There are many ways to abuse motherhood, or so the mother is told. She can be arrogant or distant. She can suffocate or be neglected. She can mother in such a way that she is assigned an archetype of the bad mother: a mother on the stage, a mother in the refrigerator, a “nice mother”. She can hover like the mother of the helicopter or bully like the mother of the bulldozer. But the thing she can’t do – something so taboo that it rivals killing her own offspring – is leave.
A mother who abandons her children haunts our family’s narratives. It was made into a tabloid motif, a strange exception for the common dad. Or they are drawn in the background of a plot, and their absence lends the protagonist a propulsive origin story. This number elicits either our laughter (consider Meryl Streep’s lovable US president in “Don’t Look For”, who forgets to save her son while escaping the apocalypse) or our pity (see Parallel Mothers, where an actress abandoned her daughter for lousy TV parts). But recently, the vanishing mother has sparked a new response: respect.
In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter” is Leda (played over two decades, by Jesse Buckley and Olivia Colman), a promising translator who has abandoned her young daughters for several years to pursue her career (and foretold with a scholarly Auden). In HBO’s “Scenes from a Marriage,” a mixed gender remake of the 1973 Ingmar Bergman mini-series, Mira (Jessica Chastain), a Boston tech executive, travels to Tel Aviv for an affair disguised as a business venture. . And in Claire Fay Watkins’ spontaneous novel I Love You But I Choose Darkness, it’s also Claire Faye Watkins, the novelist who leaves her child smoking too much weed, sleeps with a man who lives in a truck and confronts her turbulent upbringing.
In each case, her children are not completely abandoned; They were left in the care of parents and other relatives. When a man leaves this way, he is not exceptional. When a woman does this, she becomes a monster, or perhaps an anti-hero emerging from a mother’s dark fantasy. Feminism has provided women with choices, but choice also represents foreclosure, and women, because they are human, don’t always know what they want. As these heroes struggle against their own decisions, they also struggle with the limits of that freedom, revealing how women’s choices rarely have social support but are always meticulously judged.
A mother losing her children is a nightmare. The title “Lost Daughter” partly refers to such an incident, when a child disappears on the beach. but mother Departure Her children – this is a daydream, an imagined but repressed alternate life. In the “Sex and the City” reboot “And just like that…”, Miranda – now a mother to a teen – gives advice to a professor who is considering having children. “So many nights go by that I love being a judge and coming home to an empty house,” she says. And on Instagram, the flashy mirage of motherhood is challenged by raw looks of desperation. The Not Safe for Mom group, which features confessions of anonymous mothers, buzzes with idle threats to turn down the role, such as: “I want to be alone!!! I don’t want to make your lunch!!”
Being single: This is a mother’s sensible and functionally impossible dream. Especially recently, when avenues of escape have been shut down: closing schools, suspending day care centers, closing offices, losing jobs or being abandoned in the crisis. Now the house is never empty, and you can never leave. During the pandemic, a brave middle-class girl can still “have it all” as long as she can manage work and children simultaneously, from the lawless living room floor.
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Cards on the table: I’m having a hard time writing this article on my phone as my little boy who’s not wearing pants — who has been taken away from daycare for 10 days because someone had COVID — is waging a tireless campaign to take control of my device, put it to his ear and say. whoo. I am charmed, annoyed, and involved, wondering if his need is attributable to a paternal flaw, perhaps related to my constant phone use.
Do I want to give up my child? No, but I’ve become up-to-date with the psychological headspace of the woman who does. Auden scholar in “The Lost Daughter” (performed by Gyllenhaal’s husband Peter Sarsgaard, in an acting-inspired part) tempts Leda with a quote from Simon Weil: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Attention is a loaded word: it can mean attention to another person, but also a strong mental focus, and rarely can a parent carry out both definitions simultaneously.
Lida wants to attend her translation work, but she also wants someone to pay attention to her she has. To be honest, she wants to work and have sex. Often in these stories, the two are bound together in an overly single fusion of the romantic function. In “Scenes from a Marriage,” Mira plans to tell her daughter, “I have to go away for work, that’s right” — only because she has arranged a professional commitment to ease her relationship with her brothers from an Israeli startup. As is often the case, the drug portal you use to give up is a business trip. Mira is surfing for the first time in a company boat party; Lida gets a taste of freedom at the translation conference; Claire embarks on a reading tour from which she has never returned.
The business trip is Rumspringa to motherhood. Like Mama Bird in “Are You My Mom?” , the woman is allowed to leave the nest to retrieve a worm, although someone may notice her absence with the principal’s refusal. In Caitlin Flanagan’s 2012 indictment of Joan Didion, re-circulated after Didion’s death, Flanagan condemns Didion for taking a movie job across the country, leaving her 3-year-old daughter over Christmas.
However, there is something absurd about shaping the work as the ultimate escape. It is only plausible if our desperate mother has a high-level creative (translator, novelist, thought leader) stature. When other novels’ mothers leave, their fantasies are soon revealed to be delusions. In Nicole Denise Bean’s novel “Patsy,” a Jamaican secretary abandons her daughter to pursue an American dream in New York, becoming a governess to take care of someone else’s children. In Jesamine Chan’s dystopian novel The Good Mothers School, Frida is sleep-deprived and drowned in work when she leaves her young child alone at home for two hours. Although Frida feels “suddenly happy” when she closes the door behind her, her fairytale life is short and bleak: she escapes to her office, where she sends emails. Therefore, she was recruited into a rehabilitation camp for bad mothers.
Each of our absent mothers has its reasons. Lida’s academic husband prioritizes his career over hers, and this makes her decisions clear, even sympathetic. But in “I Love You But I Choose Darkness,” Watkins doesn’t lend her doppelgänger any exculpatory circumstances. Claire has a doula, day care, an Obamacare breast pump, a steady job, and many of the world’s most understanding therapists and husband. When she began sleeping on a hammock on campus, her husband said, “I think it’s great that you’re following…your heart, or…whatever is going on…outside.” There’s nothing obvious stopping her from capable motherhood, but like Bartleby, who is pregnant, she simply prefers not to.
In stacking perks on Claire, Watkins suggests that there are burdens of motherhood that cannot be solved with money, lifted by a parent or cured by a mental health professional. The problem is motherhood itself, and its ideal of complete, selfless devotion. Motherhood has turned Claire into a character who is “empty”, “doesn’t seem to think much” and “has difficulty completing her sentences”. As these women discover, their list of life choices isn’t extensive after all. They long to be offered a different position: my father. Claire wants to “act like a man, a bit bad guy.” When Mira suddenly came out, she assured her husband, “Men do it all the time.”
These women may leave, but they don’t get away with it. In the end, Mira loses her job and her boyfriend and begs to get her old life back. Leda’s abandonment turns into a dark secret in a thriller that turns violent. Only Claire is strangely impervious to the consequences. She follows her selfish impulses all the way to the desert, where she spends her days crying and masturbating alone in a tent. Then she calls out to her husband, who flies to her, happy in the clouds; In the end Claire claims that her life can “read, write, nap, teach, soak and smoke” and see her daughter on her breaks. By imposing no cosmic punishment on Claire, Watkins refuses to facilitate the reader’s judgment. But it also makes it difficult to care for.
When I was pregnant, I had a fantasy, too. In it I was celibate, childless, still somehow very young and living an alternate life in a truck in Wyoming. Reading “I love you but I choose darkness” broke the spell. When Claire Bong rips and swirls about new sexual partners, he stuns me not as a monster or heroine but as something perhaps worse – boring. Even as these stories serve to reveal the complex emotional truths of motherhood, they indulge their own little imaginations: that a mother only becomes interesting when she stops being one.