Is a writer–or any artist–without children lacking an important component for her art? Can she ever portray a complete human experience without having experienced giving birth and raising children? On the other hand, can a mother ever be free to fully pursue her art?
This discussion, which never ends, came up recently after the death of bestselling Irish author Maeve Binchy. Most of the news articles mentioned her childlessness. In an essay in the Daily Telegraph, writer Amanda Craig argued that Binchy would have been a better writer if she had been a mother, giving her a “deeper understanding of human nature.” Binchy, who struggled with infertility, had written about how much she wanted children but was unable to have them. It wasn’t a choice for her. But did it make her less of a writer? Many famous authors of the past, including Virginia Woolf, the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austen, were childless. In their day, it was believed you couldn’t be both a successful writer and a mother. Which argument is right?
For me, I admit I have some gaps in my knowledge. At a meeting last night, things moved into talk about doing a program at the local schools. Suddenly the parents in our group had all these suggestions that obviously came from their experiences with their kids. I felt like a guy must feel in a discussion about makeup: clueless.
Although I haven’t had the same experiences, I have been a child, growing up with other children. I have been a stepmother, and I have been around other people’s kids and families all my life. That has to count for something. If I wanted to volunteer at the school, I could learn what those people at the meeting know. I have also raised dogs–which makes parents of humans roll their eyes–but this week, as I’m treating Annie’s third ear infection this year, I feel pretty darned motherly. (It’s getting much better, thank you.)
Let’s look at the other side of the equation. Because I live alone with my dog, I have been able to spend my day like this: I got up when I felt like it, did a little accounting before eating a leisurely breakfast with no one else to feed, spent over an hour playing the piano and starting to write a new song before going to a doctor’s appointment, decided on the spur of the moment to take myself to lunch at a wonderful restaurant overlooking the ocean, then came home and spent the next three hours finishing the song. Even without children, I have never had so much uninterrupted time. For songwriting, I need complete concentration. I need to be able to keep going over the song, smoothing out the bumps until I can sing and play it with confidence, and that takes hours.
Whether it’s writing, music, art or whatever our passion, it is easier without children. Of course, when we’re done, we wish we had somebody to share it with, but let’s be honest. A childless woman has a lot more freedom to create. Whatever grief or loss we might feel, that is a blessing for which we should be grateful.