Elizabeth Gilbert and motherhood


Where other women hear that tick, tick, tick and they’re like, “Must have baby,” for me, it was like, tick, tick, tick, “boom.” [Laughs] It was a biological clock, but it was attached to a bunch of C-4 explosives. I’ve often thought that if I had been married to somebody who wanted to be a mom, I could have done it. I used to say, “Man, I think I’d be a really good dad. I’ll be a great provider. I’m funny; I’ll go on trips with them — I’ll do all sorts of stuff.” But the momming? I’m not made for that. I have a really good mom; I know what she put into it. I didn’t think I had the support to both have that and continue on this path that was really important to me. I wasn’t married to a man who wanted to stay home and raise kids. So… – Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat. Pray. Love.

If you read Short Little Bits, then you know that I recently finished “Eat. Pray. Love.” I know. I’m only six years late, but if you read the post I do explain why it took me so long to finish the book. So, I’ve been thinking about it and Gilbert and her thoughts on motherhood and interjecting myself into my thoughts.

In Eat. Pray. Love, Gilbert is adamant about not wanting children. She describes in a lot of places in the book why. She has no desire for me, she says. And in reflecting on mothers she’s known– her grandmother, her mother, a friend who along with attempting motherhood attempted to be an artist– she recalls the sacrifice of self that comes with motherhood, the sacrifice of wonderful parts of yourself that must come with motherhood and she sees her decision to say “No” to children as a decision to say “Yes” in some ways to herself.

I get Gilbert and I like her and respect that she doesn’t want to have children, but in reading about her views on mothers, I couldn’t help but think of myself. I have sacrificed much with motherhood, and as much as I want to respond to her critique of the possibilities of motherhood with the standard, “But my children have added so much to my life!”, I won’t. They have added much, but in mothering my path has changed. When I think of writing now, it must be thought of with thoughts of my children. As much as I would like to pretend that I can do anything that any woman without children can do, I can’t. And I don’t think I’m disappointed about that. But I am now acknowledging now, just now, that this is what it is. And that I don’t mind that this is what it is, is kind of amazing to me. Is this maturity? Or something else? I’m not sure at this point. I just know that for now, I, like Gilbert, have many paths that are important to me, but that, and unlike Gilbert, the path I’m on is not the one I started as a little girl. And that’s okay with me.

What do you think about Gilbert’s thoughts on motherhood?

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15 Responses to “Elizabeth Gilbert and motherhood”

  1. Kita says:

    Interesting. I know someone who doesn’t want kids she is only 33 she says she has no desire because of the world we live in. I have always wanted at least one because it gets lonely as you get older you need someone and I figure who better to have by your side than a child. Not everyone wants kids and that’s sad because there is nothing like the love of a child especially before you make them mad in their teens.
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    • I agree with you! My father and his brother both died within months of each other. My grandmother, their mother, is now childless at a time when she needs her children. As a family, we have gathered around her, but in seeing that experience, in realizing that one day, I, too, will get old and will need and want my children with me…not my memories of travels or a retirement fund…that was my wake up call. I know some who truly don’t want children and I respect that, though I just couldn’t imagine it for myself.

  2. KalleyC says:

    Very interesting. I do not know any one who don’t want any children but I do know some that only wants one. Having children is a sacrifice, but there is much joy in it. There are things that I can no longer do, but I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing. While some things change and eliminated from my life, a lot of things were added as well.
    KalleyC recently posted…Ash Wednesday 2013My Profile

    • Yes! My experience with motherhood has been the same. I think there are many things that were changed and eliminated, but in their place came more beautiful things. I cannot, at this point, imagine my life without my children. In the same way, I guess, Elizabeth Gilbert, could say that she could not imagine her life with children. I respect her for that, even while also secretly imagining what her life would be like if she did have children. lol.

  3. Kimberly says:

    I think in some ways having a child is a sacrifice, but to me, it’s much more rewarding and fulfilling. But, I know that for some people this just isn’t their path in life. And that’s ok too.
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  4. Cecilia says:

    You know, I was of the Elizabeth Gilbert mind for some time…in fact, for the first 2 years of our marriage my husband and I talked and talked and talked about whether or not we should have children. He already had one from a previous marriage, so it was not as anxious of a dilemma as it was for me. I had a kind of disruptive childhood, where I had to become an adult fast and I sacrificed my sense of self a lot, because of demands that my immigrant parents had put on me. I think I never felt like I had “lived” or that I had lived for myself…I always felt that I was living for others. So by the time I was in my 30s and experiencing independence for the first time (I moved out of the country!), I really wasn’t sure if I was ready to give it up and become a mother. But as my clock ticked, the need to have a child became stronger and stronger. And Jessica, am I glad I followed that path and that instinct. I cannot, cannot imagine my world if I had not had my child. I love him beyond words and I would do it again 1000 times over. Sure, I have made sacrifices but at the same time, I have so many other riches that I would not enjoy had I not decided to become a mother. I’ve experienced both lives, and I really love being a mom now. There is a time and place for everything.

    BUT, I think when a woman is that sure she doesn’t want a baby, then I think she shouldn’t. Someone close to me was born to a mother who did not want to be a mother. She left him eating dinner alone from the time he was 7. People shouldn’t bring children into this world unless they are prepared to sacrifice for and love them.
    Cecilia recently posted…Re-thinking Valentine’s DayMy Profile

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Cecilia! I always enjoy reading about your childhood and upbringing and path to motherhood! I didn’t have the exact same experience as you, but, I too, once thought I didn’t want children. I also thought I didn’t want to ever get married. But with age and some life experiences that provided me with glimpses of my own fragility as a human being, I decided otherwise. I am so grateful for my children and for motherhood. The life I lead now often does feel chaotic and hard, but even with the valleys of this existence, I couldn’t say that I would trade it for anything else. Being a parent healed me in many ways and allowed me to become the person I was too afraid to become before children.

      On the other hand of talking about how wonderful motherhood has been to me, I, like you, must acknowledge that if a woman doesn’t want to be a mother, she should not become a mother. It’s a true sacrifice, one that we all need not make. In mothering, in parenting, you must give of yourself in ways that you must be willing to give.

  5. GG says:

    Such a multi-dimenstional subject, you know? I know women who were certain that they didn’t want to have a child and then something changed their mind. Maybe a death. Maybe a sister or close friend having a child. Sometimes it’s just the passage of time and their outlook changed. But I also know women who are very self-aware and simply don’t want to have a child because of the sacrifice involved. I tell women all the time that it’s not for everyone and to really make a concscious decision before they have a child. It’s not something that anyone should just do because they feel it’s expected. It changes you in wonderful, super natural ways, you know? It’s really hard to explain and not all of it feels good. It’s agonizing but it’s worth it.
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    • Yes! I love your comment, GG! I agree with you wholeheartedly. I don’t think motherhood is for everyone, but should someone choose motherhood (or should it choose them), I am convinced that there is room there for wonderful changes. Motherhood changed me, too. I am a better person for it!

  6. Nina says:

    I really appreciate your analysis here. I think maybe it is “maturity” as you say or experience that accounts for seeing things the way you do now. I’m right there with you. I think it’s takes time and maturity to accept that things change–sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. And a different path, doesn’t always mean it’s the wrong one or a bad choice, etc.
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    • I agree! It does take time and maturity. I respect her path, even though I feel she doesn’t really understand the paths of other women who choose otherwise.

      p.s. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Nina! I do stalk and love your blog, but I have yet to leave a comment. lol.

  7. I didn’t realize about her stand of points when it comes to motherhood until I read your post but then again I read her book skipping a lot of parts mostly to get to the Bali part because I’m curious about how she write of the place.
    Now motherhood isn’t for everyone. She may feel that way but maybe one day that will change who knows. Motherhood definitely changes me as a person and I’m happy with it :)
    Maureen | Scoops of Joy recently posted…Chosen LifestyleMy Profile

    • Yeah! You know! I think I would have missed her positions on motherhood, too because the book is not really about that. Though, I think it’s interesting that throughout the book she makes it a point to define herself as a woman from the women around her. She defines herself, often, against mothers. I respect that she doesn’t want to have children, though, and like you, I realize that becoming a mother allows a certain kind of perspective that can’t come until you become a mother.

  8. […] motherhood alter a woman’s path? Jessica F. Hinton wrote an introspective post in which she takes a careful look at Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert’s decision to […]

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