Motherhood vs. career: Sigrid Nunez’ take

sigridnunez-bymarionettingerI was sort-of listening to Fresh Air on NPR the other day while going through old photos when I suddenly realized the guest, author Sigrid Nunez, and host Terry Gross, were talking about childlessness. I started taking notes.

Nunez has a new book, The Friend, in which a childless woman inherits a Great Dane left behind by a friend who committed suicide. I’m looking forward to reading it because, you know, dog. Also because it sounds wonderful. Watch this clip of Nunez reading from her book. I think you’ll fall in love with her just like I have.

This is her seventh published novel. I had forgotten Nunez was also one of the authors included in the book Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids. I reviewed it here at Childless by Marriage in 2015.

In her essay, “The Most Important Thing,” Nunez talks about her decision not to have children. They just didn’t fit with her career, she decided after considering the lives of other woman writers. “No young woman aspiring to a literary career could ignore the fact that the women writers of the highest achievement, women like Jane Austen, the Brontes, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, did not have children,” she observes.

The rest of Nunez’s essay is devoted to great women writers who gave birth to unwanted children, who left their children behind, or who, like Sylvia Plath, were famously anguished at not being able to have both a meaningful career and kids. She did not want to be the mother who shooed away her child because she was busy writing.

On NPR, Nunez, who never married, said she had never had a relationship with a man that felt strong enough to have a child, and she never thought she would be a good single mother.

But unlike many who choose to be “childfree,” Nunez does not downplay the effects of choosing not to have children. Gross asked if people warned her she would regret her choice. Here is here answer:

“Yes, and I think that that’s very reasonable. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, missing having had children is enormous. I don’t – you know, I did what I had to do, or, you know, my life turned out as it has. But it’s never – I’ve never not been aware that in not having been a mother and not having had a child I have missed one of life’s greatest, most interesting, most meaningful experiences. I did. I did. But, you know, you can’t do everything. You can’t have everything.”

That’s not the same as regret, she stressed. She simply knew she could not have the life she wanted as a writer and be the kind of mother she would have wanted to be. Now in her 60s, she admitted she worries about being alone in old age but will just have to deal with it.

So this raises the question, once again: Are there certain careers, especially for women, which are simply not compatible with motherhood? In my Childless by Marriage book, I quoted an artist who said she couldn’t possibly do her art and raise children. I still remember that freezing afternoon when we were both selling our wares at an outdoor fair. She was so sincere she made me feel like a slacker for even asking the question.

At this point in my own life, I’m reluctant to leave my writing and my music even for the dog, so would I really be happy immersed in children and grandchildren? I thought I would be, but I’ll never know. How about you? Do you feel a conflict between career/art/vocation and the possibility of raising children? Do you think, like Nunez, that we might have to choose one or the other?

I look forward to your comments.

 

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Fiction vs. the Realities of Parenting

In the book I just finished, a 569-page epic by Wallace Stegner titled Angle of Repose, the 1880s heroine, Susan, is an accomplished artist and writer. She is blessed with influential friends who publish everything she sends them. She also lives in a series of mining camps with a husband whose business schemes keep failing, but he refuses to live off his wife’s earnings. It’s quite a story and a delicious read for someone like me who loves to delve into American history.

What does that have to do with being childless by marriage? Susan is not childless. She has three children, but she also has nannies and relatives who deal with the kids, cook the meals, wash the clothes, and clean the home while Susan works. Alas, the book is fiction. Most of us don’t have people like that in our lives. If we had children, we might find it difficult to focus on any creative endeavor or even to juggle a job with childcare and home duties. How can we become “Mom” and still be ourselves? That’s one of many things that might make us hesitate to have children. I know of many women in the arts who have decided they can’t do both.

It’s less of a dilemma for men in most cases because somehow, no matter how much things have changed—and they have changed a lot—women still do most of the childcare and homemaking. Men seem to worry more about the financial aspects and the perceived loss of freedom. How will they keep the kids fed and clothed, how will they get away to go fishing or whatever their hobby is, how will they have sex in the living room?

I know most readers here would gladly take on the challenges for a chance to have children. They’d give anything to hold a baby of their own in their arms. But it’s not hard to understand, in these days when we have a choice, why our partners might hesitate when it comes to having children.

It’s something to think about.

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Something else to ponder: Why in the vagaries of the Internet do people keep offering me guest posts about parenting and childcare? Each time, I explain that this blog is for people who don’t have children. Apparently the blog triggers some kind of SEO tag that brings in the mommy bloggers.

For the record, I am interested in guest posts, 600 words max, that are relevant to our Childless by Marriage theme. Pitch me a topic or send me a potential post at sufalick@gmail.com. I’m sorry, there’s no pay for this, but you would be published and be able to speak directly to our wonderful readers.

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Are You a ‘Career Girl’?

At a party last weekend, four of us women got to talking. We were all over 50. Two of us were childless and two were mothers of grown children. O. is 60-something. She had a difficult childhood and felt she would not be a good mother. Her husband didn’t want children. She went to work at a young age, eventually making a wonderful career designing movie sets in Hollywood. As she moved through her childbearing years, those around her said, “Oh, she’s a career girl.” The mothers would shake their heads, implying that there was something sinful about choosing career over children.

T. and D. both had kids, but they both worked, too. After their divorces, they had no choice. T. noted, “Does anyone really think I grew up wanting to be a single mom to two boys and work my fingers to the bone sewing costumes? Come on.”

I sighed. I had no kids, but I too was divorced at a young age and grateful I had a job to turn to. After I remarried, I kept working. “I would love to have my mother’s life. I’d love to be a housewife,” I said. We all laughed. None of us had that option. We always needed to work. Even when my stepson lived with us and my husband had a good job, I worked outside the home, struggling to juggle everything at once.

Am I a career gal? Are you? Did you choose work over children? I didn’t. I just ended up with one and not the other. Whether we have children or not, why shouldn’t our work be something we love to do? And why don’t people look down on men who are devoted to their jobs?
What do you think?