Motherhood as Limitation


I’ve been lucky enough to take lots of writing workshop classes (and to teach some, too). Writing can be overwhelming. Like…what do you write about? It’s easy to feel stuck. Guided writing activities are designed to get the writer writing, and to open up ideas that might grow into something bigger down the road. Sometimes a limitation helps.

How do they work?

They place limits on the writer. For example, they might ask the writer to craft a story without using the letter ‘e,’ or to set a story in the kitchen of the home they grew up in. The limitation actually helps the creative process start.

As the mom of a toddler and a newborn, I can’t help but feel limited. I live in hour increments between feedings and pumping. I barely sleep. My alone time is nonexistent. My budget is strained. Some days it’s just not worth it to pack up the minivan and leave the house, so I want to stay inside. Except I don’t even have that option.

I gave birth to my second child in July, and her first month of life has been nothing but back-to-back appointments as we’ve tried to figure out her feeding problems. This means that I have to get dressed. I have to drive. I have to make my sleep deprived self absorb what the doctors are saying.

If I turn on the TV or look at social media I see fully dressed, showered, rested people wearing makeup and, I don’t know…playing racquetball. It’s not that I have any desire to play racquetball. I’m happy to have these cool little children. I love them. But it’s hard not to be jealous of the rest of the population, when my biggest accomplishment in a day might be getting to poop alone.

I’m trying to let go of that jealousy/comparison in favor of living my life like a writer. Writers know that limitations are what give our story focus. Limitations invite creativity. Anyone could have an exciting life if given millions of dollars, no responsibilities, 9 hours of sleep, and access to a spa. But what kind of depth would that story have?

Would it even be interesting?

Mom stories are full of twists and turns. Go to the store, baby has a blow out, no change of clothes in the diaper bag, so you make a newborn dress out of a carseat cover. Erma Bombeck embraced the everyday hilarity of motherhood. Who could do these things but moms?

I look around and I see moms in the thick of it. Women with kids in and out of intensive care, who post sunny updates any chance they can. Women walking away from bad relationships, because they refuse to let their kiddos grow up in fear like they did. Women who are leaning in at work, and leaning in at home, and have to see the chiropractor from all the leaning. Women watching their kids play at the park, terrified that someone will mention how they are different.

Once, in a Creative Nonfiction workshop, a male peer of mine said, “Everyone has a story, but I’m not sure they all need to be told.”

My female professor said, “Yes, they do.”

They do. They do. Our limitation makes the best stories. We just need to remember that.



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