From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

When Mommy Is a Writer

“And what do you do?” the gentleman seated to my right at a dinner party politely asked me. I was about thirty-two years old and the mother of three little girls.

“I’m a mom,” I answered proudly.

“Oh, so you don’t work?” He sniffed.

I will never forget the way this well-pedigreed captain of industry turned away from me in an instant to pursue a conversation with the woman on his other side—hopefully, somebody with a life.

And I never forgot the sympathetic looks, the rude withdrawals, the assumption that I was surely not important enough or enlightened enough to make decent conversation.

The women who were just starting to emerge in careers of their own back in the changing 1970s were sometimes equally disdainful. It was the era when all things seemed possible for women; Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique announced that the world was bigger than a baked potato. And suddenly, work was the answer to getting beyond the kitchen walls.

I was one of those women who didn’t work “outside the home,” as we were careful to enunciate, until my three daughters were safely launched in school at least for most of the day. I loved those years at home. But to be perfectly frank, I also found myself occasionally wondering whether I’d ever get my turn to do what I wanted.

It came. But in a carefully selected way.

I became a mommy-writer. In what turned out to be a perfect synthesis for me, I wrote about being a mom. That writing turned into a column. That column turned into something of a local institution that still goes on, thirty-three years and counting. My daughters grew up in my column, which made life both interesting and challenging for them—and for me.

Where were the boundaries? Was it fair to share with thousands of readers how Jill fared on her first date? How it felt when Amy and I, the glorious battlers in our family, stormed in and out of each other’s lives? When Nancy, the “baby,” left for college, and I had to leave the door of her room closed for months rather than weep each time I saw it empty?

Because my working life and home life collided constantly, it was sometimes impossible to figure out where one began and the other ended. My daughters were my “material.” And to make matters more complicated, they could all read by the time I started writing for a living. Never mind that my husband, a judge with a very public life, would have welcomed some privacy.

So in hindsight, would I have done anything—or everything— differently? Did my mommy life and my career have to be so inextricably intertwined? And so consuming?

Yes. No. Maybe . . .

Working from a home office, surrounded by laundry baskets, entertained by cries of “She hit me first!” and “I hate her!” and constantly battling the push-pull of Do I beg for an extension on my deadline so that I can go with the Brownie troop to the petting zoo? defined my life for years. Decades.

Like so many working mothers, I seemed in a constant war with myself. And the very nature of my work—revelation— meant that I often spilled the beans on my family to my readers.

All these years later, my daughters tell me that despite their furies, despite the times they slammed their doors in my face as if to say, “This will keep you out of my life,” they kind of liked their celebrity. Now they tell me that it was “cool” to have a mom who made them, well, kind of famous in the local sense.

What makes all of this seem to have yet another life is that now I’m writing about their children, our seven brilliant, beautiful, and altogether stupendous grandchildren!

“Grandma, stop writing about me!” the “larges,” as we call the older children of the bunch, lament. But I’ve been this route before, and I strongly suspect that Hannah, Isaiah, Sam, and Jonah don’t really mean it. I’ve even overheard them boasting to their schoolyard buddies, “My name was in the paper again!”

The “smalls,” Danny, Emily, and Carly, can’t read yet. I count it as a blessing, for now.

So will I go on doing this? Will I shamelessly make my life as a wife, mother, grandmother, woman—and my career—a complicated fusion?

I’m afraid so.

Because “living out loud” as the wonderful writer Anna Quindlen calls it, can become gloriously, hopelessly addictive.

Sally Friedman

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