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?
2 thoughts on “Oh Jo, Say It Ain’t So”
Dear Sue, I found your blog as I was searching to find ways of coping with my grief over being childless….I feel like there is no one in my real life who can comfort me or advise me. I don't exactly fit the demographic of many followers of this blog, I imagine, as I am unmarried (never have been) and 37. I've always wanting a family more than anything and am grieved and still somewhat shocked at ending up here, although I have been pretty unlucky in love and largely single for the past 10 years or so.
I initially found your blog through a post from several years ago (2007 I think!) about grieving over lack of children. I was saddened to read comments from women and men of many ages, including some in their 50's and 60's who still apparently feel intense grief over this lack in their life. I was hoping this sorrow would pass when I hit my 40's and could really put the possibility of it behind me. Now I am still tormented by a nagging question as to whether I should do something drastic to have a child while I still can. I have considered adoption and artificial insemination and neither of them seems like a good choice for me. At this time in my life, I don't feel I could bear the idea of becoming a single mother; there is too much sadness around the idea of not finding a beloved spouse and creating a family with him. Not to mention the fact that it would be a huge struggle financially.) But there is a fear that in 5 or 10 years, I will regret not taking whatever steps necessary to become a mother, even if it's not the way I dreamed.
Anyway…all that applies to another post. But this one struck a chord with me, too, because I was thrown into despair about 2 years ago when I finished re-reading Little Women. Even Jo, who is so much more independent, feisty, talented and ambitious than I am, ends up as a wife and mother…having a husband and children becomes the ultimate goal even for her. And I, who has never had any overwhelming dreams other than to have a family…well, how can I possibly be fulfilled by a life without them?
I thank you for your blog and for letting me spill a little of these feelings; it's truly a help as I feel like I have no other outlet for them! Almost all of my friends are my age or younger and are married with young children; sharing my pain and grief with them is impossible.
Thank you for sharing this. I think a lot of us know at least some of what you're feeling. I hope you can find some peace–or a man who wants to be a dad. I wish you all the best.