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'Committed' Isn't Committed to Children

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The author of "Eat, Pray, Love" makes childfree sound like cancer-free in her new memoir, "Committed."

elizabeth gilbert

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Let me start by saying that most American female readers, myself included, l-oo-ve Elizabeth Gilbert. Her bestselling book had us eating, praying, and loving along with her as she recovered from a painful divorce by traveling the world. "Eat, Pray, Love" detailed the ultimate female escape: four months eating through Italy, four months praying in India, and four months doing charity work and falling in love in Indonesia.

But Elizabeth, I have a bone to pick with you. In your new book, "Committed," readers are not only forced to hold your hand while you overcome your commitment phobia, we are also expected to collude with your disdain for motherhood. Granted, as the studies bear out, many traditional families did place a "disproportionately cumbersome burden on women" (your words), but really, Liz, has every mother raised healthy children by "having to scrape bare the walls of her soul to do it?"

You use your grandmother as an example, saying she had a wonderful life as a young woman working as someone else's maid (and buying an expensive coat and fancy shoes). You say she had to trade those amazing freedoms for motherhood. In explaining her hardship, you try to get readers to believe that the lowest point in her life was having to cut up that coveted designer coat so she could make multiple coats out of it for her children. Even after interviewing your granny, you are still not convinced that she really means it when she says that those years with small children were the happiest in her life. Question: Has it ever occurred to you that your grandmother joyfully transformed her old coat because that security blanket was no longer necessary? And I'll bet she was quite proud of her handiwork too.

We mothers understand your grandmother. Motherhood means losing your mind and finding your soul. Any woman who has spent countless nights rocking a fevered child, or days on end calming publictoddler tantrums, or years giving love while still buying the bacon, knows her own power in a measurable way. There is no better method for building a woman's self-worth than to allow her body to manufacture a human -- and use her beautiful brain and ingenuity to nurture that being to his or her greatest potential. Motherhood is a quiet, godly confidence that says, "Don't mess with me, world. I make people." You wouldn't know that, Elizabeth, because, as you tell us, your books are your babies -- and your sister's kids (whom you can return) are just like library books. (No offense to aunties everywhere. We mothers are grateful that you're there.)

Elizabeth Gilbert, you're a smart writer whose prose and metaphors make me smile with every paragraph, but I have some news for you: We are in a postfeminist age where women are more free than ever to be truly feminine if they so desire it. We're free to create peer relationships that have a more equitable division of labor, free to build careers with creative hours that complement motherhood, or free to stay at home and get the job done full-time because that gives us pleasure. Your voice is that of a dinosaur feminist who makes childfree sound like cancer-free. You say, "Childbearing and child-rearing consume so much energy that the women who do become mothers can quickly become swallowed up by that daunting task -- if not outright killed by it." Really, Elizabeth? Killed by it?

I will be the first to tell you that having kids gave me life. The joy I get from watching my children grow pales in comparison to that great big paycheck I used to get, or my former collection of fancy shoes. Every day, I marvel that my kids are still breathing, have full stomachs and creative brains, and are bubbling with self-esteem -- all because I did something right. And, lest you think that mothers have less power and therefore a smaller voice, less independence, and a lack of self-accomplishment, remember that fabulous saying from the South: "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." That speaks to the power of a woman as the ultimate leader in the household.

You do allude to this power once in "Committed," with a description of your own mother. "She's subtle and graceful enough in her method of control that you don't realize she's doing it," you write, "but trust me: Mom is always steering the boat." But then, because of your own fears or inadequacies, a few pages later you dismiss your mother's power by telling us that she's happiest now that all the kids are out of the house.

In "Committed," you tell us that your goal is a "wifeless" and "motherless" marriage. Yikes! Sounds like two guys shacking up to me. Note to Elizabeth: Guys aren't a whole lot different from children. When the going gets rough, you might want to try nurturing the dude a bit. Be prepared to put on a motherhood hat sometimes.

next: Is Football Too Dangerous for Kids?
12 comments so far | Post a comment now
Black Iris February 16, 2010, 5:08 AM

After writing a book about escaping marriage, Gilbert is now writing about how great it is. I predict the next book will be about overcoming her motherhood-phobia.

Angela February 16, 2010, 5:46 AM

I am very glad to have my son, but I also know that having children and raising them right does come with some pretty hefty compromises. I know that there’s some who make motherhood out to be all sunshine and roses (it’s not) and feel that it’s right for every woman (it’s not). I would never say that motherhood is less of a choice, but I would also maintain that being childfree is a lesser choice either. Each can be very fulfilling if it is the right one for the woman in question.

Emma February 16, 2010, 6:28 AM

as a mother I say this: everyone is entitled to their opinions. If she dosen’t feel that mother is not right for her then that’s fine. Motherhood is not for everyonne. I rather her say she does not want to be a mother than to have children and then not take care of them because she realized that she wasen’t mom material before hand.

Tina February 16, 2010, 6:51 AM

I believe your advertisement laden blog has missed the point. Gilbert has bowed down to Motherhood quite often in “Committed” with respect and humility. You take many of quotes from the book out of context. Not sure why you seem so defensive. Doesn’t one have a choice or does fulfillment only come through child birth? And can’t one be proud of taking a different path?

Jennerific February 16, 2010, 8:23 AM

Thank you so much for a wonderful article! Today is one of “those days” and your article reminded me just how precious these little years are. It gave me the boost I needed to pray for patience. Thanks again.

MotherLover February 16, 2010, 9:49 AM

I watched a movie at the Fort Lauderdale film festival that’s out later this year, Tantric Tourists. It’s about people looking for answers in a similar way to Gilbert…they go to India, one of them even takes their kid with them…on a tantric trip…

tennmom February 16, 2010, 11:09 AM

“The joy I get from watching my children grow pales in comparison to that great big paycheck I used to get, or my former collection of fancy shoes. Every day, I marvel that my kids are still breathing, have full stomachs and creative brains, and are bubbling with self-esteem — all because I did something right.”
You could not have said it better no matter how hard you tried.
My late-husband (father of my daughters) did NOT want children & I didnt think I did either until we had been married for 8 years. I realized I DID want children, he still didn’t, but when I told him I would be a mother even if he didn’t want to be a father, he chose to “keep” me over losing me. He made life hell for me after the birth of our daughters.
He died when our girls were 3 & 5. I’ve since married a man who adores me and my (our) daughters. Things happen for a reason sometimes.


zoeandmommy February 16, 2010, 1:54 PM

What is so wrong with bringing to the forfront that you make extreme sacrifice in life when you have children. I am a mother and thought long and hard about having children. It is a true commit for the rest of your life. I think that it’s about time that we discuss that motherhood and/or fatherhood is not right for everyone. After having a child, I don’t understand why women don’t share what it is to truly like to raise a child. The little things that you give up in life to be a good parent. I really bothers me that some women make it out to be some miracle. We are animals just like all animals we get pregnant and give birth. Kudos to Elizabeth Gilbert for opening up this dialog.

kim February 16, 2010, 9:11 PM

I haven’t read Ms. Gilbert’s books but I heard her speak to a packed audience. She has a quiet confidence and serenity that is powerful.Motherhood isn’t for every female. Marriage means different thinks to different people. I applaud each choice as the best for that person even if the choice is not for me.

michelle March 2, 2010, 8:28 AM

You must feel pretty threatened if you’re policing other women’s maternal instincts. If Gilbert is not “committed” to motherhood, that’s her right. Personally, I found that a refreshingly honest antidote to the cult of motherhood. She is both open and analytical about her feelings in a way that is probably too deep for you and that many of us moms can relate to. Those of us who actually have a self outside wifehood and motherhood, that is. Maybe you don’t, because you spouted the following nonsense: “There is no better method for building a woman’s self-worth than to allow her body to manufacture a human.” Well, if you want to define yourself by babymaking, that’s fine, but let’s not impose that on others, shall we? BTW, my own wonderful mother also said she’s happiest now that her kids are grown and out of the house. Take a poll of mothers over age 50 and see what they say. I knew what she meant and didn’t take it personally. It certainly did not make her a bad mother. On the contrary.

hegesthus March 11, 2010, 4:59 AM

In my humble opinion Elizabeth Gilbert is absolutely right. Furthermore it’s pretty selfish to „make people“, who will have to live in a world of ever-worsening scarcity, overpopulation, poverty and pollution, just because it makes one feel good. Children will become real, full-grown adults, who will have to cope with climate-change and the exhaustion of ressources. To bring children into this world of turmoil, because it feels somheow fulfilling is even cruel.

Jill March 24, 2010, 12:19 AM

I find too often I have to deal with other peoples’ snot-nosed, rude, dirty brats. Being childless is a blessing to you and to everyone around you. Most of your hideous spawn should never have been whelped. Smack ‘em with a baseball bat before they get older.

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