Mother’s Day is coming up this week. I could say any number of things about my mother and my writing. I could tell you how she taught me to read when I was four, had the chicken pox, and was bored out of my mind. I could tell about her love of poetry, how she always had table just my size with paper, pens, paint, scissors, and glue. But when I think about what she did that made the most difference in my life as a writer, it’s this: my mother never said a negative thing about herself in my hearing.
She had plenty of negative things to say to me which is why I had oatmeal for breakfast instead of brownies, and I am not picking my nose as I write this. But she never had a critical word for herself. I’m sure it’s not that she’s never had regrets or felt dissatisfied. But in a world that expects a woman to be self-effacing, she chose to remain uncritical of her appearance, her work, her relationships and her life choices. It is, in its silence, as bold a feminist statement as any I’ve heard.
And it has had an important impact on my own writing process. We all have our inner critic. The difference is that mine has never been one that says: “You have no talent. You are never going to finish this. You will never be good enough.”
I get my share of doubts and self-criticism, but they sound more like this: “This character is too much like this other one and needs his own voice. This scene needs more specific and detailed action. This piece needs more time to develop.”
It’s a subtle difference but an important one. One that helps me stick with a story until it’s done, look at the story dispassionately when I revise, and receive the critique of my writers group and editor in the spirit it is intended.
I’d like to say that I’ve done the same for my own daughters. I’ve certainly tried but it takes a measure of self-discipline to swim against a cultural expectation so ingrained I almost never think about it. So my Mother’s Day wish, beyond a lifetime of thanks to my mom, is that my own girls will learn to speak of their bodies, their choices and their work with respect and without excuses.
So how about you mom’s out there? Chime in on the comments with one thing about your work that makes you proud. Or maybe lay to rest for good a self-defeating phrase you hear yourself using. It’s the Mother’s Day gift that only you can give yourself—a gift that endures in the lives of your daughters. Happy Mother’s Day!