Monday, August 12, 2013
Can you have meaningful work and babies, too?
An article titled “Books and Babies” in one of my writing magazines, Poets & Writers (March-April 2013), caught my attention for a number of reasons. I’ve never seen anything like it in a publication for writers. Usually the articles are about things like plot and characters and how to sell your writing. They never talk about babies. But here it was, the cover story in Poets & Writers, with photos of couples with their toddlers and their baby bumps.
Part of me thought: oh God, they’re everywhere now. Just like in all the restaurants where I try to eat in this tourist town in the summer. Babies every-freaking-where. And I thought, oh, the childfree crowd is going to hate this.
But part of me thought: Good. This is important. The question Rochelle Spencer, the article’s author, was asking was: What does having babies do to your writing life? She got the answer even before she had a chance to interview the three featured couples. Just scheduling the interviews proved difficult. Having babies clearly changes their working lives. Suddenly their attention is focused on the children, and finding time to write is a challenge. However, in all three of these couples, the husband and wife are both writers and they support each other in ways we might not see in other couples with different kinds of jobs, or in single-parent situations. They both take care of the children, and they give each other time off to write. It’s not as much time as they used to have, and they’re sleep-deprived and distracted, but they’re still writing.
I always thought I would have children AND write. I saw no problem with being a stay-at-home mom who wrote books, stories and poems. Sure, the baby and toddler years would be intense, but soon the kids would be in school for a big chunk of the day and I could write. Basically I would trade my mother’s knitting and needlework for word-work. I did not envision going to an office every day or traveling around the country for whatever job I had. I was never interested in a job. I just wanted to stay home and write.
Of course that’s not what happened. I got divorced, remarried, widowed. I did not have babies, although I did have a live-in stepson for eight years AND I worked all day. The stress of home life plus work was huge. Even when I worked at home, I was literally running between computer and stove, meetings and Boy Scouts, interviews and school functions. When Michael moved in, I was going to grad school; I had to drop out. No way could I add homework to the mix. I get tired just thinking about it—and he was already pushing 12 when he came to live with us.
I admire these couples in Poets & Writers who are having families and continuing their writing careers. I suspect one could find other couples who have given up on their creative work, at least while their kids are small.
I have often thought God wanted me to do my writing and music and knew I couldn’t do it all. When I was interviewing childless women for my Childless by Marriage book, many said they could not do the work they felt drawn to if they had kids. What do you think? Is it possible to combine career and children? Does not having kids allow you to do things you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise?
Let’s talk about it in the comments.