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Why being a Mother is like being a writer

In honour of the day, I decided that I would write a little post about the two things I do that take up most of my time. I realized as I started that, in fact, they're similar in many ways. So:

Being a mother is like being a writer. Most of mothering resembles the middle-of-the-book that you are currently writing.

1. You start out with an idea, and a fully formed sense of character and (admittedly) a sense of plot and how things are going to go. It is both exciting and slightly intimidating, but the weight is on the excitement. You know all the ways in which you will improve on all the previous output you've perused. You are going to do better than those other people because you are going to work bloody hard.

2. But then your character immediately rejects your fabulous and sensible ideas, often in ways which seem -- from the outside -- to be tantamount to suicide. Attempting to get your character to conform to your initial idea requires a heavy-handedness which will stifle the growth of said character, and leave you with a story that is much darker and much less sui generis than you would want. So, you accept that this is one of those book-eating characters who must be allowed to dictate far more of the story than you thought. (And if you were thinking, you would have known this because in hindsight it makes more structural sense).

3. You never entirely know what you're doing. You improve with time. You choose -- and use -- better words, especially as your child begins to understand them (and usually before your child can come up with words of his or her own). But you always feel on the cusp of things, you always feel like you're almost there, that as a parent, you're almost good enough, and if you could just find the energy or the time, you would finally be a good mother. You never arrive. It's an ongoing struggle.

4. You never have enough time to give to the project. Book or child.

If you work full-time, you feel guilty because someone else is raising your child, and if your work is stressful, when you come home you feel guilty because it's late, and you can barely muster the mental energy to interact and play.

If you stay at home full-time, you feel guilty because you aren't certain that your children will be able to do the same in their future, and you wonder at the example you're setting for them economically, and because you can't be on the entire time, because you're human and you need down time, you distrust a lot of the activities that you do engage in.

If you work part-time you feel guilty because you feel like you're doing a half-assed job of everything.

In other words, you can't win; you look at the work in progress, and you pull out your hair, and you imagine that any one of the other states would somehow be better than the one you're currently in.

5. When you send your child to school, you will have to deal with a bunch of people who also have a strong interest in his or her future performance. And just as you cannot choose your cover artist or your sales reps, you also don't get to choose your child's teachers or principals. Your revision letter will be the first requested parent-teacher interview, and the teacher will very tactfully tell you the ways in which your submission is not clear enough to readers. This will be hard, because sometimes she will be wrong. But sometimes you will be wrong. It is best if possible to understand that she wants what you want: that your child do well, and that hitting her over the head with a chair, while it may be your first impulse (and may well be hers) will not actually accomplish this goal.

Plus, it sets a bad example for your child, and parenting from jail is hard.

7. While there is no copy-editor for you as a mother, there are people in your life who you trust to be sensible and rational, and to point out the things you missed or flubbed. They are not as obvious, because they can't write all over your child in sharp pencil, and you will still have to STET things, but you will appreciate their input and their engagement and you will respond to their queries as if your life depended on it. You will, however, have to work, at times, to appreciate their input.

8. When people know you're a mother, they will come up to you at parties to tell you all about their big ideas on how to be a mother. They will not, however, offer to split the proceeds of their ideas 50/50.

9. When you go out with your child, and your child is now under public scrutiny, people will randomly review you. They will tell you what you are doing wrong. They will tell you that if you were a good parent your child would wear his hat/walk in the stroller/eat all the food on his plate/obey you without hesitation/and never ever have a tantrum in a public place. They will also tell you that if you were a better parent and did what all the other parents do, your child would be popular, and if he or she is not, it is your fault. This can be discouraging.

But it is best not to engage with reviewers. It is best not to say "but if you truly understood my child, you would see things differently" because, in the very long run, it will be up to your child to foster that understanding, and in the end, not everyone who views him will arrive at it. You do. Sometimes, you cling to that with whatever faith you can muster, and you continue.

10. When someone hurts your child, it hurts. There is no way around this. The very hard part is accepting that your child will have to learn to deal with pain, and that the only way to protect them from experiencing pain is to put them away in a drawer and never let them see the light of day. Letting your fear for your child close off avenues because of the possibility of pain means that your child will not have those same avenues to the possibility of joy. (This does not mean physical pain or beatings or deliberate emotional abuse and things that are actually close to life-threatening because those, you avoid as if your life depended on it.)

11. But... sometimes, just sometimes, at your child's concert, or at the park when he stops to help another crying child get down from the monkey-bars without any prompting from you, you will pause, and you will look at him, and you will see him. You will see him as he is, not as you intended him to be, and you will see that what he is, is beautiful, and you will feel, for just a moment, that you did something right, that in spite of the fact that you lost control of your words or you let a scene play out badly, you've managed to achieve something incredibly precious and beautiful.

And maybe other people won't see him that way. Maybe they won't experience it the way you hoped it would be experienced. But for that moment, it doesn't matter, because for that moment, being a mother is the best job in the world.


( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 11th, 2008 07:26 pm (UTC)
This is one of the most beautiful and resonant to me comparisons of writing to something else that I've read in a long time, and also, these are all things that I needed to hear today, both as a writer and as a mother.

Thank you.
(Deleted comment)
May. 11th, 2008 07:41 pm (UTC)
Here via rarelytame. This post is beautiful, and so perfectly *true* that it made me cry. Thank you so much for writing this...
May. 11th, 2008 07:51 pm (UTC)
I loved this post. Thank you.
May. 11th, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC)
Here via sartorias.

Beautiful. Thank you.
May. 11th, 2008 08:14 pm (UTC)
Here via sartorias.

Oh, this is just beautiful. Thank you. :-)
May. 11th, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC)
Hi, I'm Sophy. I came over from rarelytame's post.

This is a wonderful post. All of it is true. Thank you for writing it. I've never felt anything resonate so strongly with me.

Happy Mother's Day!
May. 11th, 2008 09:02 pm (UTC)
Fantastic post. Thank you for this one.
May. 11th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful post. Thank you. :)
May. 11th, 2008 09:56 pm (UTC)
Here via kateelliott.

This is a wonderful, wonderful post. People are always talking about books being like children, and I'm always talking about how my characters don't cooperate the way I wish they would, but I've never seen anyone put it so perfectly. Thank you.
May. 11th, 2008 10:13 pm (UTC)
This is one of the best pieces I have ever read about parenting. Thank you :-)
May. 11th, 2008 10:14 pm (UTC)
here via rj_anderson

What a lovely posting. It's a shame my own mother just walked out the door to go running. I think she would most appreciate number 5, having been on both sides of the parent-teacher interview desk. Thank you.
May. 11th, 2008 10:50 pm (UTC)
This is the best post about writing/parenting I've read in a very long time. Thank you for sharing it.
May. 11th, 2008 11:21 pm (UTC)
Happy Mother's Day. =)
May. 12th, 2008 12:03 am (UTC)
Oh, spot on. In every single way. Thanks.
May. 12th, 2008 12:48 am (UTC)
One of the best writing metaphors I've seen in ... like... well, I guess technically forever.

You made my Mother's Day. Which is really quite hard to do. :)
May. 12th, 2008 02:03 am (UTC)

Happy Mother's Day.
May. 12th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
Agreeing with everybody above me. Wonderful post. Even being childless, this struck a deep chord with me. Thank you!
May. 12th, 2008 02:38 am (UTC)
Exactly. I sent it on to my mother who had to be told how great a job she did. She couldn't see it for herself.
May. 12th, 2008 03:22 am (UTC)
Absolutely beautiful <3 I hope your Mother's day was just as nice as your writing ;)
May. 12th, 2008 03:35 am (UTC)
Nodded, agreed, laughed out loud in places, and thought quietly about others.

This was really very very good.

"at the park when he stops to help another crying child get down from the monkey bars..."

To pursue this observation/theme: your older voluntarily spent *two hours* yesterday taking both of my kids on bouncy rides at the fair. It's so amazing to me to know that I can let him do that, he seems to *want* to do that, and everyone is going to have a great time. Who would ever had guessed he'd do that when I first met him, all of six months old, and dressed in a purple sleeper with white stars on it?
May. 12th, 2008 05:18 am (UTC)
Here via sartorias, also.



Yup, know just what you mean. I hope your Mother's Day was just lovely. :)
May. 12th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
I nodded a lot through this too. Thank you.
May. 12th, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)
Here via the_red_shoes ... I really enjoyed this, and the ending (#10+11) particularly struck me.
May. 12th, 2008 05:14 pm (UTC)
May. 12th, 2008 08:11 pm (UTC)
Loved reading this, and
"It is best if possible to understand that she wants what you want: that your child do well, and that hitting her over the head with a chair, while it may be your first impulse (and may well be hers) will not actually accomplish this goal.

Plus, it sets a bad example for your child, and parenting from jail is hard."

is so funny and perfect.
Hee! Thank you.
May. 13th, 2008 02:14 am (UTC)
I'm not sure if this is a better explanation of your sons or your books.
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )