The author of "Eat, Pray, Love" makes childfree sound like cancer-free in her new memoir, "Committed."
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 public toddler 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.
|Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and her area of interest is Attachment Theory -- a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental health concerns including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders, and depression. Connect with Dr. Walsh on Facebook.|