A letter to a favorite writer...
How can you be a mother-writer?
Dear Madeleine L’ Engle,
How did you function as a professional writer and be a successful mother? I know that’s a loaded question, using the words professional and successful, but my main query is, how did you finish writing projects while caring for other beings? What sacrifices did you make (for your writing or your family), what did they give to each other, and how were they related?
I’ve read about your talking about writing late at night when your children were younger. You said that you were able to do it because you were used to staying up late because of your husband being in the theater and waiting for him to come home after performances. I relate to this because I wait for my husband to come home as well from playing gigs on weekends (he plays keyboards and sings in a band in his part-time job. He’s an English professor during the week).
But my daughter stays up as well with us those weekend nights, so I have to stay up even later if I want to write while she’s asleep. More fruitful is letting her sleep in and writing in the morning at times like I am doing now. You also write about domestic life a lot; your novels all center around family, and the course of reading your work strengthened my romantic notion of family. But, the stress and sacrifice that you went through in being a mother-writer aren’t as clear.
I’d like mothers to write more about the struggles they go through being writers and mothering. Writers often talk about writing a novel as like birthing. But what about birthing while writing a novel? What about the stress and burden we feel in the process of doing both?
You made it look so easy, and it’s not. Something or someone doesn’t get the attention you need when you are a mother-writer. You feel guilt for either of your babies, your biological one or your creative one, your human one, or your word-made one.
I wouldn’t be the writer I am without being a mother. I wouldn’t be the mother I am without being a writer. But is that a good thing? Are both made better for their coexistence? I’m not sure. You certainly made it look to be a good thing to be both.
You are no longer alive, so you can’t write more about this struggle, the trade-offs you had to make, and the regrets you had more than you already did. I’ll be on the lookout for other mothers who are writers who struggle with this identity, mother writers.
Thank you for sharing your work while mothering.
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