It’s kind of a no-brainer to say that things change when you become a parent. Sometimes the changes are the ones you expect; sometimes not. The thing is that it seems like the only time people talk about this phenomenon is when it applies to mothers. Case in point: an article originally published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that popped up in my Google alert last night when it was reprinted in another paper. The article was originally written the day before Mother’s Day, which I suppose explains why it focuses solely on mothers who are writers and not parents of both genders. Still, it rankled to read sentences like this:
But motherhood does things to writers – from stealing their time to swelling their emotions to making them silly and dizzy with this strange, overwhelming protective love for another human. They’d often rather be with this human who’s taken over their life, their thoughts, their fears. And yet, there is their artistic impulse, a call so strong they cannot go long without yielding to its siren song.
Wait, huh? “Swelling their emotions” and “making them silly and dizzy”? That’s either a colossally bad choice of words, or writer Geeta Sharma-Jensen truly believes that women are carried away by fluctuating emotions the moment they become mothers. It also implies that every single writer who happens to be a mother is inevitably going to have their writing style overtly influenced by parenthood. And what’s with calling a child someone who has “taken over their life”? This piece is basically saying that women who write after succumbing to maternal instinct are performing the literary equivalent of drunk driving. It could just be called Writing Under the Influence.
Look, motherhood can be a key component in women’s lives. God knows that it was foremost in my thoughts when I was prepping to have my own wee bairn. But I don’t think it had any demonstrable effect on my writing. In fact, I think my fellow Harpies would wonder what the fuck was happening if I suddenly started writing nonstop about how “silly and dizzy” I felt whenever I touched my stomach, or if I only wrote about things related to motherhood, or if I became a totally different person under the influence of motherhood. Maybe instead of sarah.of.a.lesser.god, I would be expected to become sarah.of.a.greater.hormonal.imbalance. Doesn’t sound very catchy, does it?
Some of the writers quoted in the piece sound far more reasonable than Sharma-Jensen would make them out to be:
“Before, I understood the mother-child relationship from the children’s point of view,” says novelist and children’s author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, the mother of two sons. “(But) as soon as they were born, I had firsthand experience of how a mother feels. And so, more children began to appear in my poems and stories.”
Okay, that makes sense. A lot of people write what they know, so Divakaruni’s progression towards including more children in her work is understandable. But Sharma-Jensen also wonders if novels such as A Map of the World and The Deep End of the Ocean were motivated by the authors’ status as mothers: “Were those novels prompted by a subconscious fear of losing a child?” Well, maybe. Then again, maybe Lord of the Rings was prompted by J.R.R. Tolkien’s subconscious fear of a giant flaming eyeball and long-buried desire for tiny people with hairy feet. In other words, women can write about motherhood without it being an explicit representation of their own personal experiences. Motherhood is not a monolithic entity that every woman handles the same way, and not every writer who is a mother channels their energies in the way that Sharma-Jensen purports they do. Mothers, like all women, are individuals. What a concept.
(Side note: Has anyone ever seen an article talking about this concept within the structure of fatherhood? I honestly have never seen it. But I’ve also never seen men described as being “silly and dizzy” over paternity. Yeah, I can’t help but come back to that phrase; it really pisses me off.)