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A Question of Balance

November 18th, 2004 · No Comments

I like to write. But I’ve been afraid to let myself do it. I find that writing can consume me. I fear that if I open the door and start stories again, I won’t be a good wife or parent. Both mothering and writing seem insatiable to me. I could never give enough time and energy for either one.

Reading A Question of Balance by Judith Pierce Rosenberg helped me realize that I am not alone in my struggles. Published in 1995, the book may be a bit dated. But the interviews with artists and writers on motherhood still speak powerfully. Looking inside others lives, seeing what choices they had made and what fit their families helped me consider my own situation.

When children were young, moms worked on their art
1) during night and naptimes
2) by hiring babysitters or au pair to take care of the kids
3) by going on a retreat away from the home
4) when daddy/partner could help

A supportive and understanding partner seemed crucial, although many of the women in the book had spent some time as single parents.

Yet various artists agreed that even if the husband and wife switched traditional roles, often the mother would say that she was still the one who ended up scheduling dentist appointments and taking care of other practical matters.

I noted that writing mothers said that poems and short stories were easier to fit into the lifestyle of young children than novels.

Many artists seemed unprepared for the demands of motherhood. One referred to it as a “tidal wave”.

Mothers said that they had to learn how to turn “off” the creative process and to restrict it to certain hours, working within a schedule. My summary of the advice given and stories shared: Expect changes. Adjust internal clock. Be flexible.

When kids became old enough for school, then many could return to a more intense level of artistic involvement. One family homeschooled, incorporating everyone in the process of creating sculptures. Other moms described hiding away in an office, working on writing, allowing the children to amuse themselves at times.

Questions that came to mind while reading this book:
Can an artist prepare herself for motherhood? How?
How does an artist balance creating art with raising children?
What does it take to run a household?
How to balance being emotionally available for children yet having freedom to do art?

Although I am not pursuing my art at this time, I was grateful to know that other women had similiar struggles trying to balance the intensity of creativity and parenting.

I enjoy examining others lives and learning what solutions they found. Families aren’t identical and what works for one may not work for another. But I like to learn what each family has found that fits them.

Again, I sensed that some of the “balance” concerned lifestyle choices. One writer mentioned that she shopped at thrift stores and had made significant financial decisions in order to pursue writing. Some of life is not under our control, but some areas can be planned, or at least chosen with some thought of possible consequence.

Ted and I, before we were married, began to discuss how we would live when we had children. It hasn’t turned out exactly as we imagined. But I’m glad we talked about what we wanted to do and had a plan in place.

Another issue that many artists mentioned was the line between public and private, when to include their children in art. For some moms this was easier than for others. My own fiction often contains elements of my family. But I have hesitated to write details of my daughters into my works.

I think I bought this book for 50 cents at a library sale and I didn’t have many expectations. But for the cost of two quarters I received encouragement, inspiration and conviction. After reading about others, I’ve become content with the limitations on my life , knowing I am not alone, and I’ve started thinking about starting to write stories again. Any mother who is trying to fit both family and art into her life should read this book.

A few quotes that inspired me…

Ursula K. LeGuin on page 250: “I wrote like a man for years…I’m still learning how to write fully as a woman…”

Jane Yolen:
“When I’m concentrating on my writing, the house could burn down around me and I might not notice.”
“One has to find ways of using the bits and pieces of time.”
“You find ways to do your writing.”

“Don’t santize your feelings; don’t be sentimental. The culture has plenty of sentimentalized versions of motherhood. What we need is reality – …”Alicia Suskin Ostriker page 179

“What I actually had to do was make a choice: whether I was going to be a writer or a mother. I made the decision that it was more important that I be Gabrielle’s mother than that I be a writer… And after I made that decision, very shortly thereafter, I learned how to write on a coherent schedule. I learned how to do both.” – Kate Braverman 115

“Many of my most vexing problems could be solved by Mary Poppins. It’s not the spiritual or emotional demands of motherhood that I find exhausting, it’s keeping track of everything.” – Mary Gordon 93

“I remember when my baby was about six weeks old, I had to go to the National Book Awards, which you would think would be a real apogee in your life,” says Garcia, whose novel was among those nominated for the prestigious annual prize. “And yet, I didn’t even feel like going. The baby was so tiny and I knew that she would prefer to be with me than with anybody else, and that was good enough reason not to want to go. In fact the whole time I was there, I was swelling up with breast milk and uncomfortable and calling home every ten minutes; it was something I couldn’t even enjoy very much – such was the force and the power of the bonding,” she recalls.
– Cristina Garcia, page 44

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