Circus Acts and Motherhood: Mothering and Writing

Friends, for many years I wrote a parenting column for a local newspaper. I’ve collected these columns and placed them into a book on Amazon,  HONEY I’M SORRY I KILLED YOUR AQUASAURS.  Today is my oldest daughter’s sixteenth birthday. For some reason, I thought of this essay. Enjoy!



“What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. Look at us. We run a tightrope daily, balancing a pile of books on the head. Baby-carriage, parasol, kitchen chair, still under control. Steady now! This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of. It leads not to unification but to fragmentation. It does not bring us grace; it destroys the soul.”—Ann Morrow Lindbergh

One writer I keep with me always is Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I always have her most famous book “Gift from the Sea” close at hand. I’ve quoted from it on many occasions, and even in my own book. She is now gone at the age of 94.

She inspired many women in her generation to follow their dreams and gave a voice to voiceless emotions and struggles. She herself, struggled to maintain her own identity–both literary and personal, in the immense shadow of her husband, Charles.

She was a mother and a well-respected writer in her day. Her “circus act,” of course, was probably helped by the fact that she had more money than she knew what to do with. So she probably had nannies for her children, maybe a few maids. Most other women that are writers don’t have that option. And for most of us, writing is more than a trade—it is a compulsion and a passion. So, when you don’t have the time to write, because say your children are taking up most of it, it’s not only a professional, but also a deep personal sacrifice. It seems like there is a part of you that has been caged and is longing for escape.

Some women writers decide never to have children, feeling that they could not give up their writing or be a good mother. I admire them for their stance. It is a sacrifice not to have children, as well, because even though they take up much of your time, they bring a rich quality to your life—one that I hope will add to my growth as a writer.

Some women writers have children and never get the knack of doing both. Alice Walker, for example, a brilliant writer and activist used to leave her daughter notes to “take care of yourself,” and then never leave any food in the fridge for her. Her daughter has recently written an autobiography and a friend of mine read and said that she will never think of Alice in the same way again.

I can certainly understand the lure of losing yourself to words and the literary life. There have been points in my own development as a writer in which I have felt like I was on the edge of doing that—especially with poetry. But, alas I am no Alice Walker; the absolute necessity for me to make a living is one the mechanisms that keeps me grounded. The others, of course, are my husband and daughter. And the fact that I made the choice to marry and have children is one that I take seriously. I keep the refrigerator stocked—and hope I always can.

I recently read “A Writer and Her Work,” which is a book full of essays by women writers. The writer I found the most helpful to my own situation is Anne Tyler. She writes about fitting her writing schedule around her children’s lives. For example, she may write a book outline in the spring. When school is out for the summer, she sets it aside and begins to write the book in the fall, when her kids are back in school. She also mentions that she just gave up even trying to write when her children were toddlers.

I think that’s okay—to set aside our own passions for our children for a brief, very important, time in their lives. If we want to have it all, we must strive to balance it all, and someone, usually it is the children, lose out. I keep telling myself that Emma will only be this small and dependent on me for a short period of time and that someday she won’t even want to be seen with me in public, let alone hold my hand walking down the street.

So, it will take a little longer for me to finish my novel or find the time to pen a poem. (And to think I used to write one poem a day!) But I hope that when I have the time to come back to it completely, my writing will have more interesting textures and layers now that I am a parent.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember in a culture that seems places money, fame, and power above everything else, that being a good parent is the most important contribution we can make. And it’s also hard to remember that being a good parent in itself is a fine passion to have.

2 thoughts on “Circus Acts and Motherhood: Mothering and Writing

  1. Amy M. Reade says:

    Very nice post, Mollie. Balance is absolutely essential; I can’t imagine life without my kids, nor would I want to. They also understand, now that they’re a little older, that the time I spend writing is very important, and I don’t want to imagine my life without that, either. I am the maid and the nanny in my house–I think we can all agree that I make a much better nanny than maid. 🙂

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