J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, 1999
As a young mom with four active daughters, involved in school, music and sports, my life was a hodge-podge of bustling activity. I wrote part-time, at night or in the wee hours of the morning, while my family slept. Back then, I fantasized about a time when my life would be my own – no more afternoons spent driving from one activity to the next, no volunteer work, no laundry fairy multiplying the loads. I imagined long, uninterrupted days at my desk, immersed in my work.
Now our daughters are grown, two with families of their own. While, yes, I occasionally spend 10, 12, 14 hours at my desk, those days are rare. Like most women writers, I constantly struggle to find balance.
My husband is a terrific guy. When the girls were little, he, not I, got up in the middle of the night. Even now, he does more than his fair share of the chores. When our daughters need something fixed – their car breaks down, for example – they don’t hesitate to call him. With emotional issues, I’m the one they rely on. Believe me, talking is far more time-consuming than finding a mechanic to fix the transmission.
Whenever the need arises, because I’m a mom first, before anything else, my work takes a backseat. Deadlines get pushed back, the article or story goes unedited, the book sits in a file, waiting, neglected. And I feel guilty for letting it go. If I do focus on work, I feel guilty for not devoting more time to my family. Either way, I feel bad about myself.
Every female writer I know says the same thing. We love our families – we want to give of ourselves – but why does it have to be either-or?
Years ago, I attended a seminar with Alice Hoffman as the keynote speaker. It was not merely that I loved and admired her work. No, I wanted to be Alice Hoffman. This successful female writer put out a bestselling book every year. And they were good. Very good. And she had kids.
This was a woman who did it all, and did it all well. I couldn’t wait to learn how. Imagine my surprise when she talked about the difficulty of striking a balance. ‘My kids,’ she said, ‘think I don’t have a job.’
Say what? Would the kids think the same if their dad were a writer?
Probably not. Because he’d have an office and it would be off-limits.
Most men I know store their roles in separate compartments, to be taken out, dusted off, and worn at appropriate times. Our role is fluid. We can’t turn off, tune out or otherwise escape family responsibility. We’re always on. In all fairness, fathers are fathers every day of their life. The difference is, we mothers are moms every minute of ours.
I don’t resent this, not for an instant, and I’m sure you don’t either.
I want to be with my family. In fact, as I’ve come to realize, I’ve actively chosen this life.
Men find balance – by marrying us. Yet, even if we had wives, their needs, I suspect, would be at least equal to ours. Most women are people-centric. Sure, we value success, but we’re relationship-oriented. The people we love truly are our reason for living.
I’ve spent a lifetime seeking balance only to find that it doesn’t exist. Balance is elusive, a figment of our imagination, reinforced by culture in movies and TV. If we’re to be contented, we have to let go. We’ve got to accept that we can’t always do it all – and quit feeling guilty!
She who dies with the most toys – or the cleanest house or the best brownies – does not necessarily win. Or maybe she does. But, believe me, unless she’s got ice running through her veins, she feels guilty too. That’s who we are. Better to accept it than always fight and feel guilty.
Our lives are big and wonderful and, yes, messy. And that’s OK. So go ahead – kiss those boo-boos. Call a friend. Spend an extra hour or two at your desk. The beds will get made, the cleaning picked up, the laundry folded. Maybe not in that order. Really, why does it matter?