Does Having Children Make You a Better Writer?

Maeve Binchy, who lived a wonderful, successful life full of affection, thank you very much, Ms. Craig

For the record, I’m having a pleasant low-key weekend while my parents are at the coast celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. Tonight one of my best friends is coming over for a girls movie night, and we’ll be binging on pizza, popcorn, and these delicious smores bars I’ve discovered.

However, yesterday I had a moment of blinding rage after I read this article by Amanda Craig in The Telegraph. The sub-heading lets you know this is going to be one rollercoaster of a read: “Does a female novelist need to have experienced childhood to truly understand human emotions?”

Why is she asking such a ridiculous question? She’s criticizing Maeve Binchy, an Irish writer who passed away earlier this week. Binchy’s sold more than 40 million copies of her books, has been featured in the New York Times bestseller list and Oprah’s book club, and won a “People of the Year” award in 2000.

But according to Craig, she would’ve been so much more successful if she had some babies too.

Starting with the photo caption, which states, “Maeve Binchy, who had no children on whom to lavish her affections,” this whole piece reeks of sanctimonious, patronizing, condescension. I cannot believe she has the gall to say that, “there is no practical difference between a man and a woman writer when the latter has not had children.” You know, because if you don’t use your womb, you might as well hand in your women’s ID card because it’s void now.

Let’s point out the real motive here: Craig is jealous. A writer with two children, she’s published six novels with relatively little fanfare. Oprah hasn’t chosen her for her book club. She moans that life is so hard when you’re trying to write and raise kids, so why can’t there be special mommy writing awards to celebrate all her extra hard work?

I have often wondered whether the Orange Prize should be renamed the Navel Orange Prize, given the difference in time and energy available to women writers before and after motherhood.

You’ve got to be kidding me! Craig is bitter at her relative lack of success compared to Binchy–and the echelon of childfree female authors, including Austen, Woolf, and the Bronte sisters–so instead she decides to judge a person’s career on their ability to reproduce.

Which by the way, is highly offensive, considering that many readers have commented that Binchy and her husband suffered from infertility. The woman just died, and you’re criticizing her life choices when she possibly didn’t choose them at all.

No matter what your experience of adult love, there is nothing as strong as the bond between a mother and a child.

I disagree wholeheartedly. Craig’s on a roll pouring salt into Binchy’s wounds, but even if Binchy was childfree-by-choice, this statement holds no weight. The bond between mother and child is just one kind of bond, and if you look to the likes of Casey Anthony, many women have not honored that bond. Love comes in many forms, between partners, spouses, friends, relatives, pets, etc. Love is not a hierarchy.

And by the way, men should also feel disgusted by this article for its inherent silence on fatherhood. Kafka and Poe never had children either, but you don’t see Craig judging childfree male authors. Are they somehow inferior to Hemingway or Fitzgerald because they didn’t create offspring?

Anyway, I could rant all day about this ridiculous piece of “journalism,” but I would love to hear your thoughts. I’ll just leave you with a final quote:

I make no moral claims for motherhood ­— which can bring out the worst in a person, in the form of vicarious rivalry, bitchiness, envy and even mental illness…

Finally, we agree on something, Ms. Craig, because motherhood has certainly brought out the worst in you.

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11 thoughts on “Does Having Children Make You a Better Writer?

  1. This is an interesting disscustion. For the record, Maeve Binchy is my all time favorite author and I am devistated that the stories have ended. However, Binchy had one of the greatest gifts for writing about emotional relationships, yet as a mom, I think she missed the mark. I always felt she put in the emotional repsonse of a parent/child in the context of her experience withher parents. That doe not even begin to touch the surface of the feelings and emotions involved as aparent. (one can empathize, predict and even understand the emotion involved, but until it is experienced first hand, you realize you had no clue in the first place)I always had the sense there was a clinical detatchment. The parental choices where from a point of view of observation not experience. The Glass Lake is an excellent example, The focus is more on the guilt associated with leaving the husband rather than abandoning the children. Fair enough, she didn’t have the life experience to draw from. did that make her less of a writer? No.
    Steven Speilburg also makes this reference in terms of Close encounters of the 3rd kind. He says after experiencing family and parenthood, he would never have writen the father to be so obsessive and abandon his family.
    That is not to say there aren’t people out there who have attachment disorders, but until you walked in those shoes, it’s hard to get the story right.

    • I haven’t read Binchy, although I’ll definitely check her out just to spite Ms. Craig, so I’m glad you offered some insights. I just feel that it’s a slippery slope to say that just because we haven’t experienced something, we can’t write about it well. Many authors write about different genders, ethnicities, sexualities, and even time periods with finesse and talent. Experience does add another level, but I don’t think that it is the end-all, be-all of literary skill.

  2. Wow, what an awful and ridiculous statement (by this journalist/writer/failure/whateversheis). That is so offensive…I think if you have no human contact at all, sure, you might struggle to write as well because I think we need that on some level. But having children doesn’t make you a better or worse writer. As you say, I think she’s just jealous because she hasn’t been as successful. I had some lecturers at uni who were very bitter like that, because they’d been published but were still lecturing because they’d had no success, and I’m pretty sure it’d be because their works would have been nothing but pretentious drivel straight from their own backsides. Of course, some lecturers at uni were great and stayed there after being published because they enjoyed the jobs.
    I really like how you said “Love is not a hierarchy”…that just nails it, really! Great post! 🙂

  3. Some people should be seen and not heard… Why is it that people think they have to shove there opinions and beliefs down everyone’s throats, specially when its something that offends people or insults there intelligence, backgrounds or beliefs! Whatever happen to keeping things to yourself or the golden rule, if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all! We all share this world, not just opinionated mothers who happen to write! She was ignorant to assume her (or someone who has given child birth) writing has more depth and emotion then a person who has no children. She doesn’t know the depth of other peoples feeling, there bonds or there emotions for simply she is not that person, so it was ignorant for her to try and make that comparison.

  4. I have heard this argument as a female writing student, that female artists that have children are better artists for it. I’m sick of it. With Woolf, Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Wharton having written some of the best female centered writing ever, Woolf was especially good for women, I feel like it is a complete load. Writers are meant to empathize. I’m not a man and have never experienced life from a male viewpoint, but using empathy I can write from a realistic male viewpoint where readers who’ve never met me assume I’m a man (unisex first name). Same is true with homosexuality, with another culture, so why must I have first hand experience in this one case? So I never have any time to write? So I can experience the invasion of the pod people syndrome some parents go through?

    Also, I think adult love should come before the love between mother and child. Your spouse is your partner, best friend, and will be there for you in good times and bad. They are your best support and backup. If they are not those things, then you probably chose wrong.

    • I completely agree! If writers (or actors, artists, etc.) were only able to express themselves from their own perspective, many of the world’s best work would have never been created. As for adult love, I also agree, because that love came first and allowed the other love for children to exist. But I’ll admit that viewpoint doesn’t make you popular with some people…

  5. Pingback: Top 5 (Literary) Things I’m Thankful for This Year « Book Club Babe

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