Writing about motherhood


I have heard and read many essays and short stories about the days and hours we all spend trying to make sense of this work of mothering. I have written many essays and radio commentaries about the ups and downs and the intricacies of this work. I have wept or chortled when I have heard some of these pieces, and I have inwardly rolled my eyes when I have read some story that, though well meaning, came out sounding trite, cliche or just plain too cute.

Writing about motherhood is very tricky, because it is such familiar territory to so many people and yet can be so personally revelatory. My son turns seventeen in a few weeks, and I’m taking stock of the body of work that I have produced–just the notebook pages and index cards that I’ve filled up for my eyes only, and the many pieces that I have relentlessly pitched to the media. I am still fascinated by the topic and by the many great writers who have revealed themselves as mothers.

Marion Winik is featured in today’s New York Times Magazine (Lives). It’s a story about her family– from a seven year old daughter, up to her college-age son and his girlfriend. It’s a slice-of-life kind of piece. In many ways, it’s an average story of an average mom juggling lots of different emotions as she plunges into her day.

Where else can we go with this kind of writing? As we contemplate our own worlds and live within the unbelievable wealth, choice, and freedom that we take for granted as middle class mothers (or maybe it’s what I term ’survivalist-lower-middle-class moms’——– nonetheless– and come on, people, we are luckier than we can even BEGIN to recount) —– are there lessons we are learning that can teach us about more than just “gosh my life is complicated, and boy I sure do a lot every day and wow things are so different than when I wasn’t a mom and oh man I love this and oh man I hate this and hmmm my career choices sure are different hmm I sure have to figure out how to get money into this house hmmm there’s lots of different ways moms figure out the money and career thing hmmmm and how come people don’t understand how much work this is and whoa they grow up so fast and arrgghh just when you’re getting the hang of one stage they change and hmmm am I a slacker mom or a worker bee mom or a depressed mom or a reluctant mom or an overchieving mom????????”


Or is it just us learning these things, each in her own way, each in her own writing voice? Each with a version that is going to appeal to some tastes and not to others?

Is that just the nature of writing? That you just write and then you find your audience? You find out if you’re any good at it? You find out if you’ve found anything new to say about the subject at hand?

It’s endlessly fascinating.

I’m posing these questions because I was just around a group of mothers who are writing, and I’m in a little performance group that is writing and performing their mother stories, AND I have been reading this book by Lisa Garrigues called WRITING MOTHERHOOD: Tapping Into Your Creativity As a Mother and a Writer (http://www.writingmotherhood.com).

Here’s something: if nothing else, my drive to do this writing about my motherhood will provide a look into my thoughts about this work for my own kids. Because I’ve done so much of this work on audio, they will have an audio log that chronicles their childhood and my motherhood. Perhaps it will be something they value some day (meanwhile I’m being careful to be honest, loving, and not TOO invasive of their privacy).

Those of us who are doing this writing, whether just for our own notebooks or for print or radio, are adding some details to the sketch of what mothers were thinking just about now in the history of our achey world.

There’s something about just doing this writing that is important too, right? There’s some kind of drive.

I have had a little vacation recently, and I’ve returned with an almost ferocious drive to continue this work of writing about motherhood. And to continue to get it out there in the world. And to continue to ask tough questions of the writing: Who cares? Why? What ELSE?

Lisa Garrigues needed to write a book about how she wrote about motherhood. She encourages others to do so too. Here’s how Garrigues ends the foreward of her book, WRITING MOTHERHOOD:

“When I sat down to begin work on WRITING MOTHERHOOD, my brother was battling terminal cancer, my mother was orbiting Alzheimer’s, my sister was calling hospice and home care, my husband was starting a new business, my children were entering adolescence, and my country was at war. None of it stopped me. I was approaching another stretch of the river. Perhaps the rocks were bigger, the white water rougher, but I knew that if I kept on course, I would eventually reach my destination. “

Write on, mamas. WRITE ON!

–Nanci Olesen is the host and producer of http://www.mombo.org and the host of a pilot program for American Public Media called “How’s the Family?” She can be reached at nanci@mombo.org.