When I was growing up, Jo March in Little Women was my heroine. I wanted to be a free-spirited writer like her, right down to the boyish haircut. I assumed that Jo, like author Louisa May Alcott, never had children and devoted her life to her career.
How our memories play tricks on us.
I recently took another look at the last pages of Little Women and discovered that, in addition to raising her husband Fritz’s orphaned nephews, Jo actually had two sons, Robin and Teddy, and that once she became a mother, she dumped her writing career. Horrors. Toward the end of the book, she says, “The life I wanted then seems selfish, lonely and cold to me now. I haven’t given up the hope that I may write a good book yet, but I can wait, and I’m sure it will be all the better for such experiences and illustrations as these.”
Jo points to her sons, her mother, her sisters and her children. They are talking about the dreams they once had. She isn’t saying “never” but she’s looking at the bigger picture and saying the life she has now as wife and mother is worth altering her dreams.
But then again, I never had children. Maybe if I did, I too would have set my pen down and said it could wait. This is precisely the question that many of the women I interviewed have raised. If they had children, they feared they would never be able to do the things that were most important to them. People who have children might argue that the children have to be the most important things in one’s life. I’m stubborn enough or enough of a dreamer to believe I could be both a mother and a writer at the same time.
Jo March was a product of her times. Rumor has it that Alcott’s editor insisted that Jo be married. Children were no doubt a necessary part of the equation.
What about you? Are there things you could not do in your lives if you had children? Would you be willing to sacrifice one or the other if you had a choice?