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I’m not necessarily a mom yet, so mom-guilt is not something I have (yet) experienced. I grew up in a house where my mom worked. She was an engineer and my siblings and I went to daycare and a local babysitter. But as I have made preparations for the future — Bruno and I accepting teaching jobs, getting childcare for the new baby (yes, we’re doing daycare), and just thinking about what life will be like (I won’t say planning, because I know how that goes) – I have noticed the quickness with which people are willing to make frankly judgmental general comments and how it often can lead to, at least in myself, a lot of self-doubt.
Most books about working and motherhood seem to go either all in one direction (how to be the big bad career woman while being a mom) or completely in the other (careers are bad, you must stay at home to be a good mom). But what about the person in the middle? The person who wants to work (in this case, for me, be a teacher) but has no desire to be at a Sheryl Sandberg-level in anything (I wouldn’t have time to mom, let alone run, read, write, make sourdough bread — my own version of a “beautiful dream” — you get the picture). Jennifer Fulwiler’s book One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both came at the right time for me.
Fulwiler writes about the period of time when she started writing again and wrote her first book Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It (I have yet to read it, but after this book it is definitely on the list). During these time she juggled writing and childcare and the guilt that comes with both putting off your goals and the fear that you are putting effort into your personal goals at the expense of your children. Though she determines you can have both, I don’t think she means you can have both in the way that the infamous Anne-Marie Slaughter article declares is impossible.
I think this book is a great antidote to the idea that you can only have one or the other — motherhood or personal passion, or even the way “having it all” is encouraged today. It does this through common sense. When feeling guilt about not spending all her time with her growing family, Fulwiler writes, “Now I suddenly realized that mothers throughout history never did this; they never had time. Children’s primary sources of entertainment were outdoor play and other kids, not their mothers.” Reflecting back on my own family, this seems true. My paternal grandmother had fifteen children on a dairy farm. I highly doubt her day was spent catering to my aunts and uncles. She had a lot of work to do — cows don’t milk themselves, you know. Granted, milking cows is not the same as following a personal passion (well, unless you are my father) — but I suspect the time given to running a farm is requires more time away from your kids than that of the latter.
The image Fulwiler presents is a sort of happy chaos. There is no separation of family and writing. It goes better when they are all together. Towards the end of the book, when Fulwiler is finishing her manuscript, she describes a great scene where she is driving around with her kids. She parks to write while they keep the baby entertained. When the baby gets fussy, they drive around again and repeat the process. It turns out to be one of the best chapters. I’ll admit my German love of order opposes everything about this (this love of order will certainly get a shock to the system in two months), I think it recognizes an important truth. When you get rid of the standard of perfectionism, what you love can work together.
There’s a very simple line in the book that did stick with me. She writes, “I walked back to my car with no answers, only a strong that somehow, it would all work out.” We tend to tell each other it will work out all the time to the point of cliche, but also, for the most part, tends to be true. Fulwiler presents no solutions, no plans, no seeking of perfection, just an assurance that pursuing motherhood and pursuing personal passions can work out. This future mother who has an abundance of personal passions hopes she is right.