On Wanting to be a Writer (More Than a Mother)

August 8, 2013 § 14 Comments

Bactine2A guest post on children and writing from Kaori Fujimoto:

The other day I made this spontaneous comment over lunch with my friends: I haven’t imagined myself seeing my children off to kindergarten and then to elementary school, fulfilling social and cultural obligations entailed in being a mother in Tokyo. I expected the friends, whom I’ve known for nearly thirty years, to say, “That’s very much like you.” Instead, one of the friends, who is raising three boys, interrupted me in mid-sentence: “Don’t worry. I’ll help you no matter how old you are when you have kids.”

Then the three friends, mothers at age forty, turned the conversation to something else in a subtle and deliberate manner, smiling as if I’d said nothing.

I have no problem talking about my unmarried life without children, although I never volunteer to give anyone a full account of what I do with the freedom I enjoy to write: I devour essays and articles online, along with nonfiction books and magazines and novels and poems, and rove bustling streets and quiet parks in Tokyo, hoping that my subconscious will finish the next paragraph in the essay I’m working on. These efforts border on self-indulgence or even mania, so I don’t mention that I write unless prompted—and I never get prompted, especially by Japanese friends with children, none of whom bother to ask what I’ve been up to these days, and what I do for a living.

So I told practically no one about my aspirations as I approached and turned forty. By this age, people have experienced more than enough muck in the real world, and chosen to live for their children, their spouses, their aging parents, and/or their aging in-laws. No wonder my friends see something pathetically abnormal in how I lead my life without responsibility for anyone. I have shown no signs of growing up to become a contributor to Far Eastern family imperialism, which is reason enough for the public to hold me in low regard as a Japanese citizen. Nevertheless, until we sat at the lunch table together for the first time in several years, it had never occurred to me that my longest-time friends would treat my childlessness as a sore spot. They might believe that, as their children enjoy my company and I enjoy theirs, I want one myself too. The truth is I haven’t wanted a baby—or I’ve wanted to become a writer more than becoming a mother.

Although the friends’ reaction to my honest comment threw me, I know I can’t ask them—or probably many people in the world—to understand how my creative works, which I’ve finally become capable of producing by degrees after years of infertility, are like my babies. After all, I don’t vicariously understand what it is like to live as a mother either.

I’m not trying to draw an exact analogy between having children and producing creative works. It’s easy to imagine the two are totally different experiences and never interchangeable. A mother neglecting her baby can threaten the baby’s life, while a writer neglecting her writing risks killing no one. The woes of motherhood can be universally shared, while the agony of a creative process can be understood only by a much smaller population committed to artistic endeavors no one cares about.

I nonetheless can’t help but believe the two have something in common in that both require strenuous labor and true dedication not for the sake of money, which giving birth and nurturing involve. Many writers and artists juggle their parenthood and creativity, others choose parenthood over creativity, and others creativity over parenthood, seeking their own ways of devotion to hard work. There must be a million reasons for them to opt for one of these different choices. In my case, my meager personal capacity refused to accommodate being an aspiring writer and a mother at the same time. In my twenties and thirties, there were moments I thought I could have a baby with the men I was with at the time. Yet I instinctively knew that, if I had a baby, I would have to give up writing and kill who I am, which would have a disastrous effect on the baby.

That said, writing is indeed a lonely process. It doesn’t smile like a baby—a smile that must compensate for all the negative feelings a parent may go through when the little devil drools and frets and cries at the top of her lungs. A link to a piece of writing posted on Facebook doesn’t garner as many Likes as a picture of a doe-eyed baby with chubby cheeks. No matter how many essays I manage to write, these creations won’t say Happy Birthday Mom or Happy Mothers’ Day, nor will they watch me depart from the world at my deathbed. Still, as long as my gut instincts tell me that my life depends on filling blank pages with stories no one might read, I have no choice but to labor through the lonesomeness so that the babies come into being, and grow to become whole.

Kaori Fujimoto is a translator and writer from Tokyo, Japan. Her first published essay will appear in Talking Writing this fall.  She was a fellow of the 2012 Paris American Academy Creative Writing Workshop.


§ 14 Responses to On Wanting to be a Writer (More Than a Mother)

  • Amy Mackin says:

    “I’m not trying to draw an exact analogy between having children and producing creative works. It’s easy to imagine the two are totally different experiences and never interchangeable.” I don’t know that they are so different.

    In my own life, I am most dedicated to rearing children who will grow into happy and productive members of society, who will make the world a better place and be part of cultivating positive change. A very close second to that dedication is my desire to produce writing that does the same, as well as provides entertainment, an escape for a little while.

    Motherhood provides me with experiences that enrich my writing, but many experiences can do that. Children require enormous amounts of time and patience. I wouldn’t change anything about my family choices, but there is no denying that having children is why I’m starting a writing career in my forties, rather than my twenties, and why I haven’t pursued the MFA I dreamt of. My children have given me an education only they could give, and I am grateful for it, but there are countless way to learn about the world. If all our experiences were the same, writing, and reading for that matter, would not be nearly as fun. If there’s one lesson motherhood has taught me above all others, it’s that one size/solution/path does not fit all.

    Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

  • kateflaherty says:

    An insightful piece. Even though I did choose motherhood, I’m spending much of this summer away from my teenaged children, and the questions I’ve faced have been pretty amusing. My friends who aren’t writers seemed befuddled when I said I’d be on my own until fall. “What are you going to DO?” they’d ask. I had to laugh. What would I do? I’d do what I’d always done, which was important and meaningful work, whether it was writing or reading or engaging with others. It’s just that the “others” wouldn’t happen to include my children right now. That said, I do have to disagree with one point. Sometimes, on a particularly good day, writing does smile like a baby.

  • I love this piece. I love the honesty. I too have children, but I have watched how friends who didn’t have children been marginalized by other women and society. So sad that people are so undeveloped that they can’t expand their thinking beyond the choices they themselves have made. My friends without children have such interesting and textured lives, I usually can’t stop asking them about their career, what it’s like being more out there in the world. I can’t wait to read more writing from you. You go for all of us! Push the boundaries as far as you can and make a place for yourself, and in the meantime, give other women who are not as courageous the chance to see what a life can look like.

  • I agree–beautiful post! Louisa May Alcott called her books her children. So did many other nineteenth-century women writers who clearly saw writing and motherhood as incompatible. Although many women today combine the two, it is never easy. I envy you the freedom of walking the streets of Tokyo mulling over how to end an essay. Enjoy!

  • There is nothing wrong and everything right about your feelings on this topic. For most women who choose to be pregnant or who find themselves happily pregnant, there is little turning back. A growing baby develops its own velocity, and a mother’s devotion is usually intuitive though often full of doubts and regrets.
    I reared three children into responsible and independent adults, and I only started to write seriously after my children left the house. For me, devotion to writing requires willful and renewed dedication daily; my current freedom of time to read as widely and frequently as you describe is still a guilty pleasure. I’m completely amazed at my luck to live alone and responsible to myself only–for the most part.
    Revel in your freedom to choose. Advocate it. Too many women I know who remain childless by choice or by circumstance feel defensive of their situation. As you show confidence in it, those you encounter will learn to accept yet another way to live with satisfaction. It’s taken me a lifetime to understand there are many ways to live productively and make meaningful contributions.

  • When I asked my talented musician mom (full conservatory scholarship in 1939) why she abandoned her performance/recording/teaching career, she replied, “To have kids, of course.” Did said kids later turn around and thank her for making herself miserable? Well, no. After she died, a friend of hers confided that my mom never really wanted to be a mom. I had long deduced that, but the confirmation softened me toward her. It also helped me pay attention to my own doubts about my capacity for both motherhood and a creative career.

    Thank you for this thoughtful, honest post.

  • Lindsey says:

    Wonderful subject topic, Kaori. I’ve been in these same types of conversations before. They seem to get more strange with age. Can’t recall the number of times I’ve heard the line, “Don’t worry, you’ll change your mind one day.” or, “Your animals are like your children.” But honestly, neither is true.

    From a formative age, I gave great thought to what it would take to follow a creative path and evaluated which of life’s social plateaus fit along it. Surly not all goes smoothly, but motherhood certainly wasn’t in my cards. Although my long term boyfriend dumped me to married a child-wanting women. Even ten years later, no part of me regrets standing my ground on the decision.

    Keep up the good writing.
    Cheers! from a fellow PAA alumni

  • Karen says:

    Kaori – What a wonderful addition to the fields of “parent education” and “responsibility.” You’ve given something beneficial to anyone thinking about becoming a mother — or not! Whether or not intentional, you honestly portray the ying and yang of parenting and individuality — to write — or engage in whatever profession one actively pursues or put off as a lifelong desire, as I did. Your essay inspired me to reflect upon my own choices to be a parent and aspiring writer.

    I have two absolutely adorable adults who were once adorable infants and adolescents. I had longed for them. Along with a sometimes-satisfying 9 to 5, they have been my life’s work. The desire to write and “live in Paris” was only actualized in 2012, beyond my 60th birthday when my children were in a comfortable place in their lives and even then, I wanted them to join me to experience the gift to myself. I have often thought of them as appendages. Experiencing Paris, which they had heard about for many years, would not have seemed complete without them to share a part of it.

    Now, writing is like a 3rd child to me. It seems I have been in labor all my adult life, ever since I knew sometime in my 20’s that I wanted to write. I now have the freedom to nurture, cuddle, feed, stress over, and enjoy the process with interference from the outside world only when I let it in. Many mornings I have awakened to books, magazines, articles, and other publications strewn across the bed and even under the covers, like a surrogate sleeping partner! I’ve almost reached that comfortable place that I wanted for my first two children.

    Thank you, Kaori.

    Your friend and 2012 PAA’er, Karen

  • S.X. says:

    I really liked this piece and its honesty. Not having children is not a popular choice–I know because it is my choice. Just a few days ago, I was asked about kids and why I didn’t have them, and the woman–although well-intentioned–went on to tell me a woeful tale of a friend of hers who had decided not have children and who now has Alzheimer’s and no one to care for her.

    Nice story, I wanted to say, but I didn’t. I drove back home to my quiet home, adorable dog, and my freedom.

    I know I’m missing out on great things by not having children, but I also know I am gaining great things. You already know this–thank you for writing it out loud. It reminded me I am not the only one out here.

  • Amy Wright says:

    I appreciate this post and the growing community of women who are supporting each other in their sometimes-difficult choices.

    Good luck with your writing, and kudos to you for figuring out who you are and what you need!

  • I love this piece, too. So much of it says exactly how I have always felt. I thought I wanted to have kids, but I was sure I wanted to be a writer. As it turned out, I did not become a mother. If I had to choose one or the other, I’m pretty sure the books would win. I suppose my books are my children, too, although I wince a little at the comparison because it’s not the same. Sometimes I see it more as a vocation, like a priest or nun who feels called to live a life completely devoted to their work for God. Except that God decided I’d be a writer. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Hi. We have a lot to talk about. Except that I’m incredibly short on time as a mother.

    A wonderful subscriber of mine, Amy from http://amyhereford.com/, shared your post with me, with good reason(s):



    This dichotomy of writer vs. mother and how one can fit both callings in a lifetime first asserted itself when I launched my blog with the Lessons from My 30s on the eve of my 40th, and came to a head recently as the poems I listed above spilled out of me.

    Absolutely, writing is a birth. And I don’t speak lightly after having pushed my boy out of my body unnumbed by drugs. Every post of mine is quite the labor of love.

    Your writing is clear, your diction with a purpose.


    A little advice from my great-grandmother prior to marriage contracts.
    When her husband proposed, he was well paid, and this what she said.
    nOt unless I have house keeper, a nanny, and a cook. She was an artist, and an was a forerunner for early education with her husband, who taught how important playgrounds were, to education. hOw she died in her thirties, so I do not know what the long term choices she made influenced the future. Her death definitely caused a definite resentment towards the younger generation.

  • Carla Damron says:

    Beautifully said. I’ve given birth to books. No, it’s not the same, but I have great pride in them and hope they live forever.

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