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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Everything Women Do Is Wrong, Continued
August 12, 2012 - 3:35pm

If you're female but not a mother, you can't be a truly great writer. On the other hand, if you are a mother, you are by definition selfish and entitled for also wanting to be a human being sometimes.

At least, that is the takeaway I got from reading these two articles.

The first is an examination of the work of beloved popular novelist Maeve Binchy — who hadn't been dead a week, for heaven's sake, when it was published — in light of her inability to have children. The author asserts, "Going through the ring of fire does change you and bring about a deeper understanding of human nature.

"Binchy, whose first novel was about a 20-year friendship between two women, didn’t need the experience of motherhood to write about love and friendship in a way that charmed millions. But she might have dug deeper, charming less but enlightening more, had she done so."

This makes perfect sense, since we know it is impossible to write well about anything you haven't experienced yourself. That is how we know that Shakespeare was both a prince and a murderer; Henry James was a woman; and Ray Bradbury consorted with extraterrestrials.

The second article concerns Park Slope, a neighborhood near where I live in Brooklyn, which has become a code term for "entitled helicopter parenting." A beer garden has opened there, and the proprietor announced that it would be "stroller friendly." Now patrons are complaining that there are, gasp, children there. In a bar!

Granted, some of the children described in the article sound difficult. Kids really shouldn't be allowed to careen around unsupervised, especially when hot food and glass bottles are involved.

But the two main commercial streets in the Slope are packed with wine bars, pubs, and hard-core drinking establishments that are not at all "stroller friendly." What is the objection to giving some space to moms (and some dads) who, for whatever reason (financial considerations—don't laugh; not everyone who lives there is in investment banking; commitment to attachment parenting; or a simple desire to spend as much time as possible in the company of their kids) elect to bring the kids along when they share a brew with friends? Isn't that preferable to getting quietly sloshed at home alone, as so many of our mothers did? Or to raising kids who have no idea how to behave in public because the public needs to be protected from them?

There is no question that parenthood changes us profoundly. Any vocation that we commit to for the long term, and pursue with a whole and open heart, makes us different people. This is true of teaching kindergarten, searching for a cure for cancer, becoming a concert pianist, pursuing a PhD, and writing novels, and it is true of parenting. But these pursuits make us different from the way we were before, and different from the people we probably would have become had we chosen a different route. They don't set us apart from the rest of humanity; they don't make us "more different" than anyone else.

There are great writers who are mothers, and great writers who are not. Some of the latter group are even men!

And there are mothers who work outside the home, and others who stay home with their kids. Some of them are raising paragons; others have kids with neurological or emotional issues that make it hard for them to learn and practice acceptable behavior. And I would bet that one common thread among all these moms is that they are exhausted at the end of the day, and appreciate the opportunity to kick back with their friends. Just like everybody else.


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