Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Deesha Philyaw.
Are there days when you feel like a mother who writes, and others when you feel like a writer who is a mother?
Definitely, although I’d say even more common are days when I feel like an editor who writes—for me, it’s the day job, much more than my kids, that takes up much of the time I’d otherwise spend writing. It’s hard to complain, though, because I like editing so much. And I know that working with wonderful writers every day often inspires and feeds my other work.
Who are your writer-mama heroes?
So many, way too many to name, but a few just off the top of my head: Imani Perry, Lydia Kiesling, Crystal Hana Kim, Taylor Harris.
What three words describe you as a writer?
Ha, tired? I try to be honest. Complicated—by which I mostly mean comfortable with complexity and gray areas, and deeply suspicious of pat, easy answers.
What surprised you about motherhood?
lol EVERYTHING, I knew nothing going in! I’m also adopted, so right from the start, all the physical things that are part of carrying and birthing a child and becoming a parent in that particular way felt like a mysterious tradition I had little connection to. I suppose the first huge surprise was just seeing what someone biologically related to me looked like. And then, too, I remember the moment I really recognized that my child was a part of me, in a way no one ever had been before, but she was also so much more than that—she was her own. She would do and say and think and be a million things I couldn’t foresee. I realized how much the work of parenthood would be letting go of any illusions I’d had about being in control of anything. Which was remarkably freeing, actually, more than terrifying.
What’s your least favorite thing about being a mother?
The worry! But that’s not the kids’ fault, that’s just how I am. I did not fully see or understand my own capacity to be anxious until they came along.
What are three words your kid(s) would use to describe you?
Busy—they see me working all the time, trying to juggle two careers and be their mom. But I think they also see me as approachable, always ready to talk. And I hope they think I’m pretty kind. I frequently say “yes” to dessert, anyway; that has got to count for something.
What’s the secret to surviving motherhood?
I think for me, the secret to surviving parenthood is the same as the secret to surviving anything tough/demanding: community. That can mean friendship and/or family, the group chats at all hours, whatever your own little village of support looks like. I think you need people to listen, even if they don’t always understand perfectly; people who always give the best advice, or at least perspective you didn’t know you needed; people who, when all else fails, will just sit with you and be joyful or sad or outraged with you. There are so many things about family life that no one can really make easy (or easier), but we can still be with, hold space for, and care for each other in community.
Nicole Chung is the author of the national bestseller All You Can Ever Know. Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, NPR, Library Journal, and many other outlets, All You Can Ever Know was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a semifinalist for the PEN Open Book Award, an Indies Choice Honor Book, and an official Junior Library Guild Selection. Chung’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, TIME, The Guardian, and Vulture, among others, and she also writes a weekly parenting advice column for Slate. Her next book is forthcoming from Ecco Books/HarperCollins.
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