For my book club “Readers and Breeders” I just finished Flux: On Sex, Love, Work, Kids, and Life in a Half-Changed World by Peggy Orenstein.
Peggy interviewed hundreds of women over a two year period to try to capture how progress in women’s liberation and feminism has (or has not) affected women’s lives.
I liked the book overall, I could see myself writing something vaguely like this voice someday, although I wanted it to be more conversational, less stiff and bland. I related to some women she described based on what my life is like now, and some reminded me of myself in my 20’s, before kids. The book really got me thinking about what I will do next with my careers as mommy and writer. It gives me more confidence to really accept that I don’t want to work in a full-time rat race, maybe ever again.
The one thing I definitely did NOT like about this book was its organization. I could vaguely see a structure to it, but it seemed all over the place at times. I felt like I didn’t know where it was headed, or where it had been, more like it was just a collection of her thoughts and interviews, rather than having a structure to it. I like structure, ESPECIALLY in a non-fiction work. This book didn’t lend itself to reading only the parts that interest you, such as reading only the parts about women without children, and I think that’s a valuable thing in a non-fiction book. My friend, Mary, said it didn’t really address women who actually like being a stay-at-home mom and don’t feel like they’re missing out on anything.
Below are my two most memorable parts of the book, or maybe most relatable and why:
“Journalist Joan Peters has pointed out that even as women have flooded the workplace, the “edifice of motherhood” has expanded: in addition to basic nurturing, the Perfect Mother is now expected to be a creative playmate, developmental psychologist, and educational expert, not to mention a ready volunteer. Stay-at-home moms are as vulnerable as working moms to the pressure to do ever more….
Carrie has told me that she feels guilty because, although she spends a lot of time with her children, she sometimes drifts off when Julia chatters at her, or feels exhausted by Sam’s perpetual motion. The impossible standards they set for themselves, shared by so many women, reminded me of the teenage girls I used to interview, who, no matter what their weight, saw themselves as fat. I don’t know whether there’s a Perfect-Mother equivalent to an eating disorder, but I wondered: How good does a mother have to be before she feels good enough?”
It was nice to see this part in the book because it describes how I feel about my life with my boys, that no matter what I do or how much time I spend trying to enrich their lives, it will never be enough. I feel guilty for not reading more books about how to raise them, and it seems there are regularly subtle bombardments from the outside world that I might not be doing enough. It feels more urgent the older the kids get because it feels like they’ll be grown up before I have time to read that book about how to raise boys properly.
“Women who wanted or had children described the same internal conflicts as those who did not, but they weighed the trade-offs differently. Often, they believed children would answer basic existential questions of meaning. Recall that during the Promise years women imagined motherhood would provide a kind of pure unconditional love that relationships with men might not. Although they recoiled from the silence of the Good Wife, they embraced the Perfect Mother—the woman for whom childrearing supersedes all other identities and satisfactions, whose needs are either relinquished to or become identical to her child’s—but they’d given her a modern spin: In a melding of feminist and feminine ideologies, they believed the best way to assert and nurture the self was through submerging it in a child, ignoring the fact that mothers’ and children’s needs often conflict. The cost of that contradiction could be enormous. In retrospect, women told me they believed they’d over idealized motherhood, which set them up for what writer Susan Maushart calls “baby shock”. “Before you have a child, you only hear how great it is,’ says a thirty-four-year-old office manager and mother of two in St. Paul. “Now if a woman said to me, ‘What’s it like?’ I would tell her everything, for sure. ‘It’s going to be stressful, and it’s going to be hard. Sometimes you are going to want to say, “You know what? I don’t even want to be here. I don’t like my kid. I don’t like my husband. I want to go.” There will be a lot of changes you don’t expect: financially, professionally, and emotionally. And lots of changes in your marriage.”
I really related to this section because even though I had some idea that having kids would be really hard, I’m an optimist, so I idealized what a lot of it would be like, including birth, breastfeeding, and the day to day, and when it’s not how I imagined. I have trouble accepting that, instead I think about what I must be doing wrong. I at times feel sorry for myself that I don’t enjoy it more, that I’m not more thankful for what I have, when others want it and don’t have it, as if I’m ungrateful and am not allowed to complain. I want to be that mother that savors every second with her children, live in a home with harmony and joy, but most days by 3 PM I feel exhausted, and exhaustion doesn’t leave room for joy, there is not energy left for joy. I just want to tune out, get some peace and quiet, and do something mindless like fold laundry and watch TV. And that just makes me feel guiltier for not taking advantage of the opportunities with the kids.
I definitely recommend this book for any woman, no matter where she’s at in her life.
Thanks for reading,