Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy to be a SAHM, Thanks Very Much

I read a book this weekend.

I didn't really like it. But this post is less about lambasting the book than disagreeing with the concerns of the main character and the underlying premise that stay at home motherhood is boring and generally undesirable.

Writer Ayelet Waldman's protagonist, like herself, is a Harvard-educated lawyer married to a writer. The main character, Juliet, complains incessantly about her weight, which gets annoying because she doesn't weigh that much, since she's pregnant. She's mother to a typical two year old. I tried to like her, honest. But I just found her a pain in the butt.

I wasn't the only one. I was curious to see if I was overly critical, so I checked out customer reviews. There were twenty-four 5 or 4 star reviews and five 3 star reviews, so obviously some people liked it. I checked out the five 2 star reviews and three 1 star reviews. One 1 star review excerpt read:
And the paragraph in which Juliet explains how parenthood ruins one's life, relationship, looks, productivity, and intelligence was, to use a Waldman-like cliche, the last straw.
A two star rater commented:
I'm guessing that Waldman expects to find a niche with female readers who share some of her protagonist's ambivalence about stay-at-home-motherhood.
Even a four star review noted:
I found Juliet pretty whiny at times...
Although a different four star rater clearly didn't mind:
What makes this book so delicious is Juliet's sense of humor and honesty. She freely admits that her daughter can be pretty darn annoying and that she is ambivalent, even resentful, about leaving her job as a Harvard-trained lawyer to stay at home with her pre-schooler and soon-to-be born son.
My own view was pretty well summed up by another customer review:
Sorry, Juliet is someone who I couldn't identify with in the least. She seems like a whiner, and not up to motherhood. Big deal she's an attorney, how many times do we have to hear about it. Big deal her husband makes a ton in the movie business.... I like to read about characters who I would like to be friends with. Not some kind of upper class ninny who seems to have nothing better to do than complain she's a stay at home Mom.
I'm not saying that every day is bliss around here. Or that there weren't times when my children were babies that I felt exhausted. But I always felt extraordinarily grateful that I was able to be at home with them when they were small. I still love sharing their days when they get home from school, and having the flexibility to volunteer in their classrooms. There are a zillion things I can do to be creative and use my mind for the betterment of the community. I try to do at least a few of them every once in a while. Being a SAHM hasn't consigned me to a life in the doldrums. It's enriched my life so much.

I still remember when my Amazing Boy Child was born. I felt so overwhelmed by love that I could hardly believe it. Although he towers over me now, it feels like yesterday that I took him home from the hospital and began the adventure of motherhood. Whenever I feel low, all I have to do is think of my kids and the world seems brighter.

The illustrations I've included here are three of Mary Cassatt's paintings. From top to bottom, they are Goodnight Hug, The Young Mother, and Woman Combing Her Child's Hair. I loved her work before I ever had children. The relationships she depicts between mothers and children resonate with me.

I'm a Stay At Home Mom, and I am very happy.

And I'm writing my own novel. The main character is a SAHM who feels fulfilled and has some interesting adventures. I'm excited about this! My only worry is that some readers will say nasty things about my book and protagonist.

Oh well, you can't please everyone...


Bee said...

The only value whining has (as far as I can see) is that it makes the reader/viewer/whatever feel superior to the character . . . or at least no worse than. I can't otherwise explain why there is so much WHINING in our culture.

Being a stay-at-home mom is a great privilege; everything is harder and more stressful when you are trying to do two jobs. I admire people who can do both well; I can't -- at least not without it taking a terrible toll.

Cassatt was probably the first artist to "privilege" ordinary motherhood as an artistic subject. Speaking of Cassatt, I was at The National Gallery on Friday and I heard a guide (who was discussing a Berthe Morisot painting) mention that way less than 1% of the collection had a female creator. But that's another post . . .

phd in yogurtry said...

Yes to the priviledge which I fully appreciated but it didn't make me enjoy the daily grind. I loved being with my babies, I loved having slow mornings, but I just didn't love the constant food service, diaper change, laundering, picking up after, and walks to the park where I would find moms who seemed a little overly enthralled with their own children - and not terribly interesting otherwise.

I yearned to be working and was very lucky and very priviledged to be able to work pt-time so that I could have the best of both worlds. Made for some crazy stress at times, but for ME, boredom is the worst stress of all. If I had connected with moms who read, who followed politics, who looked above their little family, I might have enjoyed it more. But I do like making a contribution to the family income and I do like working.

On the other hand, I absolutely abhor whining about weight loss, calories, blah blah blah. Especially hearing it from someone skinnier than me!

Rachel Fox said...

I suppose it depends what the point is of having a character like that in a novel. It can have a character you don't like and still be a great novel (for example Lionel Shriver's 'We need to talk about Kevin' has one such character but there is a point to he being like that and a fascinating story in the book too). It sounds like the book you're talking about was not along these lines though! Rich women whining - my favourite!

Fantastic Forrest said...

Bee - I don't really want to feel superior to the character! I am impatient with whining.

I'm jealous of your visit to the National Gallery. Oh dear, am I whining? :-) I can't wait to read your post about the guide's discussion.

Phd - I do get what you mean. And I struggled writing the post because I don't mean to say that all Moms HAVE to be SAHM's or that they should be overly enthralled (that is annoying too). You raise a lot of good points about the value of work for mental stimulation and income.

As for those skinnier women, they should just be quiet. And eat something.

Rachel Fox - you get it exactly. Having those feelings could be legitimate. It's the whining that grates on my nerves.

Shana said...

I would love to extol the virtues of being a SAHM, which I miss being so very much, but my FRIEND is off starting on crepes WITHOUT ME and so I must dash.

But first...

Tag! There is an ass patch award awaiting you at my blog. Do with it as you wish : )

Lisa said...

When I had the privilege to stay home with my children, I don't think I ever once complained of boredom. Ever.

That book would drive me over the edge, I think. Because I would have loved the chance to stay home with my children more than I was able to.

Lucy said...

I love it when Amazon, or bloggers', reviews agree with me, or stop me from wasting time and money on a book by convincing me I won't like it!

Fantastic Forrest said...

Shana - it was big fun having crepes with you...well, before you arrived, to be technically accurate, but I just couldn't wait!! Thanks for the ass patch. I will be posting about it shortly. This has been a busy week!

Lisa - YES. I agree, obviously.

Lucy - glad to be of assistance!