where trouble was needed

June 2, 2008

I Don’t Know How She Does It

Filed under: Books — Aravinda @ 12:10 pm

Enjoying novel by Allison Pearson. Insightful humour. Mothers without such a hectic work schedule as our heroine can appreciate as well – child wanting story read over from beginning, etc. You have to be there …

Apart from affirming that “every mother is a working mother,” I don’t usually identify as a working mother since I don’t have most of the issues we tend to associate with working mothers, namely day-care. Or compromising on breastfeeding, ec’ing, simple living, healthy eating – you hear clearly from mothers who are away from the kids 8-10 hours at a stretch most days, which is the typical case with the modern working mother, that it all takes too much time and energy which they don’t have. And so rather than being part of the Muffia, as Pearson calls it, I make sure never to suggest that there is anything sad about these compromises. And it is not mere political correctness, I believe our society needs to do much much more to help women have access both to career and family fulfillment. If we even understood the invaluable work of mothering, then flexible hours, longer maternity leave, etc would naturally follow. As would higher expectations from fathers.

But reading about the inner life from the mother’s perspective, I see that I share many of the same problems, or shall we say challenges. Mainly due to lack of time, though since I’ve been a babywearer and still take child with me wherever I go, the time management issues are different. And let’s not forget the guilt dished out by others who feel free to tell me to my face that I am not giving enough attention to my maternal duties. I wonder if full fledged SAHM’s get that guilt as well? All of us moms need to unite against mama guilt!

I have just started the book, and am still wondering – when are we going to see some triumph – here so far all I see is how hard it is and how much Kate has to compromise. The author tries to make light of it by suggesting at times that Kate is stressing out unnecessarily (like fretting about why the nanny cut her son’s hair while she was abroad on business). Still, reading about “bribing children” with stuff and leaning on TV / junk food (and even paracetamol!) to “keep them quiet” does not at all make me envy her lot. I wonder if something will change. Salon.com review suggests that all her problems could be solved with money but that is cruel and shallow. Barely arriving to her daughter’s recital, her son’s first birthday … she cannot hire a nanny to do these things for her.

While dad takes care of breakfast, baths and bedtime, he seems to have no problem balancing these duties with his office work. I wonder how that is? I don’t think it is solely because he can “let go” and is less perfectionist (to put it mildly), or feels less responsibility, though all of these may be true.   But it is also the case that he works fewer hours [full time – but that is it], and as our heroine misses few opportunities to remind us, earns less income.

Well, I started writing this when I was just 100 pages into the book. Now I have crossed page 250, and we haven’t seen a major turning point yet. Unfortunately I am starting to find Kate more tiresome than sympathetic.

Why so much disdain towards mothers who stay home with children? To top it off, she calls them judgmental, resenting even their admiration. Actually these days it is not so unheard of for fathers to take a few years off fulltime work to be home with kids, though still rare. But in Kate’s world, all the at-home mothers are “rich,” a term she uses with a sneer, even though she manages investment funds for a living!!! First of all, many families make a lot of effort to live within one income – most single-income families I know live very efficiently – not “polishing nails all day” as Kate comments, but actually using the time at home to enrich their own lives and children’s lives without spending money.

And how much of the money Kate spends, by her own admission, adds nothing to her quality of life, but probably detracts from it – extravagant gifts for children to absolve guilt for absences, or because rather than decide among multiple gift options, she saves time (and thought) by getting them all.   While early in the novel she explains to her daughter that it is important for women to work, because they are good at so many things, etc, now we find her telling a sob story to the cab driver that working so many hours, she is barely holding onto her job and just making ends meet as the breadwinner.   Is this really the only justification women have to work?? Certainly there are women who couldn’t make ends meet without their incomes but Kate is not one of them. She works out of choice and women have fought hard for that choice. However it is a false choice when maternity leave is so short and working part-time, or even plain old 35 hour/week full time is not an option in certain careers.  I personally believe that young children need mothers many hours per day, every day and that that is not such a revolutionary idea for to accommodate in our work culture.

And I have to say I find this entire affair with Jack unconvincing. And just as she spins another sob story about how she devotes all her time to work, mothering and has little left for husband, and no question of time for herself (pg. 100), we find email kisses btw her and Jack (pg. 101- 105), and at her next business trip, out on the town with Jack till the wee hours (pg. 154), who sweetly tells her what a good mother she is and how his own (who stayed home) was drunk and neglected him. Meanwhile, after explaining that she has “forgotten how to shop for pleasure,” she buy 3 pair of shoes for herself (116-117). No time to choose – so buy them all and call that a “bargain.” (sic)

I am waiting for some moment where she will recognize how far she’s gone in lying to herself and a few other important people in her life.


1 Comment »

  1. […] I finished I Don’t Know How She Does It (2002) and it is definitely a good read. I didn’t want it to end, and all that. Finale is worth every penny, and maybe the dragging […]


    Pingback by Tales of working motherhood « where trouble was needed — February 16, 2013 @ 5:31 am | Reply

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