Wednesday, March 03, 2004

More mommy crap

The New Yorker reviews a couple mommy books I won't make time for.

Where there is angst in America, there is also opportunity, and the past few years have seen a veritable baby boom of books on motherhood.

Daphne de Marneffe, author of Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life, "belongs, unapologetically, to the class of women who have enough education to find challenging work and enough wherewithal not to need it, a class that also, presumably, makes up her target audience."

That would be me.

In de Marneffe’s view, it is a mistake to equate staying at home with forgoing an adult identity, because it is precisely in caring for children that an adult identity is forged.

Umm. Well, ok, maybe by default. It's not the caring for children per se that forges identity, but the choice of how to live one's adulthood. I'm not sure I've actually made that choice yet, nor have many stay-at-home moms (or work-at-home moms, as is called the demographic to which I now belong). Many women through motherhood are still trying to find themselves, and motherhood when it is not the answer will either show you the correct path or occupy enough of your time to stop worrying about it. (When it doesn't occupy all our time, we read books like this so we can theorize about our lives abstractly.)

Authors of The Mommy Myth (previously reviewed and discussed),
Douglas and Michaels are concerned about a dominant discourse that is oppressive to women; . . . “to be a remotely decent mother, a woman has to devote her entire physical, psychological, emotional, and intellectual being, 24/7, to her children.” Such images, they maintain, have been multiplying in recent years, a trend they dub the “new momism.”

I am at home because I was trying to establish a freelance career when I discovered I was pregnant. Had I been steadily, traditionally employed then, I would now probably be back at work, at the office, 9 to 5, with Helena in daycare. Is it my choice to stay home? In part. But it is also a product of the laziness and privilege of my class and generation.

This is not to say that I am of a privileged class where I can indulge in such luxury. I do not have a nanny, or a housekeeper. Since Helena's first birthday I have been invoicing clients for a total of approximately 60 hours a month. I keep a clean enough house, and most days I cook. I spend a lot of time with Helena, playing, reading, and going on various outings, but I always have time for myself (coffee and a blog entry), usually when Helena is napping.

None of us work at being moms as hard as some would have you believe.

I think our little family has consciously embraced some values of generations past. (I think of my own mother, stay-at-home mom extraordinaire who cared for me better than Martha Stewart ever could.) Unlike many double income families we do not own a house in the suburbs. We do not own an SUV or a second vehicle. We aren't driven to acquire a plasma TV or satellite dish. We don't have a matching bedroom set. We don't have crippling debt either. Helena does not lack for toys, though she has remarkable fewer than her peers — but I'd have to say her toys are smarter.

That many women return to work is also a result of their inertia. They have a job, they should keep their job, and their income, and their lifestyle.

To choose to rear a child or to pursue a career or to combine both is a very difficult decision, and I suspect most women never consciously choose at all — they let it happen. Then we read books that justify our "decisions."

Am I repeating myself?

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