doctorate in Arwi).  In a single generation, instinct and nature have morphed into analysis and decision.  This is bizarre in so many ways.  And confusing.  And stressful.  For everyone, I think – parents and unparents alike.

II.
A blogger in Austin who linked to “Why I Write” posted this on his blog: “Makes me even more eager to explore the question, ‘Can you have a wife, children, and a house, and still be an artist?’”  I wonder, have wondered, the same thing, though I’d flip the question and alter it slightly: “Can I be an artist and a woman, and still have a family?” (I have a house; but currently it’s a debt more than an asset.)

In my own “Why I Write” memoir essay, which I entitled, “How to Become a Writer,” I wrote:

…to be a writer, there are many other things you cannot be, or do, or have.  To read a book, for instance, means, decidedly, to not do something else.  Those are many many something else’s you won’t be doing, including spending time with other human beings…

Of all the people I’ve known who tried to become writers, many have not become writers…most people don’t fail to become writers because they can’t become writers; rather, at some point, it becomes clear all the things you cannot be (or have or do) if you become a writer. And so a choice is made, or a series of choices, whether or not the person thinks it was a matter of choice (it was).

A commentor on the essay wrote this:

I am a mum of a toddler, and my biggest niggle is the thought that the hours I spend writing are hours of his life I will have missed forever…is missing out on even an hour of it worth some story that may or may not be any good?…  I started my story when my child was 18 months and became more manageable; but it’s taken me 8 months to write 5 chapters. My second child is due in 5 months. When will my story ever be finished?

I read many opinions by people who would see my approach as not being dedicated to my writing. That I’m not taking it seriously, that I’m not writing fast enough. In their opinion, I might as well not bother at all.

…I defy anyone who hasn’t seen my 14 versions of Chapter 1 to say I don’t take my writing as seriously as someone who is writing to be published. It is an insult to the time I steal away from my precious child to do it.

III.
The painter Agnes Martin said to Susan York, a sculptor who’d sought out Martin as a mentor: “Never have children. Do not live the middle-class life. Never do anything that will take away from your work.” York wrote about it in 2005 (the conversation happened in 1983).  I was 32 in 2005, I still “had time.”  And yet the words burned on my brain even then.

IV.
So I pay attention to these things.  I mine for family status in the biographies of women artists and writers. If a prolific, successful woman has children, I (uncharitably, self-pityingly) think to myself, “She must have a husband who makes money.”

Joyce Carol Oates, arguably the most prolific female novelist of her generation, does not have children.

The visionary Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva had three children and an unstable husband who was eventually arrested and shot for espionage.  She was primary parent, primary breadwinner, and always poor (this was Russia after the Revolution, after all) despite her rising prominence as a literary figure.  One of her daughters starved to death in an orphanage.  Her relationship with the two other children, Ariadna and Georgy, was fraught and intense, as Ariadna, whose memoirs have been published, describes in detail.  Tsvetaeva committed suicide at the age of 49.

Flannery O’Connor did not have children.

Anne Lamott was a single mother and poor; her son Sam became the subject of one of her most well-known and best-selling books, Operating Instructions.  He appears often in her nonfiction.

Notable in the first volume of Susan Sontag’s published journals, Reborn, are scant mentions of her son David (Rieff).  When she does write about him, she admits that when he is out of sight, he is out of mind, or wonders if she should give him up.  She left her marriage for intellectual ambition, for self-realization, for freedom.  She did not seem to want to be a mother, even as she was clear that “Of all the people I have loved, [David] is least of all a mental object of love, most intensely real.”

coverMeg Wolitzer, like Anne Lamott, channeled motherhood into art.  The Ten-Year Nap is a novel both satirical and empathetic, about affluent women who stay at home with their children and never go back to work.  The book is not “a somber meditation on motherhood versus work,” Wolitzer said.  “I really want the novel to be about motherhood and work, and also about female ambition and what happens to it over time.”

Marilynne Robinson has two sons.  But she keeps her distance from media and interviews and doesn’t typically talk about her personal life.  In an interview with The Times Online (UK), she rejects the notion of being a writer as a full-time job: “I think ‘writer’ is a toxic word. I’m a writer when I’m writing something. The rest of the time I like to put that word aside.”  Most acclaimed for her novels, she’s written three of them in 28 years, with 23 years between the first and the second. Was she focused on her children?  Her teaching? Slow-simmering Gilead for all those years? All of the above? She is someone I wish would speak or write publicly about motherhood and art.

Jane Kenyon did not have children.  If she were alive, I would want to ask her about this.

Sylvia Plath… well, no need to dredge up Sylvia Plath.  But let’s just say that, between Plath and Tsvetaeva, the argument that children anchor the artist, ground her in some way, does not always hold.

V.
The truth is that empathy is difficult when it comes to the modern parent/non-parent divide, and perhaps the chasm deepens when it comes to artists and writers. In a recent article in The Atlantic Monthly about Helen Gurley Brown and Elizabeth Edwards, Caitlin Flanagan wrote, “…until you’ve [had a child of your own], you’re just guessing about love, gesturing toward it, assuming that it’s the right name for a feeling you’ve had.” At first I was bludgeoned; I thought, Oh shit.  But then, realizing what she was saying, I thought, Fuck you.  To imply that a person without children has not loved, does not know the meaning of love… that goes too far.  Way too far.

It’s true that making art is selfish; I make art, I write, ultimately, for myself.  In a recent interview, Lorrie Moore said something that resonated with me:

The detachment of the artist is kind of creepy. It’s kind of rude, and yet really it’s where art comes from. It’s not the same as courage. It’s closer to bad manners than to courage. [...] There’s a certain indefensibility about it. It’s not about loving your community and taking care of it; you’re not attached to the chamber of commerce.

But 1) “selfish” gets a bad rap; what we mean, what I mean, is that writing is my nourishment, my food for life; and 2) parenting strikes me as selfish, sometimes narcissistic, in its own particular way.  Both endeavors require great sacrifices.

I have no grand conclusions here.  I hope writers will talk and write about this more.  I enjoyed Emily St. John Mandel’s recent essay about day jobs, and the children question seems to me a kind of inextricable addendum to that conversation: are you having to pay your bills alone or with a partner? Is your time committed to family, in addition to day-work and writing-work? Are you responsible for anyone other than yourself?  By choice?  By not-choice? Whatever the case, it’s bizarre, and confusing, and stressful.  I wish you the best.

[Image credit: Chris "Mojo" Denbow]





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27 Responses to “The Mommy Problem”

  1. Edan Lepucki
    at 9:47 am on October 16, 2009

    A thoughtful essay, Sonya! I’ve heard a few female writers say having children has helped their writing because it focused their time to work. When you only have an hour to work, you make the most of it! A recent interview with Chabon at the LA Times blog Jacket Copy touches on this topic. He talks about how sending the kids off to school is a great gift…but also talks about his struggles to write based on that schedule.
    I will be thinking about this essay and its questions…

  2. Barrett Hathcock
    at 10:55 am on October 16, 2009

    I agree that Flanagan has it wrong in that quotation. In fact, using the word “love” is hardly helpful. It’s a loose, flabby word–an old pair of sweatpants type of word, stretched out to fit anyone inside it.

    But there is an idea buried inside that quotation that is not so easily dismissible, and that is that there are certain experiences in life which alter you irrevocably and cannot be understood sufficiently before you’ve had that experience.

    What are the experiences? I’d say they are: sex, marriage (or, if you prefer, cohabitation, but I still think it’s fundamentally different when a breakup entails a lawyer, not just a moving van), becoming a parent, and losing a parent. You can imagine what it will be like to have these experiences, but it will not be the same. You will merely be watching balloons in the sky; you won’t be in them.

    And those of us out there who have children will always look back across the continental divide to the childless and grin to ourselves and say, Yes, we once thought that way, too. We will read lines like, “writing is my nourishment,” and think: Oh, how cute! Writing sentences like giving little vitamins to yourself!

    Around my house, we drink milk.

    –Barrett Hathcock

  3. Lydia Kiesling
    at 11:59 am on October 16, 2009

    Great work, Sonya. This piece the antedote to a really aggravating thing I read on Slate’s womb blog recently (Double X, it’s cunningly called) that said, basically, “my baby is better than drugs, feminists hate babies; no woman would rather write The House of Mirth than have a super awesome little baby like i have.” That one made me want to get a hysterectomy on principle.

    I don’t think you can draw a conclusion one way or the other; for every female artist who had a baby and fucked up her art, there’s a woman who had the baby, wrote the novel, had a great time, and another one who had a novel and fucked up her baby.

    I don’t want to denigrate the experience of the great multitude of devoted and hard-working dad/artists or would-be artists, but I note that the “either/or” dichotomy is invoked ever so much more often with regard to women. I have no idea whether or not John Updike or Nabokov were good dads. My guess, maybe unfairly, would be no, because they were too busy being superb artists, but the question never seems to come up in discussion about their work, and if it does, it’s not important . It’s like a fun anecdote you could tell someone at a bar. “Him? What a writer! Never changed a diaper, though.”

  4. Lydia Kiesling
    at 12:13 pm on October 16, 2009

    Me again. Maybe there were more women artists who fucked up their kids, or whose art suffered because they tried to do both. But what I am trying to say is a) that happens because the burden of child-rearing has, historically, been entirely on the mother and b) it is only a topic of interest (as opposed to male novelist’s parenting abilities), because the burden of child-rearing has, historically, been entirely on the mother.

    If your relationship is conducted along more progressive lines, with the sharing of household and parenting duties and what-not, then it’s a different scenario. (Although, the second shift is still a very real phenomenon.)

  5. Lydia Kiesling
    at 12:18 pm on October 16, 2009

    I just realized I completely ignored the whole of single parents, of either gender, who are working harder than anybody.

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  7. Anne K. Yoder
    at 12:56 pm on October 16, 2009

    Sonya, your essay had me running to my bookshelves. Colette always comes to mind when I think of writing and motherhood, as an example of a mother who perhaps shouldn’t have had children. She resisted what she called “the maternal yoke,” generally neglected her daughter, went back to working eleven-hour days rather quickly after giving birth, and and only lived with her daughter “for the odd month in summer.” Judith Thurman’s biography of Colette, Secrets of the Flesh, quotes her as saying: “My strain of virility saved me from the dangers which threatens the writer, elevated to a happy and tender parent, of becoming a mediocre author.”

    Thurman also writes, while reflecting on Colette and motherhood: “If the enjoyment of an exciting sex life has never been incompatible with the production of a distinguished ouvre, motherhood is a different matter. For the last two centuries, a striking number of literary women–among them the greatest ones–have been childless.” In the endnotes, Thurman lists Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rosetti, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Isak Dinesen, Katherine Mansfield, Edith Wharton, Djuna Barnes, Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Weil, Willa Cather, Carson McCullers, Marianne Moore, Hilda Dolittle, Sigrid Undset, Eudora Welty, among others.

    And Lydia, your comment about not knowing whether great male writers are good fathers is interesting and apt. It made me think of Alexandra Styron’s essay about her father, William Styron, “Reading My Father,” which ran in the New Yorker a few years ago. She wrote “He was not an engaged parent: he didn’t eat dinner with us or attend school plays. He never threw a ball, built a tree house, or tucked us into bed. I can’t remember him teaching me how to do anything except open a wine bottle, a job that I did on my tiptoes with great dedication each night before I went to bed.” Her mother was also a writer, a poet, but she also played the role of holding the family together. The comments section on J.R. Lennon’s recent post at Ward Six “How much of your life should writing take up?” also touches on the balance of writing and family, but with a greater inclination towards family and finding a balance. It seems to me that after you have children, you inherently have more responsibilities and less time for yourself. This can end up making your writing time more precious and more productive but it can also (like Colette) make you resentful. For Colette, having a daughter was certainly not her greatest happiness. In fact, Thurman writes Colette’s daughter “ [made] herself exist for her mother the only way she can: by becoming her greatest disappointment.”

  8. Drew
    at 1:22 pm on October 16, 2009

    I’m sad to find that Tillie Olson’s Silences has not been mentioned. It should be read by all, especially when thinking of this subject.

  9. avp
    at 3:41 pm on October 16, 2009

    It’s really good to see this topic brought up, and interesting to see it from the perspective of a non-parent. Most feminist or women’s issues blogs I follow approach these sorts of questions from a maternal/potential parent perspective.

    I wonder then if the creative professions are less commensurate with child-bearing. I have always been envious of women who are able to do both, and have seen both successful and unsuccessful attempts.

    I think there is something to the double-shift comparison that someone made above, but, in a much more pervasive way – both on a physical and economical level.

  10. Emily St. John Mandel
    at 10:29 pm on October 16, 2009

    Great essay, Sonya. This is something I think about a lot. One reason I don’t have children is because I cannot imagine how I would write, hold down a dayjob, and raise a child all at once, and I know the writing would be the first to go.

  11. Sonya
    at 10:22 am on October 17, 2009

    Tillie Olsen, yes. Thanks for that, Drew. There are so many examples (thanks, Anne) and really, every woman is her own example, finding her way through these choices and struggles. As for men… It does now occur to me that Stephen’s words didn’t elicit much response possibly because they were coming from a male; which is too bad, because I think a productive/creative way forward might well be to make this a decidedly co-ed conversation, even while recognizing that women do have distinct challenges to navigate.

  12. Lee
    at 3:15 pm on October 17, 2009

    There are many different kinds of love, and though I can only speak for myself, I understood nothing about the deeply ambivalent nature of love for one’s children until I had my own.

    And by the way, I only started writing seriously after mine were starting to leave home.

  13. Tom
    at 2:30 am on October 18, 2009

    It’s funny, but not altogether surprising, that the issue of child-rearing versus artistic endeavor would be approached from the feminine side. Faulkner, in a possibly apocryphal anecdote, upon his daughter’s birthday (when she begged him not to get drunk in front of her guests) is said to have replied: “No one remembers Shakespeare’s daughter.” The only reason we obsessively meditate on the proper relationship between creative endeavor and “proper” child-rearing is because we have the middle-class leisure to do so, and buy-in to the 21st century notion that there is some golden mean of balancing work with family. Hemingway and Hadley left their infant to be cared for by a cat while they went out partying in Paris. This question extends (or should) far beyond “writers.” How many people have neglectful parents? There are as many bankers or orthodontists who didn’t turn out great novels whose children would still point the finger of improper nurture squarely in their parents’ face.

  14. Sonya
    at 4:16 pm on October 18, 2009

    Hmm… I’m not sure that concern for the health and well-being of one’s children (in conflict with work) is a 21st-century, middle-class phenomenon. I know what you’re getting at, in terms of the potentially whiny conversation that could ensue; but I think this conflict is as old as women working. It’s just that women had no forum for expressing the difficulties.

    And when it seems easy to dismiss these questions as those of weak-willed, thin-skinned complainers, I think of my mother’s reaction to the modern woman’s conundrum: she raised three children, close in age, with little money, all by herself (no male assistance, no extended family), cloth diapers and all. She too tells stories of leaving the 4 year-old at home while running to the store with the two younger ones. But when she considers what women are trying to do these days–the complications, the doing it all–she says she feels sorry for us; she says it’s much harder for women today because of all the conflicts, inner and outer.

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  16. Julie
    at 4:26 pm on October 19, 2009

    Great, great essay. Jhumpa Lahiri immediately came to mind — as an excellent example of a woman who successfully balances her family life with her writing life. She’s arguably one of the best female writers writing today (see her Pulitzer Prize), and yet she has two small children. I was appalled when, at a reading, an older gentleman asked her if she “felt like she was a bad mother” because she left her children while on her book tour. A male writer would never, ever be asked such a question.

  17. Charlotte
    at 11:36 am on October 20, 2009

    Great article and great comments! Thank you for adressing the subject so intelligently and sensitively.
    I think I want to bring some level of support to Tom here, in that “involved child rearing” is definitely a 20th century phenomenon. Have you never be surprised to read about how the rich, who could have been the only ones to afford “quality time” with their children, did not do so in say the 16th or 17th century? For one thing a child was considered a little animal for quite a few years, and it was certainly admissible to send “it” to be raised in the countryside by a less wealthy family, and then when the child came back, to let him be basically raised by domestics. There was an excellent article in the New Yorker a few weeks back about the “invention” of the “how to educate a child” industry.
    Just because it is recent does not necessarily mean it is a bad thing! In fact, I think that is great for those women for whom “having a child” will be one of the great transformative experience. That’s not all of us, though — in answer to Barrett Hathcock, I would say that the four experiences you picked are certainly important for many, but not necessarily the most important for all…
    I do not believe that there is a kernel in each experience that everybody lives in the same way: there are many, many ways to be affected by having childrenm and many ways to not be all that affected; and depending one your life, the “great experience” will be different ones. You may have to immigrate to another country, whose language and culture make everyday an experience in alienation; you may know war, or be raped, or many other experiences I cannot imagine anyone would say are “less important” than procreating. My own belief (and hope) is that literature actually does allow us to understand human experiences at a very visceral level, even if we haven’t had them. This is why I read, why I write — so I can be not only Mme Bovary, but also Rodolphe, and Hemingway, and sometimes, a mother. But not most of the time, thank you very much.

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  20. Stephanie Deutsch
    at 12:24 pm on October 27, 2009

    A detail — the great Sigrid Undset was not childless — she had three step children and three children of her own. As far as I can tell, she managed to be a devoted mother AND a great writer which, I think all would agree, is a feat. both her enthusiasm for motherhood and her conviction that it’s not a woman’s ultimate identity come through loud and clear in Kristin Lavransdatter.

  21. Sonya
    at 9:25 pm on October 27, 2009

    Charlotte, thank you for this, which I think bears repeating:

    “I do not believe that there is a kernel in each experience that everybody lives in the same way: there are many, many ways to be affected by having children, and many ways to not be all that affected; and depending on your life, the “great experience” will be different ones. You may have to immigrate to another country, whose language and culture make everyday an experience in alienation; you may know war, or be raped, or many other experiences I cannot imagine anyone would say are “less important” than procreating.”

  22. Barrett Hathcock
    at 11:53 pm on October 27, 2009

    In response to Charlotte, and Sonya’s reposting of Charlotte, I do not intend to say that everyone experiences parenthood in the same way–that there is some universal Parenthood Kernel of Experience. Of course, there are many ways to be affected by having children, probably as many ways as there are parents. However, I can’t imagine how one would have children and “not be all that affected.” That sounds ludicrous, like jumping out of a plane and saying that it felt vaguely breezy. I was attempting to make the point that having children is an experience that outruns your imagination of it. How you think children will affect you and how they actually affect you when they’re here, running around with their sticky hot hands, will be different. The value of that experience is easy to disregard when you haven’t had the experience.

    And of course there are many other experiences that have the same atom-smashing power–all the ones that you mention. We could all think of many more. The four I came up with are necessarily provisional. I’m not deluded into thinking that everyone is going through some first-world sitcom. And I’m not trying to argue that parenthood is somehow “more important” than some other life-changing experience. (How would one even begin to quantify such importance anyway?)

    My main disagreement is with Sonya’s too quick flaying of the Flanagan quotation and the segue into defending selfishness. She writes:

    “But 1) “selfish” gets a bad rap; what we mean, what I mean, is that writing is my nourishment, my food for life; and 2) parenting strikes me as selfish, sometimes narcissistic, in its own particular way. Both endeavors require great sacrifices.”

    What I disagree with here is the embrace, but then demure refusal, of selfishness. She begins to defend Lorrie Moore’s notion of artistic selfishness but quickly hides under the metaphor of writing as nourishment, which is false and unhelpful. Writing is not nourishment; that’s a self-aggrandizing metaphor. The next step in that logic is to say, “I am a Writer and so I must do this to live.”

    And here I should admit that I don’t believe that there are people who are out living in the world who are Writers, like there are grizzly bears and bluebirds. There is no such thing as a Writer. (This is a comforting myth, a clever diminishment of artistic talent and effort into an almost genetic marker, as if writing a novel were like having really good hair.) Instead, there are people who write–people who make the conscious decision to do one activity (writing) over another activity (having a job, cleaning the house, becoming a parent, etc.) It’s much more constructive, I think, to talk about it as a deliberate activity with costs and benefits than to fall back on plush Romantic notions of writing as tapping into some clogged-up word vein.

    If you want to defend selfishness, then defend it. Embrace it. Say that you are choosing writing over having children, and that you are doing this because writing is more important to you than children. That doesn’t even strike me as selfish; that strikes me as honest.

    –Barrett Hathcock

    p.s. Cynthia Ozick is a pertinent writer to bring to this discussion, as she has approached this debate from many angles. See her essays on Henry James and in particular “On Permission to Write” in Metaphor & Memory.

  23. Anne K. Yoder
    at 3:00 pm on October 28, 2009

    Stephanie, you are right about Undset having three children. Her should be struck from the list of women writers without children that I copied here (though I double checked, and it was listed with the others in the endnotes of Secrets of the Flesh). The thought of balancing writing and having children is slightly less daunting with a list that’s one name shorter… I’d be interested to see a list of the opposite as well. Rebecca West had children, as does the rather prolific Alice Munro.

  24. Sonya Chung
    at 12:56 pm on October 29, 2009

    Hi Barrett — a few clarifications: I am not choosing writing over children, nor suggesting anyone else do so. I am saying it’s a confusing and difficult situation to have to make such a “decision” at all; and responding to any implication that having children is a “superior” state to all others. So I think we don’t fundamentally disagree on that.

    I do disagree that “writing is not nourishment” — for me, personally. I also disagree that there is no such thing as a Writer. Probably not worth arguing over, that indeed is a fundamental disagreement.

    I also do think that “selfishness” is complex and nuanced, especially for women. Maybe the better word is self-centeredness, contra selflessness — the latter can ultimately mean a lack of self, which is ambiguous in terms of positive or negative or healthy or noble or what. And women — moms, included — often I think get caught in the tangle of what centering on or tending to “self” means, good or bad or just honest. So I’ll stand by that “dance” you perceive me doing around “selfishness.” I think it’s a problematic word, and notion.

    A couple of reads that might be of interest to those engaged in these challenging experiences and ideas: Kate Walbert’s “A Short History of Women” and Tillie Olsen’s “Silences.”

  25. Sarah McCoy
    at 3:05 pm on October 29, 2009

    Halleluiah, Sonya!

    Thanks for being brave enough to tackle this topic in your original post AND to compassionately respond to the barrage of comments. I immediately identified with this topic as a married female author consistently put to the Baby Question. I wholeheartedly agree with you. It is “a confusing and difficult situation” for all women of today’s “quite so conscious” generation. Your post was thoughtful and well written. I also agree with your comment that writing IS a kind of nourishment. No, it may not be breast milk, but we all know there are different kinds of human ‘nourishment’. I call my stories/novels my “babies,” and I get a lot of blank stares from people. I know they’re thinking, ‘She doesn’t get it.’ Well, surprise, surprise, I’m thinking, ‘They don’t get it.’ To an artist of any medium, each work is a kind of mini-birth. I hear many, many of my mommy friends talk about children “fulfilling” their life and giving them “purpose,” etc. I don’t share this need/want/sentiment. So I guess sign me up to be your “selfishness” dance partner.

    But if/when I or you decide to have a child, I can bet money we’ll love our kids beyond all measure… because we’ll have absolutely no regrets. We’ll know what we’re signing up for, embrace it, and be the kinds of thoughtful parents this world could use a few more of.

    Thanks again for putting into words the back-n-forth debate so many of us face.

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  27. Katy
    at 1:12 pm on December 8, 2009

    I really enjoyed this essay. It’s an issue that I wish we didn’t have to think about so much. The thing is, I would much rather my children see me working on something I’m passionate about, rather than see me working all day in a job that, while it pays the bills, is just that, something to pay the bills. I want them to see that making dreams come true is hard work, but if you’re dedicated to it and passionate enough about it, you can make it happen. Kids learn a lot from watching what their parents do, I know I did. So, yes, my writing does take time away from the limited about of time I have with my kids, but, really, in the long run, I’m doing it for them.

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