Can grandmothers be great writers? Can women who are fully dedicated to caring for their families also reach the highest level of their profession? Can they have deep thoughts? Can they create lasting works of art?
Some recent articles from women who are fed up with their domestic lives suggest the answer is almost never. Honor Jones, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, recently wrote an article about her divorce in which she complained: “Play-Doh three percent blue; 10% toast; 87% Honey Nut Cheerios Dust: That was what I was. ”
Rather, she wanted to “think of art, sex, politics and patriarchy.” What part of my life – I mean the architecture of my life, but also its essence, my soul, my spirit – had I built around my husband? “
Do you need to leave your husband and share custody of your young children to think about these things? From my personal experience, the answer is no. But maybe I’m not thinking enough. Maybe the dried blue Play-Doh lodged itself in my mind in a way that I didn’t fully realize.
More likely, however, I have reached my potential as a writer and thinker and blaming my domestic responsibilities for not accomplishing more just doesn’t feel right. Yes, a large part of my soul (and body) is taken up with my family and all of the logistical challenges associated with raising three children in the 21st century. But if I weren’t busy with these things, I’m not sure I would spend more time and energy thinking big thoughts or writing deeper. I would probably just choose a hobby.
In an article a few months earlier titled “Divorce Can Be a Radical Act of Self-Love,” Lara Bazelon writes that “after I became a mother, I was still the same struggling, obsessed with work and having domestic difficulties that I had always been. . I made choice after choice to prioritize my career because I firmly believed in the importance of the work I did, providing legal representation to men and women wrongly convicted. She said the work gave her identity and purpose.
Are there women who manage to do important work without leaving their husbands and children? These pro-divorce trials don’t suggest, but in reality the country is chock full of them. Part of their work is paid. Some are not. But few of these women consider themselves irreplaceable in their profession as Bazelon seems to think. In a bizarre conversation, her 10-year-old daughter approves of her mother’s choice. “I want to have a great career and try to go somewhere and make an impact.”
Well, we all want to have an impact, but that definition seems narrow. In a recent Substack column that discusses these articles, Jill Filipovic writes that she sees heterosexual marriage as struggling, but explains that her own marriage works well, in part because it advances her professional goals rather than hinder them:
“The first few years of our relationship were some of the best of my professional life, in large part because I found his work so interesting and inspiring that I wanted mine to be better. … (E) every time I’ve expressed interest in trying something new but scary, every time I’ve said “I’d love to write something like this, but I don’t think I can. do, “whenever I have spoken of feeling like an impostor, a stranger and a fraudster, he was the person who challenged my own doubt and pushed me forward.
It sounds like a great relationship, but maybe Filipovic could have found a career coach who would have done that too.
In these stories, individual development is always the highest goal, and marriages and families are categorized as either a help or a hindrance. If the latter, then they can be done away with, along with the institution of marriage, which Filipović said “should not be the primary organizational relationship in American society”.
A few years ago, Caitlin Flanagan published an essay on Joan Didion. Reading a writer I deeply admire writing about a writer she deeply admires stuck with me, especially the part on mothering Didion:
“She balanced out poor health and short timescales by drinking gin and hot water to alleviate the pain and taking Dexedrine to alleviate the gin, which makes for a lovely read, but hardly a good one.” prescription for careful parenting. Where was (his daughter) Quintana when Didion lived at the Faculty Club, or finished his novels with his parents, or slept in the Haight? Not with his mother.
According to Flanagan, Quintana’s manic depression and alcoholism may have been linked to his inability to get his mother’s attention.
Does the fact that Didion became one of the great writers of the twentieth century mean that she didn’t have as much of an obligation to take care of her daughter? Was she oblivious to the problem or was she consciously thinking about these “compromises”? It’s not clear, but a letter to the editor defending Didion was revealing. The writer said Didion often called her daughter, as if a phone call equated to a mother being present.
The truth is, parenting our children is one of the few ways that we are truly irreplaceable. And since few of us – women or men – will reach the greatness of Didion (or even Flanagan), it might be better to hedge our bets and assume that our souls don’t need to be fully devoted to professional achievements. Instead, we should heed the famous words of Ecclesiastes: From the dust of Cheerios to the dust of Cheerios.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a contributor to Deseret News and the author of “No way to treat a child: How the foster care system, family courts and racial activists are destroying young lives. “