Litro #183: Place Edition – Notes from a reader: M. M. De Voe, Pen Parentis

The word is parenting—and as an intransitive verb, it was first coined in 1959. Until the 1960s, you might be the parent of someone, but you did not “parent” them. 

One of the first blogs about “parenting” began in April 2002 when a single mom, Melinda Roberts, launched Author Ayelet Waldman soon took mommy-blogs to the next level with a controversial blog (launched in 2004 and deleted in 2005) called “Bad Mother” which used the lens of parenthood (and her excellent writing skills) to boldly discuss everything from gay rights to abortion. The first popular dad-blog, “Modern Day Dad,” was launched by Chris Ford in February 2005, and by the time my second child was born in October 2006, there were more than 50 million blogs on the internet. Once that child was two, mommy bloggers had crested six figures. In 2009, the New York Times launched Motherlode and The Today Show began to publish Today Moms. 

Is it any wonder that people pressured me, a woman with an MFA from Columbia in creative writing, to start to write a blog? 

But I was a private person and wanted to give my kids privacy too—I had no desire to put my personal choices about parenting up for public debate on the internet. I felt that there had to be people out there still writing novels as a career—who had kids—and only by connecting to those people could I break through the noise of the blogosphere. A good friend and I launched a reading series in the Wall Street area to do just that: we presented the diversity of successful writers who happened to have kids. 

Pen Parentis was soon launched. Writers came together monthly in a convivial library bar in Lower Manhattan, where readings were followed by intimate Q&As, frequently on the subject of guilt, and finding time, energy, and privacy to be creative. 

Our mission? To help each other stay on creative track after having kids. We already had awards or MFAs and/or novels-in-progress and we just needed a little inspiration and guidance from other writers who had kids (and Pulitzer Prizes) to forge ahead and finish our projects. It turns out that writing after having kids isn’t impossible. It’s hard, yes, but not impossible. And things that are hard are frequently things that are very worthwhile in the long run. 

Something about balance

Parenting and writing are not pitted against each other on a balance. None of us have scales of justice to measure any one part of our lives against another. The finite resources of our time, energy, and money must be divided amongst all the tasks and responsibilities, joys and needs of our lives—and if you picture the balance more like an art mobile, you’ll begin to see the true task of resource management. Each thing you want to do—whether writing, picking kids up from school, balancing your books, making a sandwich, designing a deck for a presentation, going to the gym—is a shape on your mobile. Some are small and fit easily into the day. Some are huge and when you add them it seems impossible that you can add anything else of any size. But to be sure: no matter what you add to the mobile of your day, it will disrupt everything else—of course it will! 

At Pen Parentis we say that having kids is just adding another shape to the gorgeous mobile of your life. You don’t remove writing when you add a child (or four), you just have to shift things around to make sure there are still resources remaining to devote to your writing career. 

Why the negative stereotype? 

Parenthood is an easy target, a low-hanging fruit, probably because it is so common for people to stop creative actions after they have kids. Who still plays the musical instrument they learned in middle school? Many people think of creative writing as a pleasant, idle activity, a dream. 

The writers who join Pen Parentis value their writing more than just a hobby. They are aiming for publication, or at the very least, for a professional level of written work. 

If you lose your literary circle because you’ve just had a third child and moved to the suburbs, that is not parenthood affecting your career: it is real estate, economics, the lack of affordable child care… Many larger issues—economics, inequality, gender roles, racial and religious discrimination—frequently get lumped into “having kids” because once you are responsible for an entire family, these issues bubble to the surface, while a solo traveler can sometimes evade them by simply pulling up roots and moving elsewhere. 

Which brings me to the subject of PLACE. Parenthood should not affect the way people see you, any more than discovering that your favorite author is also a sister, or a spouse. Being a parent is simply a family relationship with attendant responsibilities. It doesn’t affect your talent. 

I hope this PLACE issue allows you to consider your own home situation in a new way—and connects you to a broader sense of community as you travel through each page, physically as well as in your imagination. 

And finally, Pen Parentis sends deepest gratitude to all the writers who sent in work to shape this PLACE issue. We value the time and effort it takes to create something new when you have a busy family and hope that you will always find a home for your writing. We also thank Eric Akoto, the marvelous Editor-in-Chief of Litro, as well as the entire Litro team for all their hard work on this gorgeous issue.

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