Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In defense of motherhood

Confession, this will probably be a rambling post, so I will apologize in advance. The post is sparked by listening to Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. She wrote Eat, Pray, Love which I enjoyed reading immensely about a year long personal journey she took to sort out certain things in her life. In this journey, she left a failing marriage and hedonistically devoted a year to doing what she wanted to do, traveling to Italy indulging in food and language, traveling to India, indulging in prayer and meditation, and indulging in paradise where she learned to love again. It was truly a great book.

Now, I'm listening to her latest, Committed, where she finds peace with marriage. I'm on chapter 5. So far, the book has been a great exploration of Western marriage history and I've enjoyed it, but, and this is a very big but, I've just hit the part where she discusses the "Marriage Imbalance." To illustrate this point, she draws upon her's mother's choice to leave her career when her husband refuses to stay at home for 2 days with his chicken pox infested children so she could attend a conference. I'm sure Gilbert's tone is not intentional (and I tried to find her email address to email her personally, but was unable to find it), but it comes across as condemning motherhood. She speaks of the "cost" of motherhood, but she doesn't (at least not yet) talk about the rewards and dividends of motherhood. Yes, being a mother can be a huge sacrifice. There have been plenty of days when I wanted badly to do nothing but order in Chinese take-out, kick back with a lovely Savignon Blanc to compliment the spice, and watch whatever the heck I wanted on TV while I knitted to my heart's content.

Instead, I did homework with my child, drove him to sports practice, played Raffi yet one more time for him, while I read once more the tired picture book I just read five minutes ago. I've turned down opportunities for traveling with my job and exciting projects and maybe some interesting career opportunities, not because I choose my family, but because the opportunity to see my baby boy step onto a stage to sing a solo to a roomful of strangers while his voice carried forth on the radio was way more exhilarating and incredible and memorable than a 7% increase in salary and a chance to sit on a plane for 3 hours to fly somewhere and sleep in a hotel. I get paid daily in gratitude that arrives in the form of a hug every morning, a kiss on the cheek every night, and remarkable insights into the development of another human being. I'm given the chance to be a guiding force in someone else's life and I have the gift of knowing I truly matter in someone's existence. My impact on the world is tangible. I see it daily in the development of my child.

I understand parenthood isn't for everyone. For a while, I wondered if I was cut out for the job. What I ask for in this post is that if you choose not to be a parent, don't belittle the choice of others to be one. Respect their decision and respect that you will never understand the joys and rewards of parenthood, just as we, the ones who choose to be parents, will never understand your personal joys of childlessness. If we are to preach and live a life of Feminism and equality, that includes accepting that some women want to be mothers and strive to be great at it. This choice of motherhood is just as valid as the choice to not be mothers and focus on one's careers. Feminism is about equality and choice, even if that choice is to be a mom.


amber c. said...

I'll be interested to read her newest. I, too, loved E, P, L. Does she not have children? I'm guessing not. And maybe that's why her perspective and voice is a little skewed. Hope she realizes it in later pages. And, hope you're well!

lynseym said...

I am considering reading this for a few (selfish, ha!) reasons. i need to reevaluate marriage and commitment because although i'm committed more than i've ever been, i'm still scarred by my sacrifices and containment of my previous marriage. however, i don't have "my own kids" and have chosen to raise and love three boys who were born into a pretty loveless home. they are not part of the sacrifice i have (and would) make but have turned into a really special gift to my life.

after this post though, i'm not sure if her new book will help or harm my self-search for redefining marriage for myself. i'm still not sure i want to do it because in my experience, i lost my voice. for now, we have a great selfless, selfish, loving, and supportive world for ourselves without the binding language.