Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
My Happy Inner Housewife


Well, it's been a banner week in my life. First, Darla Shine's Happy Housewives appeared on my doorstep. My favorite line so far is "Our mothers have no idea how they have burdened us with liberation and equality." Liberation. Equality. Yep, that's a real drag.

Then, I learned here and here that Caitlin Flanagan's new book To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife is coming out in April. Here is a little quote from the publicity material which warmed my heart "On Work/Life Balance...: If you want to make an upper-middle-class woman squeal in indignation, tell her she can’t have something. If she works she can’t have as deep and connected a relationship with her child as she would if she stayed home and raised him. She can’t have the glamour and respect conferred on career women if she chooses instead to spend her days at “Mommy
and Me” classes. She can’t have both things."

Oh dear. Well, there's no use in trying to change things then, so that we can find fulfilling work and still have time to spend with our children. I guess there is nothing to do but squeal.

Oh, and vacuum the drapes which, according to Shine, I'm supposed to be doing once a month.

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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So Jen is it really so beneath you to vacuum your drapes once in a while? Are you really too smart, too good and too busy to do anything domesticated? How dare you put down women who clean their homes. Most women take great pride in their homes and they are sick and tired of feminists making them feel bad about it. For your information Jen I did go to college. I do have a graduate degree and I did have a career. I was making a high six figure salary when I traded in my job for mommyhood. Why do you find it so upsetting that women want to be home raising their own children? Does this mean we are throwing away all the hard work of the feminists? No. What it means is 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. And if you have noticed, right from my house with my vacuum in one hand and my mop in the other I did manage to write a book. I co-host a nationally syndicated radio show in the mornings after I get the kids on the school bus. Oh, and get this crazy idea, I actually have time to cook dinner for my family at the end of the day. Oh my! How radical. And Jen,you misquoted me but you got the idea. Our generation of women has been burdened by our mothers with liberation and equality. Our mothers opened doors for us and taught us how to compete with the good old boys but they never told us what to do when we got pregnant. What to do with the tears at the desk when we miss our child's first steps. They didn't tell us how hard it would be to juggle it all. They certainly didn't tell us how many women would be popping anti-depressants because they feel useless. Yes, the feminists opened doors and they opened a Pandora's box too. Get out of your little world Jen and talk to moms in their forties. They are going crazy trying to stay super-women. You should be on my side. Why are you trying to start a war between the working moms and the stay at home moms? I don't care if a mom wants to work 12 hours a day. I wrote Happy Housewives for the moms who don't want that. I wrote it for the moms who are home. The moms who want to be home. Jen, where do you write your blog from?
Jen, I have been following the comments that you have recently made regarding Darla Shine, and it is this post which bothers me to the point of actually saying something. It is my experience and that of many others that you must not open your mouth about those things you know nothing of lest you catch your foot in said mouth. On November 27, 2005 you made some remarks such as : "Apparently Crittenden is enamoured with mothers such as Darla Shine who embrace the notion of the Happy Housewife without any sense of irony. (For a truly hair-raising experience, read some of the press releases for the Shine-approved Total 180 magazine." A person reading such harsh criticism would believe that you had educated yourself about Darla Shine, and Total 180 before making such off the cuff remarks. However, since you just received Darla's book this week, one would come to realize that your remarks are not only ill-placed, but not even founded by any actual experience with the book. For those of us who have actually invested quality time with Darla's book have realized that she is not trying to "put the woman down" into a groveling position at her husbands feet, but rather empowering those of us who have made the choice to value our families over the never-ending climb up the corporate ladder. Jen, you need to wake up and quit drinking the Kool-Aid. We are all in this together, and end the end it is about our children and their quality of life. If you have made the choice to work outside the home, you are empowered, you are great, you deserve all those kudo's that come with that type of job - just don't read this book, because it isn't for you, anyway. However, if you are a stay at home mom, or want to be and are sick of the garbage that people such as Jen say towards people that make that choice, well, jump aboard! Read the Book!
Okay, Darla, I understand why you might feel attacked here but you need to understand Jen's perspective here. I haven't read your book, so I can't comment on it specifically but I can comment on the type of thing Jen is reacting to in general. I am a stay-at-home mom (as is Jen, by the way) and while I love my work, I find it frustrating that stay-at-home parents get so little respect, so little help, so little support, and no benefits like pension plans, sick leave, etc. Many moms find it difficult to cope with the difference between the power they had before staying home and the power they have afterwards. A number of writers have jumped on this issue (and I am NOT saying you are one of them, again, I haven't read your book) and are telling us that the problem is us. They feed us a revamped version of the old Freudian solution 'you have not accepted your femininity' and try to tie being a woman to an automatic love for things domestic and child-related. That the solution is to further embrace the things that can make us feel overwhelmed and unappreciated, that we will find fulfillment in cleaning behind the toilet and in creating elaborate confections for our children's birthday parties. If people do find fulfillment in those sorts of things, that's cool, but if they don't they should not be berated and accused of being unfeminine or unmotherly. Writers like Jen (and me, less prolifically) are trying to point out that there might be another solution, that the problem is systemic. That a society that claims to value children and family while undermining and putting down those who care for children and nurture families is not a workable one. The problem of how to adequately care for a family is not just a private issue, it should be a societal concern. If human societies want to sustain themselves they need to find a means to support the youngest members of that soceity and the people who care for them. Advocating that women need to retreat further into stereotypical roles in order to be fulfilled is not going to help anyone, it is just going to create a further divide between the sexes and create more problems. (Again, I am NOT saying that you said that, I am explaining the type of thing that we are reacting to. Your book may or may not embrace those 'back to the domestic sphere' values.) As for our mothers letting us down when it came to preparing us for pregnancy and childcare, I think that's a lot of blame to place on a single generation of women. It is true that we have not been prepared for this, but that has a lot to do with the older age of many first-time mothers (so once we had kids it had been many years since we had spent time with new mothers or small children, and we probably hadn't seen anyone breastfeeding at all), the structure of the workplace (which in many cases doesn't allow for family friendly options - part-time work, job-sharing etc), and the fact that women's expectations have changed but society has not expanded to allow that. So we have a generation of mothers who are expecting to be treated as adults, as equals, and instead they are told that if they stay home, they don't matter and if they work after having children, they are bad mothers. There is no upside there. I also think that we need to separate stay-at-home parenting from housekeeping, because both you, Darla, and you, Debra, seem to have misunderstood Jen here. She is not putting down stay-at-home parenting (I've never gotten that from her at all), she is putting down the notion that the person who cares for the children should also automatically strive to have a perfect home. She is objecting to the fact that in many cases the stay-at-home parent becomes the servant for the house because so much value is placed on the income of the working parent that the working parent's time is seen as more valuable. I don't know what your book suggests, Darla, and perhaps Jen has gotten it wrong but her writing is not about condemning parents (stay-at-home or otherwise) and you should not imply that it is. Just because she disagrees with you about the importance and fulfillment to be found in the domestic sphere (and let's keep that separate from childcare when debating this), doesn't mean that she is an enemy, bent on destroying all you hold dear. She feels that there are some important issues that tend to get ignored in the parenting debates and she has every right to keep bringing them up. It IS shortsighted and demeaning to tell mothers to quit whining and get with the program, and people ARE saying that, even if you are not.
Gosh - how refreshing to read an intelligent lively debate about my favourite subject... Will I be accused of 'fence-sitting' if I say that I agree with you all? Yes, really, it seems to me that you have all made extremely valid and persausive arguments. I do find it depressing though when we are pitched against each other so defiantly, so entrenched in our thinking. Our mothers and grandmothers battled for choice - that is the legacy we have been left with and it seems the best way to honour that and our 'femaleness' (I'm not talking about 'femininity' here) is actually to support each other and our individual choices. The 'new' fashionable cult of aspirational domesticity certainly has a lot to answer for, in terms of making some of us feel even more inadequate than we did before... however, maybe, just maybe, the new cultural focus on hearth and home is a reflection of our societal need to re-anchor ourselves and our children to a firmer base, in a world of disposable consumerism where nothing is clearly defined anymore, and most of the social and moral signposts have been eradicated. I often muse about this on my blog - the name of which, by the way, is meant to be taken with a hefty dose of irony... I am a stay-at-home mum who just happens to have a diploma in European Cultural Studies as well as an Oxford degree in English Literature. So, I am torn across both sides of the divide - I am incensed by my apparent invisibility in the world at large, frustrated by my insignificance in the greater scheme of things, but determined to cook dinner for my family every night without the aid of a microwave... But I am sure of one thing - we need to support the individual choices each woman makes. That is the only way we are ever going to change anything.
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