Toni Morrison has died. On August 5, 2019, at 88 years old, the Nobel laureate and author of such books as The Bluest Eye, The Song of Solomon, and Beloved, has left behind an immense legacy. There’s a lot to say about Morrison’s work and her indelible mark on culture. But we wanted to highlight another aspect of her legacy: her thoughts on parenting. Becoming a mother changed Morrison in a deep, impactful way and she spoke about it often.
Morrison had a number of beautiful thoughts on the matter but one passage in particular stands out. In a series of interviews, published in the book Toni Morrison and Motherhood, the author spoke to writer Andrea O’Reilly extensively about her thoughts on parenting and the link between being a mother, being an artist, and discovering your best self. In it, Morrison explained why becoming a parent isn’t restrictive, but instead, deeply liberating.
“There was something so valuable about what happened when one became a mother. For me, it was the most liberating thing that ever happened to me. Liberating because the demands that children make are not the demands of a normal ‘other.’ The children’s demands on me were things that nobody ever asked me to do. To be a good manager. To have a sense of humor. To deliver something that somebody could use. And they were not interested in all the things that other people were interested in, like what I was wearing or if I were sensual. Somehow all of the baggage that I had accumulated as a person about what was valuable just fell away. I could not only be me—whatever that was—but somebody actually needed me to be that. If you listen to [your children], somehow you are able to free yourself from baggage and vanity and all sorts of things and deliver a better self, one that you like. The person that was in me that I liked best was the one my children seemed to want.”
As we all mourn the passing of Morrison and celebrate her fantastic and deeply powerful body of work, this is a quote all parents should remember. Children make you better. If you’re having a hard day as a parent, and if you feel like you’ve lost your independence as a person, take a second to reflect on this insight from one of the world’s greatest writers. Parents are liberated by their children, and great writers like Morrison help to liberate our thoughts.