…we did spend a good part of our income on household help. I don’t regret that at all. Baby-sitters allowed me to preserve my sanity, to the extent that I have it. I always had at least three hours in the morning to write. I couldn’t have given up writing. I think I could have enjoyed a marriage without children, though I’m very glad I had them; they’ve enriched my life enormously. But I don’t think I could have had a satisfying life without writing. Thankfully I didn’t have to make the choice.
Above is the writing fortune cookie I chose randomly out of a bag on the last night of an inspirational writing class. I had the option to put it back and choose another, but I didn’t. I found it perfectly poignant. I shared the fortune with a couple of people. After each of them read the quote, I felt a strong urge to throw in the disclaimer, Not that I want to wish away my own kids. For the line that sticks out to me, I think I could have enjoyed a marriage without children, seems to require a qualifier, some proof that I have my priorities straight. Even Norma Klein can’t leave it alone. She adds, though I’m very glad I had them; they’ve enriched my life enormously.
What if your passion and your family are two different things? Is it selfish or essential to find personal fulfillment outside of family life?
Mommy vs. Career Woman
My husband read my fortune and honed in on the words, my sanity, to the extent that I have it. He knows I need hours of introspection to stave away the rubber room. He does his best to help me get them, but…life would be much easier if I just focused on being present for the children and him (the gig I agreed to when we married in 1996).
To be honest, I happily gave up my career woman title for a turn in the mommy seat. My generation, following closely on the heels of the feminist movement, was told we can and should compete to the best of our ability. Do well in school and use your brain to achieve high ranking positions that earn lots of money. You have choices. Choose to be powerful. I tried and hated the business world. I couldn’t wait to ditch that scene.
As an introvert, I thought it would be glorious to hideout in motherhood; no more deadlines, aggressive co-workers, forced teamwork, and false enthusiasm. In other words, no extroverting beyond my comfort zone. I found joy and happiness in the early years of my kids’ lives. Babyhood and toddler days were sweet and magical. I could love and nurture in my quiet introspective way, then enjoy downtime while the kiddos napped. My babies grew into children with minds of their own and vocabularies to express them. Again I was faced with deadlines (homework, school projects), aggression (sibling rivalry, opposition to food selection, bedtimes, hair brushing), teamwork (everywhere we go we’re five people, pain in the ass at restaurants where most tables are for four) and the understood rule to remain enthusiastic and pleasant even when I was at the end of my rope. I loved my children and their spirits but I was dying on the vine.
Then I found writing.
Writing:A Solitary Passion
Writing led me to a haven of introverts and a world of inner-well being. Writers became my heroes and companions. They understood my desire for solitude. It was not selfish to spend hours reading, writing and pondering. I felt introspective rather than self-centered. I did notice one thing. The majority of my writing compadres were single. Hmmm.
Stephen King, prolific horror writer, is not single, but in his style book/memoir On Writing, he claims his self-reliant wife as one of his secrets to success. She takes care of things while he holes up in a quiet space spinning stories into and out of nightmares. His wife is a saint, but is Stephen King selfish?
I remember my urge to leap to Elizabeth Gilbert’s defense when a female relative labeled her selfish based on her epic memoir Eat Pray Love. In the memoir Elizabeth chooses to divorce her husband and forego children in order to embark on a journey of spiritual seeking. She travels, eats, meditates, and searches for the meaning of true love, on her own. True she makes friends along the way and ultimately finds a boyfriend, but not until she has had a year to herself. Out of that solo sojourn came a bestselling book that resonated with thousands if not millions.
Can You Have It All?
I see others struggle with the freedom or family choice. A writing classmate, a young woman in her early twenties, questions the plausibility of living the artist’s life and having a family. It seems darn difficult to do both. She wants the autonomy to travel around the world, draw, write and reflect but also craves the experience of love and belongingness. She is not alone. According to a 2009 survey in Elle Magazine of 2000 women turning thirty, these young women are horizontally ambitious. Looking for excellence in all areas, with an emphasis on being happy. In Why I Envy Generation Me Who Choose Love over Career and Children Above Status, 40-year-old Lorraine Candy, editor of Elle Magazine, tells tales of her corporate climb (spending her honeymoon on the phone, hiding her pregnancy until she couldn’t). She is openly jealous of the generation that follows hers. They don’t have to claw their way to the top or be 1950s stay-at-home moms. They are selfish – but in a good way. It seems there is more living and less striving. I can see the beauty in this setup – joyful living with less stress. Letting love lead instead of society’s expectations. Still there is a compulsion to do it all (excellence in all areas). Is a balance possible?
Stay Single, Less Choices
More people are opting out of the family category altogether. The latest figures point to a trend in single living. According to Psychology Today’s article, Americans Just Want to Be Single?, in 1970, 40.3% of households included mom, dad, and the kids, and only 17.1% were 1-person households. In 2009, as has been true since at least 2000, there are more 1-person households (27.5%) than married-with-children households (20.6%). Why the increase in solitary households? Economy? Choosing to marry later? Or maybe the single life is just plain satisfying.
Two Ways to Change the World
I know many people find complete fulfillment in raising a family. Nurturing, child rearing and marriage tick all their passion boxes. That is a beautiful thing and certainly easily digested by the majority. I agree raising children well can improve the world. But is there courage in rendezvousing with something that makes you feel alive outside of family? I’m not talking about adultery, sky diving or gambling. I’m talking about something that gives you a purpose beyond family commitments. Is it not possible that what you choose could be the very thing that helps the world evolve? Ultimately, making the earth a better place for children to inherit. I imagine doctors, scientists, artists, musicians, athletes and other professions that require a high degree of concentration and involvement, wrestle with this conflict constantly.
Passion and Work Lead to Compassion
…if you are always doing something for others, like a servant or a nurse, and never anything for yourself, you cannot do others any good. You make them physically more comfortable. But you cannot affect them spiritually in any way at all. For to teach , encourage, cheer up, console, amuse, stimulate, or advise a husband or children or friends, you have to be something yourself. And how to be something yourself? Only by working hard and with gumption at something you love and care for and think is important.
A therapist friend gave me the term self-ful to use in place of selfish. I believe it is self-ful to delve deeply into areas that you deem important. I’ll still hesitate when it comes to closing the door on the study and shutting out my family. It seems to be an ingrained guilt, but being self-ful leads to more living and less striving. Writing fills me up, has flexible hours, helps others and sets an example of independence for my children. Practicality requires that my children’s needs come first ,but I take passions (everyone’s)seriously. I am not advocating neglect of families. I am advocating for personal fulfillment in order to positively and spiritually affect those around you. And if your sanity is preserved because of it, well, all the better.
Does family always come first in your life? Have you personally benefitted from endeavors outside of family? What if we all did what we loved (provided it’s not illegal;) within or without our families?
Interested in other posts and articles about the passion and family debate? Check these out – Touring Without Guilt and Being Passionate about What You Do: Requirement for Success or Complete Falsehood?
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