Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
My Inner Housewife: Shine Responds

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In my last post I wrote that I had received a copy of Darla Shine's Happy Housewives book. Its arrival coincided with my discovery that Caitlin Flanagan also had penned a Housewife Chic book and the notion of a fashionable return to domesticity was making me feel rather cranky.

Both Darla Shine and a Darla Shine supporter left lengthy comments in response to my piece. I want to reserve my remarks about the book itself until I've finished it (I'm half way through) and have had a chance to pen a proper review (it is mainly a household tips book and seemingly not the usual Literary Mama Reviews fare but, given the political overtones of the book, is potentially worth some discussion). But, I did want to address a few of the points raised right away.

First, I have been accused of commenting on Shine's book without reading it. This simply is not true. In my earlier post, I commented on a newspaper article which refers to Shine's book. I did not comment on the book itself. How could I, without first having read it?

Second, I was informed that I misquoted Shine with respect to her comment on liberation and equality. Nope. It's right there on page 24. [Correction: Yep, Shine is right in this case. I quoted her as saying that our mothers had burdened us with liberation and quality (since I repeated the phrase over the next sentence, my meaning was clear but I apologize for my typo. Ooh, I hate being wrong!)]

Third, it seems that I am perceived as somehow anti-stay-at-home-mothers. Shine comments that "if we want to opt out of the fast track we should have that choice without being ridiculed by so called feminists such as you." This strikes me as funny (both funny peculiar and funny ha-ha). Yes, I consider myself a feminist. Absolutely. Yet, at the same time, I am not unlike Shine or the women she hopes to reach. Like Shine, I am at home with children (a two year old and a four month old). Like Shine, I also have a masters degree and left a six-figure job. Like Shine, I also try to carve out some time to write (I marvel at her productivity). And, like Shine, I do enjoy some things in the domestic sphere. I like to bake, I'm a compulsive organizer, I use the Flylady method of keeping my house somewhat tidy and I'm constantly Feng Shui-ing the furniture. And, like Shine, I disagree when people want to label the work of stay-at-home mothers as somehow 'less than' (see my blog entry about Linda Hirshman's article.)

But here is the difference. Shine seems to believe that we have a true choice when it comes to how we raise our families. We select whether to stay at home with the kids or not, to engage in domestic activities or not, to cook homemade meals or not as if from an all-you-can-eat buffet (well, to her credit she does acknowldge that some single mothers don't have the choice and seems to be trying to figure out a way to help them.)

And she therefore sees the "choice" to stay at home as somehow having more value than the "choice" to work, primarily because the "choice" seems to involve more sacrifice somehow (sacrifice defined in terms of forfeiting one's income). I quote from her book (page 19): "Just as in all families who make a choice for the mother to stay at home, we made our priorities. So, maybe you'll have to give something up. Maybe this year you won't buy the big-screen TV. Maybe you won't go to Bermuda. Maybe you'll have to downsize your home. Things might get tight. But isn't your baby worth it?"

Is it just me, or does that make anyone else want to scream? The 'I chose my child over a big-screen TV' smugness (dare I call it that) is just so out of alignment with my experience. None of my friends, none of the women I meet in the park, none of the women I am reading about seem to share this view. We all love our kids, we all struggle with work/life balance, we all try to do our best. None of us make decisions because we think that are babies are not "worth it."

Now Shine's defense to criticism about such statements seems to be twofold 1) she was joking and 2) she didn't intend for working moms to read this book. Well, she does seem to have a rather caustic sense of humor which she directs towards everyone and everything from women in the supermarket to her sister's phegmy tasting chicken Kiev and, it's true, she states right up front that if you are a full time working mom, you shouldn't read her book.

But I don't think that it is OK to make comments like this and then say "I was just kidding" or "I didn't mean for you to read that". It is not OK to imply that full time working mothers value their kids less. Not as a joke. Not in a little, nudge-wink, clubby, 'just between us girls,' kind of way.

This type of polarizing comment is always tricky. Because what might be intended as a jokey, off the cuff, biting remark can work its way into the wider discussion of mothering. And then readers like Debra, one of her supporters who also commented on my blog post, can honestly believe that they are supportive of all mothering decisions and yet at the same time believe that Shine is "empowering those of us who have made the choice to value our families over the never-ending climb up the corporate ladder." And it is precisely this, not vacuuming or not vacuuming the drapes, that causes me so much anxiety. It's the we "made the choice to value our families." As if maternal love is somehow entwined with one's work situation, or cake-making abilities. As if it is something that can be measured, and judged. And suddenly mothers are policing each other instead of banding together to say, 'we all value our families, we are all trying to do the best we can in a family unfriendly society, and, you know, we're all getting a raw deal." Shine does have some great suggestions for improving the lot of the stay-at-home-mom. I simply wish that she could discuss them in a way that was more inclusive of all mothers.

I am also uncomfortable with how Shine seems to use the terms housewife and stay at home mother interchangeably. I just don't see how one mothers one's children has anything to do with mastery of domestic arts. Shine writes (page 100) that she ties little bows around her napkins, bakes biscuits in the shape of bunnies, and ensures her pancakes are equally sized because she thinks "a little extra fussing is a little extra love." Perhaps that is how Shine shows her love for her family. Others might show it by working two jobs or driving their kids to the hockey rink at dawn or by teaching their children to be accepting of others and non-judgemental. We all have different mothering styles and I don't think that the decision to make or not make every craft and recipe from the latest issue of Good Housekeeping has anything to do with one's love for one's children.

Shine accuses me of trying to start up a mommy war but it is the devisiveness found within her book which troubles me. If she truly wants to help women, if she truly wants to make things better for moms and for families, then I just don't see how she plans to go about doing it by alientating so many.

Now, Shine is a very shrewd writer/media personality. Even her blog comments (she has left similar ones on other blogs) seem to be part of some sort of a guerrilla marketing campaign to stir up interest in her book. I respect her business savvy. Invoking the mommy wars and injecting a layer of controversy certainly is a way to distinguish her (so far) otherwise unremarkable book from a number of the other domestic "how to" texts.

But I think that there could be a much deeper cost if she starts to encourage women to make the political personal, to stop trying to change the system, and to embrace it, almost competitively, warts and all.

Perhaps the book has a surprise ending. Perhaps it will reach conclusions which will make me a convert to her ten step guide to maternal bliss.

I'll let you know.


Jen Lawrence is an MBA and former banker who left the world of finance for the world of sippy cups and goldfish crackers. She writes about her experiences on her blog MUBAR (Mothered Up Beyond All Recognition). She is an Editorial Assistant for Literary Mama’s Reviews section and also contributes to the Literary Mama blog. Her work has appeared in The Philosophical Mother. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two children.


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Nicely put, Jen. You eloquently cut to the heart of the matter here.
Jen, Hi. Now you know I have to respond to your latest post. First, you did misquote me. Go look. You wrote liberation and quality. But, Jen, let's stop this back and fourth. I think it is really silly. You and I are more alike than you may want to admit. That is why I asked where you blog from. I know you are home. I know you are educated. I know you want the best for your family as I do. When I wrote that I was joking in a prior email, I was speaking about a specific joke in the magazine Total 180 about how our husbands 'let us out for pizza night.' That is exactly why I am upset. You continue to take my words out of context. Why? And you accuse me of being media savvy. Thanks for the compliment. However, you are the one who wrote about me first. You are the one who commented on an article that was written about my book. I am simply responding to your comments.
I admit upfront that I did not read Darla's book. I did visit her website. I am astonished by the use of the term "the feminists." Like the term and the people who fall into the catagory "moms," the people who fall into the catagory "feminist" are not one thing. We do not go to feminist school to become feminists. We are women from all walks of life--some of us vaccum the drapes, some of us work part time, some of us stay home. This kind of thinking is what creates the kind of 'wars' Darla refers to.
Jen, I love you. Truly, I do. And, thank you for the warning. I'll be sure to avert my eyes the next time Darla Shine's name comes up, because anybody would ask, even rhetorically, something as hateful (and I do not use that term lightly) as "But isn't your baby worth it?" isn't worth the time of day. I think I have to go for a walk now...
Honestly, in the past, I never really knew anything about feminism or the issues women face. I married my high school sweetheart and was 19 when I had my first baby. And, I couldn't work, because his job was far more important, and we couldn't afford daycare. I couldn't finish college because he decided we needed to move constantly. My "job" was to clean, cook and be a mother. I was not allowed to have a social life, or friends, but he could do whatever he wanted because he worked. It took many years of my life for me to realize that I deserved better. I deserved to be respected and valued for what I did. I deserve to be a person, not just a mother-wife. But leaving a situation like that is not easy. I ended up alone while pregnant, and without a clue how to get along in the real world. Eventually I figured it out, but in the process I lost custody of my older children because I couldn't afford to fight for them, or care for them alone, not to mention, losing my house and 90% of my belongings. And then I got to see first-hand what it is like to be a single mother in America. I stayed with a relative, paying rent, and sleeping in the hallway with a playpen next to me. I worked 3rd shift with a newborn at home, for as long as I could manage. (Read: until she stopped sleeping during the day.)Then, I received assistance to put her in daycare just so I could work to make barely enough to eat. I couldn't save enough to get a place of our own; I couldn't save enough to get a car. My income tax returns each year still go to paying off the student loan I took out for the education I wasn't allowed to get. And the more I made, the more I had to pay towards daycare myself, so I never really got anywhere. I did eventually meet someone who values me as an equal, and am currently sharing a home with him. That has allowed me to work in the evenings, when he is home, so that I am home during the day with my daughter, who is not yet in school. The vain part of me, would like to say I do this because I don't want to have her in daycare all day long, but the fact is, I can't afford daycare. What I make would pay for daycare and leaveā€¦nothing. So what is the point of it? So I stay home during the day now. I clean (with Flylady), I cook, and I spend time with my daughter. I even sometimes bake.(I don't, however, vacuum curtains on any kind of regular basis.) At night, I leave for work, working from 6pm to 12pm, generally. On these nights, I don't get to see the person I have a relationship with. He gets home at 5:30 , and I leave for work then. When I get home, he is asleep. On weekends, I work. I still don't have a car, and haven't for years. So I am trapped in my home, with a small child, every weekday. Even though my life is significantly better now, I will never forget how everything was for me and the lessons I learned throughout this. We should all be working together to make things better for all women. If they stay at home full time or work full time or have to do some thing in between to make ends meet, they need help. We all need help. The system here, I know from experience, sucks. Being a woman, especially a mother here is hard, and we have no support. Being a single mother here is nothing short of impossible. Yes, it can be done, and yes it helps to start off with an education, and skills. But, it's damn hard. And it shouldn't be this way. I would like to help others. I would like to see more help for women who are stuck in situations like I was, or worse. I would like to see more support for those women who can't leave their relationships because they can't afford to live without them, even if their husbands/boyfriends are physically or mentally abusive. I know several women currently who would leave unhappy relationships, but cannot, because they cannot face the challenges of doing it alone, because they don't have enough financial or emotional support. They stay for children's sake or because they feel they're supposed to, because society or their religion dictates. You must be a good mother-wife, ever happy and uncomplaining. No matter if you chose to/have to work or not. There is this pressure to be like Martha Stewart at all times. Pressure to have vacuumed drapes and perfect meals and well mannered spotless children. Pressure to have the perfect relationship, or to at least pretend to have the perfect relationship. Pressure to breastfeed exclusively and feed your children only organic health food that the average person can't afford to even buy exclusively because it's so much more expensive. AND pressure to work and contribute to society and climb the corporate ladder as well. It isn't fair, or right that society and the media just add to that pressure constantly while still not offering support for moms and women in so many areas. Who do we talk to when staying at home with three children under the age of 4 is starting to drive us insane? What kind of homemade cookie shape is appropriate for children with autistic sensory disabilities and gluten allergies? Where do we go when we can't afford to stay home anymore, but can't afford childcare? Who listens when we have those days where we feel like all we did was clean up poop and prepare meals? Are we not even allowed to vent because then it's taken as us not loving our children enough to enjoy every second we have with them? I suspect there's more to happiness than just embracing the dusting. The problems run deeper than this. We need to feel like we have value to society and in order for us to do so we need to be treated like we have value. More value than just a trophy wives, soccer moms, second-rate employees, or maids. Value as human beings. And it needs to be easier for us to "choose" the paths we want to take in life, whether it is staying at home or working or some combination of both. And frankly, its not just society, or men that make us feel undervalued, it's other women, all the Martha's and Happy Housewives out there make us feel like crap because we can't all be perfect, but we feel like we should.
I'm definitely torn between two worlds. The world where I used to be a fully functional part of working society, and the new world of motherhood and domesticity. I still write (for actual money) and I struggle with my identity. I think most women do. I think it's ridiculous to say that women fit into one camp or another--the *real* workers vs. the fluff at-homers. Women who work likely partially regret the time they don't have with their kids and the at-home moms likely partially regret that they aren't out there participating in something bigger. I haven't read this book either, but from the tone you've set, it doesn't sound very inviting. Life's choices don't happen in a vacuum and most things aren't so black or white.
And who did she deny love and attention while she squeezed that book out of an orifice?
Great post. I'd heard of people vain enough to google their names, and engage those who disagree with them, but I thought that was a joke. Silly me. What peeves me about the "Isn't your baby worth it?" argument is its very classist stance. Not all women are choosing between being stay at home moms and having BMWs. My mother, one of "those feminists," was choosing between working or allowing her children to starve to death. And, thanks to my mother's efforts, if ever anybody is foolhardy enough to tell me I don't deserve equal work for equal pay, because I don't have a family to support as men do, I will know exactly how to handle him. Ms. Shrine, the time has come to realize that you are NOT every woman, and you haven't the right to speak for all. Still, women shouldn't have to justify to anyone why they want to work. Maybe they want to work to buy that BMW. That's your business how? Let's imagine this scenario: I like working outside the home, it makes me happy. So, should my as-yet-mythical children have an ever-present unhappy mom, or a mom who is truly happy when she's with them, not because they are her everything, but because they are her favorite people?
First, I must say that everyone needs to stop being so dramatic about this whole blog. Secondly, anyone who hasn't read Darla's book shouldn't even have a right to comment about her nor the book, because if someone is as close-minded to listen to one side of a story without gathering all of the facts and making a sound decision for themself, aren't worth listening too. I am blessed enough to be on the middle ground in the mommy arena, because I am able to stay at home and still run a lucrative business. It was just a couple of months ago when I decided to take the chance of working from home that my sister-in-law bought the book "Happy Housewives" for me(which Darla by the way is becoming a huge hit in Las Vegas). So to my surprise, I couldn't believe what was being said on this website, which I found by accident. Darla's book is awesome and in NO WAY hateful or demeaning towards working moms. I also believe that Darla was accurate when she stated that her words were being taken out of context, especially the "baby being worth it" comment. I feel sorry for a person like Jen who would take it that way...it only shows what type of mentality she has. What ever happended to freedom of speech and being able to voice your beliefs and opinions. Darla wrote a book that is tailored to stay-at-moms, just like there are books tailored for working moms. We all have the right to read what we want and take from it what we wish. If you don't like Darla's writing style or suggestions, then fine, stop reading it. But don't go bashing a writer for how she feels. We should be applauding a woman that wants to put values back into a home, and any of you out there who believe that values have not been definitely on the decline, are surely in denial. This whole column is extremely immature and negative, and it is sad to see so many women out there ready to hate instead of appreciate.
My name is Kristin and I am working with Darla on a wonderful cosmetic line, and I think that what she is doing is important . I started a business 2 years ago and sold it a few months ago because it was taking over my life. It was a perfect example of be careful what you wish for , because it just may come true . I had a business that was thriving , but there were days I wouldn't see my family at all becuase I was working . Much to the dismay of my family and friends I sold and decided to stay home . One day I was walking through Barnes & Noble I saw Darla's book on a shelf , I bought it without even glancing inside . When I read it I felt soooo good about my decision to sell the business , because what she said about spending time with the family was exactly what I needed, and what my family needed. as I read the book , it was like a friend was talking to me .... and look cute was really loud and clear . I had put my business first and my home and appearance last . That is why I am so excited to help women look great. I really think that when you look at a woman you can tell how much she values herself by how she looks . Maybe Darla's book isn't for everyone , but for me it was exactly what this mom needed . Kristin
What society needs is not more working moms or more housewives. It needs to accept that there are a variety of ways to love your children and your family. We need to value whatever choice a Mom and a Dad (we are not in this alone ladies) make with respect to raising their children. I am working on baby number one and I really do not know what choice I will make. Circumstances will dictate my choice at the time and my husband is supportive of whatever decision I make. I would hope that no matter what I choose stay at home Moms and working Moms will respect my choice. I have the utmost respect for stay at home Moms and I also tip my hat to women who can handle the stress of juggling full time work and family. Neither role is easy and we should commend women on both sides of the Mommy spectrum
I have been struggling with the decision to stay at home or return to work. It is difficult to give up a part of one's identity. I have been told by many if you don't have to work why work? I feel fortunate to be in a position to choose because there are so many moms who have to work. I read Darla's book recently, and I can say that what I interpreted is she is not trying to offend working moms. She is saying that society is to blame for the deterioration of the nuclear family which was previously enjoyed by past generations. She mentions that her mom stayed home yet she was raised to go out and get an education and work her way up the corporate ladder. she found it challenging to give up her career. She didn't want to let someone else raise her children. She is fortunate that she can financially afford to stay at home. If she wants to improve the lives of SAHM's then I commend her for parlaying it into a book that can be lucrative for her. I have been trying to re-enter the workforce and I have been passed over due to bias. Being asked personal questions about my marital and parenting status. Questions such as "Do you have children?, How many children? and the favorite Who watches your children?" Clearly all biased, illegal questions to ask in an interview. This is my experience and it has been a rude awakening. I was raised to have dreams that I could do anything that I aspired to. We live in a society where women are seen as childbearers who should stay at home and raise children or be barefoot and pregnant. I guess that Darla is trying to make it easier for those moms who choose to stay at home. I think whether you work or not as a mom there will always be sacrifices. We all want what is best for our children. The isn't your baby worth it comment is not ment to offend. Sure your baby is worth it but a happy mom is the most important thing. If a mom is not happy at home she shouldn't be made to feel guilty for her decision to work. We have many roles as women. Mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, partners, employees, entrepeneurs,etc. As an old psychology professor once told me " We are all multifaceted diamonds, and should remember that there are so many facets to what makes us who we are." To all those curious about Darla's book don't judge a book by its cover. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find...
It is my opinion that Darla should not write a book and address SAHM's/Housewives, (these are very different roles) when she seems out of touch with what those terms really mean. If we could all stay at home and live in half a million dollar homes it would be simple. But the reality is that we aren't choosing between big screen TV's and our kids. We are choosing between Vehicles that are safe to drive our kids around in and not living next door to meth dealers. I read Darla's book and every time I put it down I was angry. I felt like she was one of the most judgemental and superficial people I could ever imagine meeting. Her ideas for being a family are very different than mine. Does her husband even really know their kids? The hours that he works would not be OK with me (He doesn't come home until 8 or 9 PM pg. 84). Does Darla care if her kids have a positive male role model that is a part of her kids everyday? Apparantly not. Maybe Darla should re-evaluate her life. Move somewhere not so schmoozy and have her husband get a job somewhere with not so much of a commute, so he can be a more active part in their lives. Come on Darla, Aren't Your Kids Worth it????
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