March 8, 2005

Ann Hulbert on The Problems With Mommy Lit

If you want to keep on thinking you've invented parenting, and no one's ever had the same experience, problem, or anxiety, or solution you have, don't read Ann Hulbert. She turns her historically contextualizing eye on the recent trend of Mommy Myth Lit and wonders if the whole genre of Perfect Madness-style confessional might actually be part of the stress-inducing problem, not the solution.

As a bonus for New Republic subscribers (and bugmenot.com users), here's a 2003 article she wrote about the then-still-nascent genre of new-style dad lit. It ain't pretty.

"A woman can ask a man to do something, or she can tell him how to do it, but she can't do both." Maybe it's time we stressed-out mothers tried a different approach: Ask him how he does itóor, rather, doesn't do it. Yes, it rankles that he can fall so readily into the mellower role of muddler; men have the luxury of knowing they "can only be better fathers than their fathers," Kate Reddy gripes, where mothers are plagued by insecurity. Still, the working fatheróI'm quite sure the kids would concurómay well have something useful to tell us, if we slowed down for a moment to listen.
We've come a long way, baby.

The Real Myth of Motherhood [slate]
WASHINGTON DIARIST, Father Time 5/5/2003 [new republic, sub. req.]

9 Comments

My friends and I think all these recent Mommy Myth books (especially the Judith Warner one) are almost a generation behind the times. None of those books reflects the reality of my family, or the families of most of our playgroup. The moms and dads are fair, if not equal, partners in the family and household, according to ability and schedule. We have a whole lot of scheduling problems, with drop-off points for parents to switch off the kid, and exhausted games of rock-paper-scissors to see who has to come up with dinner. But not a whole lot of nagging or feeling resentful of our male partners or men in general. Yes, we're pissed off that there's no decent parental leave policy in this country, and that men are told by the corporate world that they aren't supposed to participate, but this is a family and society problem, not a women's problem.

I think that if you're a woman and you're dumb enough to marry and procreate with a man who thinks it's fine just to be Ward Cleaver and leave everything kid to you, you get what you deserve. I predict that when the publishing industry finally catches up with reality, we'll see more mommy memoirs focusing on emotional growth and humor, and not so many on how worthless men are. Because the women I know who are writing mommy books (and having hard times selling them because they don't belittle dads) are partnered with men who know how to be dads.

RE "a generation behind the times."

Like they're baby boomers, or people who had their kids ten+ years ago and only now are getting the time to write a book? Either way could explain a lag between books and reality.

Yes.

My friend who's trying to shop her memoir of the first year around right now (and is getting dinged by childless agents who think it's not inflammatory enough) wrote it in an hour a day while her daughter napped. I think the view from the rear-view mirror must be vastly different. But who are we (as parents) writing for? It would never occur to me to buy the Judith Warner book, but I hand out Andi Buchanan's book Mother Shock at baby showers like it's candy. Blogs are so much more relevant because they hit you with the experience you need when you're having that experience. I wish the publishing industry would catch up to real-time.

I agree with previous commenters that in almost all the marriages I see today, there is as much 50-50 sharing as can possibly happen (only reason it's not exact is if there is still breast feeding involved...). Having said that, though, I think women need to be responsible for letting their husbands do things their way, so that it can be more 50-50. I'm certainly not perfect (and boy, would my husband second that), but I do try hard to hold my tongue when he does things differently with our son than I would do - like, say, take him out hiking without a sweater, hat or sunscreen. For me, I would. But why freak out about it? Both come back happy and thrilled to have been out, no one is hurt, no one is dead, and who needs me butting in on that?

I've not read the books mentioned: since the advice books of pregnancy and early infancy, I've tended to read books-about-anything-but-babies. However, I enjoyed the article at Salon a lot.

There are, I think, two issues. One is that parenting is a big shock for a lot of people who need to vent and freak out a bit with other adults. The other is that our culture is asking, in many situations, for longer work weeks in the middle and upper classes, and in the working classes constant work is a financial necessity. ( I'm going to ignore gender in this equation, since every family balances work and family time differently. Also, I'm in Canada, and adoptive parents & fathers can get 35 weeks parental leave. Bio mothers get 17 for pregnancy related concerns & then they & their partners can choose who takes the 35.)

I agree with Moxie. I don't think that it's a woman's issue, it's a societal issue. But I also think we need to seperate out the "oh my god I've been up all night and I want to tear my hair out" venting from the political table ... parenting can sometimes be hard, regardless of your situation. The Mom Myth may not be societal anymore, but we ALL want what's best for our kids, which means it's inherently PERSONAL. I wanted to be perfect for my son, regardless of societal tempo: the struggle that a lot of folks I know went through was falling off their own imagined level of parental perfection. ... If you ever said, as a kid, "I would never say that to MY kids", and then you find your mouth opening and "that" coming out, then you've just failed against your own personal Mom Myth.

I think it is primarily a woman's job to take care of the baby and all baby related things. Enough with all these selfish women that want to have their babies and free time too. Not to mention expecting the men to help them after a long days work in the boardroom.

It is also ridiculous to see this new type men lately who pre -occupy themselves with baby issues and consumer crap to buy.

What has this world come to? Get your roles straight people!

Awesome point. I'm thinking of changing the DT tagline to:
"The weblog for new dads whose wives need to shut that kid up and bring them a beer."

I think that's a misguided goal, though. Instead, you could be repeatedly impregnating your wife so she'd produce more children. Once they hit 18 months or so, they become stellar beer-fetchers. Why settle for one adult-size beer-fetcher, when you could have 6 that fit into the same amount of space?

I work Construction in Texas. As well as that I am going to school to become a Nurse. My wife just had our first child (she had a son from a previous marriage) She doesn't work so the fincial all fall on me. When I get home, instead of getting some time to relax, I get nagged,bitched at, yelled at or sometimes all of the above. Most of the time she expects me to take over when I hit the door. Most of the time it is up to me to do something that she "couldn't" get done. Most of the time dinner isn't even thought of. She's always complaining about how worn out she is or how she hasn't been getting enough sleep (though when my feet hit the floor at six in the morning she's still sleeping). She's also never in the "mood" if you know what I mean. I get so stressed out some times that I don't think any of it is worth it. We get into it often about everything. She says that I don't appreciate her or the things she does for me, but I don't see her going out to pay the bills or the rent. I am so sick of this. I don't know how much more I can take.

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