Marriage, motherhood and the philosophical mind…

I am hoping I could generate some input regarding a person’s intense need for philosophical inquiry and making room for a personal life.

What I’m referring to is the endless struggle between feeding the intellectual needs and, being a social animal, the emotional needs for connection.   I do NOT want to make this a feminist issue, because I think this is an issue impacting both males and females.  I think there is value in both viewpoints. But I am a woman AND a mother AND have a philosophical mind.

In Nietzsche’s book, On the Genealogy of Morals, in the third essay, he writes:

Every animal—therefore the philosophical animal, too— instinctively strives for an optimum of favorable conditions under which it can expend all its strength and achieve its maximal feeling of power; every animal abhors, just as instinctively and with a subtlety of discernment that is “higher than all reason,” every kind of intrusion or hindrance that obstructs or could obstruct this path to the optimum (I am not speaking of its path to happiness, but its path to power, to action, to the most powerful activity, and in most cases actually its path to unhappiness). Thus the philosopher abhors marriage, together with that which might persuade to it—marriage being a hindrance and calamity on his path to the optimum. What great philosopher hitherto has been married? Heraclitus, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Schopenhauer—they were not; more, one cannot even imagine them married. A married philosopher belongs in comedy, that is my proposition—and as for that exception, Socrates—the malicious Socrates, it would seem, married ironically, just to demonstrate this proposition.

Apparently, according to Nietzsche, the philosopher is married to his work, not to a woman, who would detract from his serious contemplations. Did he take a lover, or was he celibate?

I wondered about this until I read he was entangled for a bit with Lou Andreas Salome, a Russian-born psychoanalyst…who at one point asked Nietzsche and Paul Ree to live in a manage a trois, proposing the idea to live in an academic commune, more for intellectual purposes than for sexual ones, in the spring of 1882. They lived this way until October of 1882, when Nietzsche had a falling out with both of them, when Salome believed that Nietzsche was desperately in love with her. This little known tidbit had been the subject of a fictional account by Irvin Yalom called “When Nietzsche Wept” (which is quite a wonderful story…but I digress).

I can relate to Nietzsche’s sentiment. As an intelligent, introspective and quasi-philosophical married woman and sometimes wanna-be (published and paid) writer, I find myself conflicted and sometimes even irritated over having interruptions to my thought processes by ordinary things like dishes, child care and being requested to snuggle with Mr. RSG when I want to think or write.

It’s, in some regards, terribly selfish, but it’s true. Writers, philosophers, poets, artists, and their ilk are often married more to their idea(l)s which can makes it very difficult to make room for people on a long-term basis. Sure, there is some satisfaction to be had, but there is a constant tug in two directions – the more tranquil (read: boring) existence of domestic “bliss” and the siren call of the creative/thinking life.

[And I wonder…does it have to be either/or…can it not be both?]

Then here is an alternative view…as put forth by Bertrand Russell:

He is considered to be one of the founders of analytical philosophy and he received the Nobel Prize in literature, and co-wrote Prinicipia Mathematica. Unlike Nietzsche, he was married, what…4 times? See what he has to say about the relationship of love in HIS intellectual life:

At the age of 84, Russell added a five-paragraph prologue to a new publication of his autobiography, giving a summary of the work and his life, titled WHAT I HAVE LIVED FOR.

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

So perhaps intellectualism CAN co-exist comfortably with marriage. [Of course, I’m aware that for Russell, being a man, this is ‘easier’ to accomplish because he has had wives to take care of domestic affairs…]

And yet…I find myself in turmoil…

I have no balance.  I lean  heavily towards the intellectual/philosophical modes while my emotional relationships (and upkeep of the house) falters.  This impacts all of us:  my husband AND my daughters AND me.  I’m feeling tremendous amounts of guilt for what I’m not providing to them…even though, on one level, I AM providing a lot for them.

As I try to tease out the issues with my therapist…as I try to figure out who I am, and what I am ‘supposed’ to ‘do’ with the rest of my life (my children will be in school 6.5 hours a day starting in August)…I am NO closer to either answer than I was when I quit my job 6 years ago (yes, I do try on ideas, and reject them all).

So I suffer, and others suffer around me from my ‘non-present’ presence…

If there is anyone willing to share your compassionate, thoughtful perspective/feelings/etc on this topic, please share.

And…I need some good female role models…do you know of any female philosophers who were ALSO mothers and successfully nurtured both and wrote about it so I can learn.  No I’m not talking about feminists – who deliberately rejected motherhood in order to pursue their goals.   I’m talking a woman who nurtured healthy connections in her children AND kept at the forefront her intellectual/philosophical pursuits???

No, I’m also not merely talking a working mother with a 9-5 job while the kids are in school.  I’m talking the mother whose passion is deep introspective, philosophical inquiry all. day. long.

I think that is what I lack.  A model on how to do both equally well.

[And yes, I probably make this MUCH harder than it needs to be].

Thoughts, anyone?

This entry was posted in gifted adults, gifted support, intellectual stuff, Intensity, introspection, mindfulness, personal growth, personal issues. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Marriage, motherhood and the philosophical mind…

  1. Rick says:

    “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” –Socrates


  2. Papa T says:

    Until I got to the “…compassionate, thoughtful perspective/feelings/etc on this topic” part of the rubric, I thought I might take a stab at this essay test challenged. Now, I feel a bit stymied. While I know that I am compassionate and thoughtful…and my perspective/feelings/etc. are guided by that…I wonder if I could possibly abide adequately by the ‘guidelines’.

    I am also a thinker, writer, philosopher. I am not a woman, thus not a mother, but I fill the role of a mother. I cook, clean, launder, and ferry my children in much the way one would ‘normally’ expect a mother to. But, alas, I am plumbed externally. While you say that you want female role models, I think that you might be restricting your potential feedback by your own preconceptions and limitations (regarding this subject matter). Sometimes we get too good for our own good at resisting helpful input. [Generally speaking of course.]

    You quote and allude to some rather lofty and notable historical figures. The reason that we even have records of these kinds of folks is that they fall on the very extreme ends of some societal spectrum. Another thing to keep in mind is that the record that we have is incomplete. There is no way that we can grasp the full nature of their treks through life.

    Since you brought up “When Nietzsche Wept,” I’d like to refer to a couple of things found therein. Dr. Breuer — as he struggles with his role as father and husband — recounts a dream in which he returns home to find it destroyed by fire…his wife and five children victims of the blaze. [The following is left intentionally vague…don’t want to spoil the read for anyone.] Further on, Breuer actually ‘finds the nerve’ to abandon leave his wife and children so that he can build a new life in another country. Clearly these are telling themes, and not discussed/presented ‘accidentally’.

    One of the points I would make in my compassionate and thoughtful response — were I to attempt one — is that there is often considerable difference between the IDEALS expressed by thinkers and writers and their living REALITIES. Nietzsche, Russell, Yalom, Hesse, Rilke, Salomé, Rousseau, Spencer, Darwin, Pestalozzi, Voltaire, Bede…the list goes on. The record is not exhaustive. I cannot be sure of everything that fell within their orbits. Their ideas — and other people’s ideas about them — influence my life…because I read, search, and study their writings, etc. But when all of that is said and done…actually WHILE all of that is being said and done…I have MY life to live. And that I shall do. This is the only life that I have.

  3. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Papa T-

    Thank you for your perspective. I didn’t mean to exclude the male perspective. Of course a it is most welcome too.

    Something is deeply amiss in my life. Perhaps in my brain as well.

    I told Mr. RSG that I was hoping I’d wake up one morning and simply be “normal” and do all the typical things a “normal” person/woman would do. Somehow, that all of a sudden, things would ‘click’ and I will emerge from the fog I’m in.

    I was the type of child that chafed at my chores. I would rather spend hours immersed in books, much to the irritation of my mother. Perhaps it was laziness…perhaps it was rebellion. I really don’t know.

    Same thing goes for now…

    Sometimes I think it’s laziness, sometimes I think it’s rebellion.

    Actually, I think a lot of it is rebellion.

    I have always had very strong feelings against housework. My mother always had a pristine house – it was a showplace rather than a home. She always got up with my father at 4 am to make his lunch, always had warm meals on the table, was a good example of a housewife. No one could judge her harshly on her home-keeping abilities.

    However, her heart was cold, she was manipulative, she was controlling everything in our lives, she was constantly fighting with everyone – my step-father, my sisters, me.

    She was a nasty witch much of the time.

    She cared more about appearances and things rather than people. She would be nasty to us, but the moment someone called on the phone…she was sweet as pie to them. It was extremely hypocritical of her.

    I think my resentment of my current situation hearkens back to what I grew up with. Home was not comfort, home was not joy, home was not a place you wanted to be. When I brought friends over, you could cut the tension with a knife. Everyone picked up a negative undercurrent running in our home.

    It’s not that I don’t do those things you do…but really not until the laundry is overflowing, the dishes have piled up, and the clutter has reached a few inches.

    I don’t know. I sometimes wonder if I don’t focus on the things she focused on, maybe I won’t become her.

    Except, in other ways, I am becoming her.

    Maybe my mother was so awful because she was so full of self-loathing too. Maybe her way of managing her negative feelings was with keeping up appearances.

    Maybe my way of managing my negative feelings is by neglecting my duties. I was not this disorganized when I was working…nor was my thinking this limited or this frustrated.

    Wow…I stopped a second to collect my thoughts and my mother’s voice came to me and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself”.

    Yeah, in fact, I am…deeply ashamed of myself. So much I can hardly resist the urge to do something stupid….

    I don’t like me very much right now….:(

  4. Meagan says:

    I don’t know of any female philosophers that have it both ways except you. I read your blog because it contains the creative and intellectual output that I have yet to achieve. I’m hoping to learn by example from you for my vlog. Since you’re looking for a role model look to yourself. I haven’t found anyone better than you.

  5. raisingsmartgirls says:


    Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad I’m an inspiration to you. Sometimes, I doubt myself, that I have any kind of real experience. I’m just winging it here, writing from my heart.

    Many people read what I post…so few respond. I put aside the insecurity I sometimes feel that maybe people are looking at my life as if it is a train about to wreck (because that’s what it feels like from the inside sometimes). For the longest time I hadn’t really thought anyone was thinking anything bad, until I got a few harsh comments from a couple of women that really hurt me by saying how pathetic I was.

    Someone recently referred to my blog in a post of theirs, as a sort of “what makes a good blog”. My blog was noted amongst others who had “voice”….a personality, charm and wit, a real person who expresses their “tendencies, preoccupations and idiosyncrasies” through their writing. I was touched by the recognition.

    These little encouragements mean a lot.

    Meagan…good luck with your vlog. I’m going to put you on my blogroll…so that perhaps you might get some traffic your way, if that’s all right with you. I think your experiences would help others.

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