I am not your monkey: on motherhood, art, and presumptuous bullshit

The other day it happened again.

I was talking to a friend about the eternal issue of having kids/not having kids, when the friend said something like,

“I guess I just care too much about art and changing society for the better. Who has time for that when they have a child?”


“I mean, I guess you do, Natalia. Well, sort of, right? I assume you’d be able to do so much more with your life if you weren’t a mother.”


“I mean, there’s no harm in admitting it. Right? You don’t have to admit it publicly. You can admit it to me. Yes?”

Now, one of my favorite lines in the history of cinema is actually from “Young Sherlock Holmes” (I know, I know). It goes like this: “Never assume anything.”

Some of the more annoying assumptions made about people who don’t want kids are as follows:

– They’re selfish
– They’ll change their minds eventually (Some do. You know, it’s part of human nature to occasionally change your mind. So fucking what?)
– They’ll regret not having children (Once again – regret is a normal part of human experience. Regret also comes and goes. For people with children and people without children. To problematize regret is to problematize human nature. That’s besides the fact that other people’s regrets, or lack thereof, are none of your damn business)
– There is something fundamentally wrong with them (This is particularly applied to women. No maternal instinct?! Why, she’s a succubus)
– Etc.

Why do people keep repeating these idiotic statements? Most of the time, they merely seek validation for their own choices. By labeling someone else’s decision as aberrant, they reinforce their own decisions as correct.

Validation-seeking can work both ways. Even among friends. Especially among friends. The people we share the personal details of our lives with are more capable of hurting us. Proximity equals vulnerability.

It’s an issue that’s bigger than having children vs. not having children.

I have one son. I’d like another baby. Ideally, I’d have three kids. But everything from health issues to financial issues to issues of borders/citizenship/residence makes bringing another human being into this world hard (and makes adoption – something I’ve always wanted to do – even harder).

Does this stop some friends with more than one child from putting me down? Hahaha, absolutely not. I’ve been told that I am “selfish” for having so far failed to produce a sibling for Lev, my son. I’ve been told that there is something “wrong” with me. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s the same kind of policing that people who choose to not have kids frequently encounter.

Insecure people who wish to validate themselves by putting you down will find ANY means possible. The best you can do is ignore the idiots. Really, that’s it.

But I have to admit, it is particularly hard for me when writers/artists/good friends reach out to me merely in order to validate their own decisions about reproducing or not reproducing.

For some reason, I’m expected to sit there and politely nod along as they explain to me how much better a writer I would be if I had decided against motherhood. “Of yeah. You guys are totally right. I’d already have a bunch of Pulitzers by now. Poor, stupid me. I am so lame and uncool next to you guys. You’re out there living your dreams, while I’m suffering from permanent neural damage having had that breast milk go straight to my brain. Oops.”

stella says fuck off

Obviously, it is silly to suggest that children aren’t time-consuming/difficult/expensive/etc. They ARE.

For example, I am pretty much incapable of making plans spontaneously. If you randomly text me at 11 p.m. and say, “Let’s go get drunk,” I am likely to tell you that I’m already in my pajamas, Lev has been put to bed, the bottle of wine has been uncorked, and I am NOT getting off the couch (unless Lev is currently in a different city, in which case….Hm, I’ll probably still be in my pajamas. But maybe I’ll invite you over for drunken Skyrim-ing, or something. If I like you. I don’t drunk-Skyrim with just anyone).

Seriously, any kind of a relationship with a helpless or nearly helpless dependant involves sacrifice – this doesn’t just go for children (think about people with elderly parents, or sick siblings). And there is a huge amount of emotional vulnerability involved in being someone’s parent or guardian or attentive caretaker.

Having said all that, telling a woman something like, “You could be such a terrific writer if you didn’t have a kid on your arm” is sexist fucking bullshit. I am tired of tolerating it. The next person who tries to pull that shit with me is going to be beaten to death a copy of Anna Akhmatova’s collected poems.

Need I even point out that my husband, who works in film and theater, never gets that treatment?

Of course, the reality of biological motherhood does place more strain on the woman. In the old days, with medicine being what it was, it was that much harder to combine art and motherhood. It was also that much harder to combine physical labor and motherhood, but when we consider history, we barely notice working class women who had babies AND worked their asses off, not to mention, say, slave women who were expected to work themselves to death while also producing the next generation of slaves. The fact is, civilization wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for all of the underpaid (or simply unpaid), unsung women who have toiled and made babies, and were hardly allowed to complain, let alone share their reflections on the matter. The privileged hardly noticed them back then, and they don’t really notice them that much now.

Women are not diminished by motherhood. Women are not diminished by forgoing motherhood. Women ARE diminished by inequality and misogyny, and by living in a world that is primarily tailored to the needs of men. I’m not one of those people who blames all men everywhere for this – just look at the expectations men themselves have to put up with, such as having to kill each other when their governments decide to go apeshit on each other – but I’m just saying, there is a reason why motherhood is still not fully accommodated by most modern societies (empty praise doesn’t count).

On a personal note, I find the statement “I assume you’d be able to do so much more with your life if you weren’t a mother” insulting, because it was motherhood that both toughened me up and made me want to do more with my life. Just to give you one obvious example: “Louisiana,” my best play to date (it was bought by the Moscow Chekhov Art Theater, though the production ran into problems), would not have been possible had I not once been a hysterical pregnant woman, reading about the sinking of the cruise ship Bulgaria on the news – all of those drowned children! – and feeling both a sense of outrage and a need to process that outrage, to see it in a larger context.

“Mommy hormones. They make you so dumb!” Yeah, whatever, fuck off. I wrote most of that play – my scariest play ever – with a sleeping Lev strapped to my chest in a sling. Some of the best work I’ve done in general was done because the birth of my son ultimately made me feel more and think deeper. It made me more aware of the fragility, brevity, and sanctity of both life and love.

This isn’t the way it always works out. I’ve no idea what it will be like if/when I have a second child. In fact, I’m not even going to say something like, “Of course, if I didn’t become a mother, I wouldn’t have achieved anything like that.” That’s also presumptuous bullshit.

We don’t ever really know how a different choice would have played out. We don’t have that power. We do have the power to self-examine. And to accept ourselves if we so choose.

Like every other human being on the planet, I am lots of things. I have many roles. I don’t like being pigeonholed or being forced to validate anyone’s choices. No woman should be in that position. No *person* should be in that position, period.

My own philosophy on the subject of reproduction is Don’t Be An Asshole (TM).

Want kids? Great. Don’t want kids? Great. Not sure what you want? Great. Don’t have any regrets? Awesome. Have regrets? Well, shit. Pull up a chair and let’s talk about it. Can’t have kids and are fucking tired of people’s intrusive questions on the matter? I support you in telling those people to fuck right off. Etc.

See? Not Being An Asshole (TM) is easy. If you try.

P.S. People who are going to show up here and scream at me to shut up about these issues, because the REAL ISSUE is how nobody should reproduce anymore due to overpopulation/strain on resources – let me just say this right away: If you’re from a richer nation, you’re already putting more strain on the environment than, say, a bunch of kids from Bangladesh. Irresponsible consumption and inequality are THE problems to tackle when we consider what we’re doing to the planet. Right alongside reproductive health and family planning (most women who have a lot of babies opt to have less when society *allows* them to – if millions of women were not under tremendous pressure to produce many babies, this would be a major victory for everyone). I also have little patience for the “we should all voluntarily die out” crowd. I think our species should follow the vector of evolution – i.e. *solve* its problems, as opposed to eliminate them by eliminating ourselves. For a species with our intellectual capacity, it seems like a cop-out. And that’s beside all of my thoughts on the meaning of life/humanity’s purpose(s).

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No guilt-trip, just good times

80 thoughts on “I am not your monkey: on motherhood, art, and presumptuous bullshit

  1. Thanks for implying that those of us who would rather do more with our lives (yeah, I said it, not doing parenthood means that you get to do other things) can’t think or feel as deeply as you do. Yep, I’m sure I’ll never be a great playwright too, because I don’t have a son!

  2. Come. The fuck. On.

    Saying that an experience/choice has changed you for the better, or influenced you in some profound way, is not the same thing as saying that NOBODY WHO DOESN’T HAVE THIS EXPERIENCE WILL FEEL OR ACT AS I DO. This is so basic that I feel as though you must be trolling.

  3. Not when it’s an experience or choice that just happens to be required of women under patriarchy. Sorry. You may fool some people with your “intellectual mommy” crap, but you’re just pushing the same drug with a different name.

  4. Oh yeah. That’s it. I’m “pushing a drug.”

    Honestly. Either you missed the point of this post or you’re trolling. Or you’re staggeringly stupid. Either way, this conversation’s pretty pointless.

  5. “Intellectual mommy crap”? Huh. You know, I read that Doris Lessing had three kids. She won the Nobel Prize.

    This goes back to Nat’s point that men aren’t usually demeaned for being fathers. If you’re going to use big words like “patriarchy” you should probably address your own sexism.

  6. Thank you for this post and for mentioning caretaking (which is usually left out). My husband and I decided early on that we didn’t want kids, but this doesn’t mean that we didn’t have to change our lifestyles and habits for the sake of others. In fact, when his father was dying, I would say we both put our lives on hold for over a year. I would never regret it, it’s just strange to hear that a childfree existence means not being responsible for anyone. In fact I hear it from a lot of childree people themselves, younger ones especially, but overall I don’t think it’s the case. Anyway, thanks again for a great post.

  7. Lal – yeah, this is my point exactly. Nobody would accuse a dude of pulling “intellectual daddy crap.”

    Gwen – thanks for stopping by! And I totally agree. Whether one has kids or not, having close, meaningful relationships sometimes means setting your own needs aside for someone else in a big way. It’s a normal part of life.

  8. In the aftermath of my second biokid I am in the process of starting several small businesses, writing a book, writing music… and have tonnes of stuff that I can do because I am a mother, and have the drive, the need to actually do some of it.

    (Of course, being properly treated for my health issues also helps, but I want to give some credit to the kids.)

  9. I am awestruck reading this blog. At one side I see so much of angst and irritation, on the other side I loved how you reasoned out the possible thought processes. Its a provocative write up which is so damn right but also disturbs you with the emotional outbursts in between.

  10. I agree that people should mind their own business when it comes to other people and their children or lack of children … This includes topics like breastfeeding, co-sleeping, day care, etc.
    I’ve always wanted children, and have been blessed with two boys and a bonus daughter. But, that doesn’t mean it’s any of my business if the couple next to me has kids or doesn’t have kids. It’s also none of my business how they raise their kids (obviously this doesn’t include cases of abuse when intervention is necessary). Thank you for sharing this post.

  11. Same here! Having been a full-time housewife for the last 7 years (by choice) I’m feeling more driven to create for myself than I ever did pre-kids. I’ve learned more about myself and how I tick and what I’m truly capable of over those 7 years of child raising than I ever did in the 30 before that.

    Not everyone has that kind of revelation (especially people who were already pretty driven in their careers before their kids came along) but DAMN parenthood can be an enormous opportunity for self-growth if you let it.

  12. Fantastic writing and biting social commentary. Leave those arse holes to themselves. I want to be you when I am a mom one day.

  13. I am grateful to know that there are people out there who are actually normal! The truth of the matter is, people who assume, stereotype and define from their own experiences never realize that is just one perspective. And most probably they are always wrong or narrow… or just way too shallow. LOL. Thank you for this!

  14. This post could not have come at a better time. I’ve just had this conversation for the 100th time with an “artist” friend who is younger than me, so I hope she will get wiser with age. I’m still an artist too but money is a real factor as a single mom, so I work. According to her I “sold out” or I’m didn’t stay true to my art. Different people have different circumstances and that leads to different decisions. Like decisions not to run around town all night or take part in group travel plans with friends when my priority is feeding my son and still trying to maintain a business. I’m going to send her this post. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone.

  15. “Women ARE diminished by inequality and misogyny, and by living in a world that is primarily tailored to the needs of men.” I loved every word you inscribed. They have been imprinted so deep in my veins. Thanks for writing

  16. Interesting read, but so much anger!!! Only managed to read it because I am a mum, otherwise would have been difficult… I guess this ideas could reach a wider audience if the mother/writer in us will express her anger with more grace and less indelicate words…

  17. The need to accept motherhood as being a valuable use of a woman’s time alongside the need to allow and encourage women to look beyond motherhood to be fulfilled if that is what they wish is a difficult balance to strike. Both motherhood and a career provide stimulation and fulfillment and neither role should be denigrated or turned into a battleground.

  18. There’s a fabulous book about Motherhood and all its many myths, that covers the far-back history of societies and their attitudes to moms and children, it’s fascinating and change the neuronic setup of your brain when you read it. It’s a lot to read but even reading a third of this book is worth every minute. Title:The Mythis of Motherhood: How Culture reinvents the good mother, by author Shari Thurer.

  19. Well said, I was one of those women that didn’t want children, I changed my mind and had two. They can drive me crazy like every kid can, but on the other hand, having children motivated me to do more with my life. Does that mean I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have kids, who knows. I wanted to teach them to never give up on their dreams so I started to work on my dream. I loved creating when I was in high school and then stopped, when I had children, things changed. Does it make it harder to find time to create, hell yeah it does but it also teaches us how to divide ourselves and make time for others. I think children give us a reason to do more, not just for them but for ourselves too.

  20. Thank you for this, as a female artist, I get the full range of responses you described. Conversely, it is interesting that in a bizarre 2015 twist, my art partner expects to be able to say,”Oh, I am a man with kids before I can do any art, so you can all just wait until I am done with my kids” and somehow he expects a medal for this? I tend to ignore him when he says things like that, reasoning,”hmm. Billions of women on earth get their jobs done and raise their kids, but they don’t expect the world to applaud them and drop everything because they have kids. ” I am not sure if that seems unkind…but it does feel like self-indulgence that suddenly if men participates in their children’s upbringing, they should be rewarded with being allowed to just inconvenience others simply on the basis that they do not have kids! Now, imagine if women did that…they would immediately lose their jobs! 🙂

  21. When I was sixteen, I became pregnant and was forced (shotgun wedding) into marrying. I had no say whatsoever. I went on to have five children in total. This was in the late 50’s. There was no opportunity to be anything but a mother, no money and no say. Early birth control was far from trustworthy. No one I knew fared much better. One would never dream of travelling overseas or taking on a business or profession of their own. I think that men liked it that way. Keeping a woman ‘barefoot and pregnant and tied to the sink’ was a big joke for my husband and his friends. Women have come a long way, but I think that a lot of men have a long way to go in accepting the loss of control.

  22. Hi Natalia, interesting perspective. I have a couple of questions/points to make regarding your article. If being a mother does not hinder your ability to have a successful career then why make an issue of it? Why do you not just take your own advice and ignore the idiots who make such outlandish remarks? The number of single Father’s who raise their children as well as work is not exactly a small figure (2.5 million), yet I am yet to find one who cries “sexism” when he is placed into the “incompetent fumbling Mr. Mom” stereotype. My point is, if the people you associate with are making such ridiculous statements in regard to you being the parent of a child, perhaps you need to associate with different people.

  23. These words do possess a lot of anger… But its great! I have heard and seen so many women who just tend to accept rather than fight back. Women are often been ‘told’ rather than being ‘heard’. Maybe because the society made such rules. It’s high time BOTH MEN and WOMEN realize that women are just not baby producing machines or someones caretakers. Taking responsibilities and freedom of living is equal for both men and women. And taking a particular decision is simply ones personal choice. Why is it that a man marrying at the age of 40 is all fine and women doing so is a big question? Why is it that a women earning more than her husband is supposed to have an attitude that is not acceptable? Why is it that a single women after a certain age is seen as a person who cannot be loved or is some kind of an alien? And I don’t understand at times, why do men just give their opinion to a women about a problem for which they have a better answer or when they don’t even require it. I guess life gives you a bunch of morons to entertain yourself and wonder if people asking such question even have a life of their own. Oh hell yeah they don’t. Applauds to the writer, and I guess there is no point listening to the society robots who always tell you what to do. Enjoy your space, do what you love and just don’t give a shit to what THEY say. Cheers!

  24. I loved this I hate peoples opinions of the life of others. Because of my size and stature, I have spent the better part of my 44 years fetching comments as to why I didn’t play sports followed by if I had your size I would have done this or that etc. Etc. ad nausea. I have the spirit and intellect of a artistic philosopher. As if it diminishes my masculinity to rather think than do. Then assuming that because I’m a teddy bear that I just be weak or soft and vulnerable and easily bullied then calling the cops when you find out that just because a guy is wearing a rose colored Oxford I probably shouldn’t push someone 6’6 345lb because god dang he won’t stop beating me someone please help me make him stop. WHAT. You tell people who intrude to f’off I beat them mercilessly until they aquire the enlightenment to mind their business, is alive lesson of sorts.

  25. The older I get the more I love my entire gender. All of us… the with-child and the sans-offspring. The employed and the unemployed. The straight, gay, bi- and fluid. Yep… we all rock. Love your blog. Will follow you in 2016 and enjoy your thoughts on all matters. Because women are wise as well!

  26. Men ( Hetros), are definitely from Mars:

    After this skim read that is where I am .

    Maybe you should employ an interpreter for the other half of the Earth’s population.

    Then again why bother, it will be meaningless in any language.


  27. I couldn’t agree more. I’m only 20 and I already know that I (probably) won’t have kids. It’s just not something I see myself doing in the future. Yet I have already heard so many comments like, “you’ll change your mind”, “It’s worth it”, “I find that kind of selfish…” and many more (which you have pointed out). Why do people feel it is so wrong not to have children? I also love that you mentioned that those comments are still made after one child, or two. Just because whoever making the comment has more children than you. I have never thought of that. I am constantly trying to understand why people feel the need to tell other how their life would be “better” if they just did this.
    Thank you for bringing up overpopulation. So many people think that it means that there are too many people in this world. In reality, it is just about human consumption and how much we waste what we have.

  28. This article is hauntingly beautiful. Reminds you yet again that ours is still a male chauvinist society and will continue to be for as long as it will exist.

  29. Well said!

    In that case why wouldn’t it affect a father? No, it won’t to either of the parents. I don’t understand what your passion for art or anything at all has anything to do with being a Mom or Dad…

  30. I believe that today we have started to make our own choices but forgotten to respect others’ choices. What an irony! Very well written piece and Yes, much needed anger!

  31. ‘Women are not diminished by motherhood. Women are not diminished by forgoing motherhood. Women ARE diminished by inequality and misogyny, and by living in a world that is primarily tailored to the needs of men.’ So very true, and eloquently put!

  32. mom-life… it comes with the territory. be you and do it with your babies. They are just jealous you can do it all and shine as you do. Power to the mom. p.s. your kids know your a bad-ass… in the end that’s all that matters.

  33. I often find my self in the same situation. Having 2 girls has been the most wonderful thing ever ( again like every mother will say !) but sure thing I face challenges at work and in my professional life that has make me question if my life could have been better with out them?? Then I come to realize that is not my girls fault, society expects now a working mother to be slave and be capable enough of do the million things that this “new era” requires. Yes we are smart and capable to do so and many great things even whit a kid in our arms, but yet face the problem of not been capable enough just because we have kids.
    Thank you it was good to read your blog.

  34. This post has everything needed to silence those interfering pricks roaming around, bullshitting their unnecessary advice on how women must have kids or else they’re “selfish”. Thankyou. Your statement of women being dragged down by stereotyped is A+. I think it’s high time people stopped poking their nose into other’s business, and let’s the world live in peace.

  35. Loving the Don’t Be An Asshole policy, I only wish more people would follow it! You can’t win – have kids and people think of you as a silly little housewife without ambition, don’t have any and you’re a jezebel sent from hell. It’s like people have forgotten to keep their noses out of other people’s business.

  36. Thank you for this wonderfully honest post. If every woman stood together we would all have such a better existance.

  37. Thank you so much for putting this into words . We need more people like you to talk about these issues without sugarcoating them .

  38. This kept me spellbound from beginning to end. You’ve artfully and powerfully vocalized many of my own thoughts on writing, on parenting, on the insidious cultural mores that burden and poison us. Thanks for this. May the wind be at your back, fellow mother/writer/woman/lover/fighter/human.

  39. I love that balance, too! Too often anger is dismissed as irrationality (pretty particularly when it’s a woman who’s angry), but Nat employed careful and thoughtful arguments.

  40. Wow… There’s some really angry people walking the earth. Lol.

    I really loved your post. I get much of what u are saying, personal choice is personal choice and we are not diminished by it. Motherhood has been an organic part of my journey here, and i can not imagine my life without it. But by the same token I understand why you would choose not to.

    Beautifully described. 😉

  41. Thank you for this awesomeness! I just wrapped up a year of interviewing artists mothers to show how becoming a mother can help make artists (in my opinion) more focused, fearless, and driven to create. I LOVED what you wrote. Yes – kids, no kids, x, y, z, whatever – it’s all fine. Thank you!

  42. Beautifully written, I felt every single word you uttered. I’m on the side of those who might not have children, and every single day I hear people saying: “Of course, you are in theatre, how could you work in theatre with a child?” The problem is of course not working in theatre and having a baby, but put a baby in a world of judgemental assholes.

    I’ll come back again! Have a nice day 🙂

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