This is the worst fear of every parent. Your child grows up and writes a book about how terrible a parent you were. My kids could easily write a book titled, “My Dad didn’t get off the couch even though my sister stole my stuffed animal!” or perhaps “My Dad made us stop playing until we found the remote control.” Horrible stuff and true.
But in an article published recently, the daughter of trail-blazing feminist, abortion supporter, and “The Color Purple” author Alice Walker, has spoken out. Normally, I’d shy away from this but to me, what this young woman writes takes on a deeper significance.
Alice Walker, the champion of women’s rights, has always argued that motherhood is a form of servitude. But one woman didn’t buy in to Alice’s beliefs – her daughter, Rebecca, 38, says the Daily Mail.
Here the young writer describes what it was like to grow up as the daughter of a cultural icon, and why she feels so blessed to be the sort of woman 64-year-old Alice despises – a mother.
The other day I was vacuuming when my son came bounding into the room. ‘Mummy, Mummy, let me help,’ he cried. His little hands were grabbing me around the knees and his huge brown eyes were looking up at me. I was overwhelmed by a huge surge of happiness.
Maternal rift: Rebecca Walker, whose mother was the feminist author of The Color Purple – who thought motherhood a form of servitude, is now proud to be a mother herself
I love the way his head nestles in the crook of my neck. I love the way his face falls into a mask of eager concentration when I help him learn the alphabet. But most of all, I simply love hearing his little voice calling: ‘Mummy, Mummy.’
It reminds me of just how blessed I am. The truth is that I very nearly missed out on becoming a mother – thanks to being brought up by a rabid feminist who thought motherhood was about the worst thing that could happen to a woman.
You see, my mum taught me that children enslave women. I grew up believing that children are millstones around your neck, and the idea that motherhood can make you blissfully happy is a complete fairytale.
Rebecca writes that having a child has been the most rewarding experience of her life. She said that far from ‘enslaving’ her, three-and-a-half-year-old Tenzin has opened her world.
I love my mother very much, but I haven’t seen her or spoken to her since I became pregnant. She has never seen my son – her only grandchild. My crime? Daring to question her ideology.
Alice Walker believed so strongly that children enslaved their mothers she disowned her own daughter
Ironically, my mother regards herself as a hugely maternal woman. Believing that women are suppressed, she has campaigned for their rights around the world and set up organisations to aid women abandoned in Africa – offering herself up as a mother figure.
But, while she has taken care of daughters all over the world and is hugely revered for her public work and service, my childhood tells a very different story. I came very low down in her priorities – after work, political integrity, self-fulfilment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.
My mother would always do what she wanted – for example taking off to Greece for two months in the summer, leaving me with relatives when I was a teenager. Is that independent, or just plain selfish?
I was 16 when I found a now-famous poem she wrote comparing me to various calamities that struck and impeded the lives of other women writers. Virginia Woolf was mentally ill and the Brontes died prematurely. My mother had me – a ‘delightful distraction’, but a calamity nevertheless. I found that a huge shock and very upsetting.
Growing up with a distant mother was lonely, she said and soon she fell into trouble.
With my mother’s knowledge, I started having sex at 13. I guess it was a relief for my mother as it meant I was less demanding. And she felt that being sexually active was empowering for me because it meant I was in control of my body.
Now I simply cannot understand how she could have been so permissive. I barely want my son to leave the house on a play-date, let alone start sleeping around while barely out of junior school.
A good mother is attentive, sets boundaries and makes the world safe for her child. But my mother did none of those things.
Although I was on the Pill – something I had arranged at 13, visiting the doctor with my best friend – I fell pregnant at 14. I organised an abortion myself. Now I shudder at the memory. I was only a little girl. I don’t remember my mother being shocked or upset. She tried to be supportive, accompanying me with her boyfriend.
Although I believe that an abortion was the right decision for me then, the aftermath haunted me for decades. It ate away at my self-confidence and, until I had Tenzin, I was terrified that I’d never be able to have a baby because of what I had done to the child I had destroyed. For feminists to say that abortion carries no consequences is simply wrong.
Then, after growing up, she met a man and had a child.
Although I knew what my mother felt about babies, I still hoped that when I told her I was pregnant, she would be excited for me.
‘Mum, I’m pregnant’
Instead, when I called her one morning in the spring of 2004, while I was at one of her homes housesitting, and told her my news and that I’d never been happier, she went very quiet. All she could say was that she was shocked. Then she asked if I could check on her garden. I put the phone down and sobbed – she had deliberately withheld her approval with the intention of hurting me. What loving mother would do that?
Worse was to follow. My mother took umbrage at an interview in which I’d mentioned that my parents didn’t protect or look out for me. She sent me an e-mail, threatening to undermine my reputation as a writer. I couldn’t believe she could be so hurtful – particularly when I was pregnant.
Devastated, I asked her to apologise and acknowledge how much she’d hurt me over the years with neglect, withholding affection and resenting me for things I had no control over – the fact that I am mixed-race, that I have a wealthy, white, professional father and that I was born at all.
But she wouldn’t back down. Instead, she wrote me a letter saying that our relationship had been inconsequential for years and that she was no longer interested in being my mother. She even signed the letter with her first name, rather than ‘Mom’.
That was a month before Tenzin’s birth in December 2004, and I have had no contact with my mother since. She didn’t even get in touch when he was rushed into the special care baby unit after he was born suffering breathing difficulties.
Now, I’d bet there’s more to this story. But that’s really scary stuff. And these are the people who mock us for being so backwards. It kind of makes me feel better about making all my kids look for the remote even though we found it on the bookshelf (where I’d put it).