Who says what?

Novelist, mother, minister, and yoga teacher muses on books, babies, motherhood, and what matters with reverent humor.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Stigma of the Stay-At-Home Mother

After my first novel, This Little Mommy Stayed Home, came out, I went to a number of book groups. The women in the groups were both working and stay-at-home mothers, bright and educated, warm and welcoming. I still remember what a woman said to me at one of those special gatherings:

"I was embarassed to read the book in public. I didn't want anyone to see the cover."

The woman loved the book; that wasn't the problem. She simply felt ashamed to have others know she was reading it! It's pretty scandalous, as you can see.

People often say to me, "I wouldn't read it. I don't stay home." Or, "I won't read it. I'm not a mother."
But if that is how we choose books than who in the world would read about vampires? We don't have any of those and yet vampire books top the charts. And what of the popularity of the 50 Shades books? Does that mean that the US has a massive population of S&M devotees?

Shall we give up reading Shakespeare since men don't any longer wear tights? Will all the murder mystery addicts stop reading such books unless they plan on murdering themselves? And the women who devour romance novels, they do it because they have so much romance in their own lives, right?

Of course not! Reading opens worlds to people and people love to read outside of their own immediate experience. We don't read about SAHMs because we think they aren't worth reading about.

At a recent book talk for my second novel, I'll Take What She Has, a woman said to her friend at the end of the talk that she would not buy the book for her daughter--as she had planned--because the book has a happy stay at home mother. "It's too upsetting. My daughter just went through it. I can't get it for her."

How can it be that people, men and women, can read novels about war, rape, abduction, crimes, disasters, blood-suckers, violence, alcoholism, and tragedy, and yet few of the same people can face the dreaded STAY-AT-HOME mother?

Occasionally, people like to tell me that no stigma exists for the SAHM. I completely disagree. Recent news coverage and the conversation about "opting-out" make it seem as if at-home mothering belongs exclusively to the owning class. This isn't true. There are SAHM in every single social and economic bracket. Some mothers stay home voluntarily, and some involuntarily. Some mothers can't find work, and some mothers could find work that wouldn't cover the cost of daycare, and some mothers could find work that would but choose to stay home and live on less.

SAHMs exist in a world that others are not interested in. The work of the mother possesses a tremendous invisibility. Mothers labor in solidarity with other invisible workers, like day-care providers and cleaners and manual laborers. The now cliched question of the SAHM, "What did you do all day?" raises the central issue of how we place value.

Money=value. It's a cultural truism. The less you get paid, the less your work is worth.
Rocking your child to sleep? Zero.
Someone else rocking your child to sleep? $8 an hour.
Spending a week with your children teaching them to camp, swim, bike and hike. Zero.
Sending your kids to a week of outdoor camp: $350.
(I'm sure you could come up with more and better examples.)

The work of SAHMs garnishes no wages, but this does not mean it has no worth. The problem dwells with our thinking about worth and value. Changing how we think about work has the potential to change how we treat all kinds of people, including the most impoverished, and gives us the opportunity to properly restore to each individual their due sense of inherent worth and value.

If someone handed me a novel and said, "Read this. It's really funny, and uplifting and entertaining" and I said, "What's it about?" and they said, "A potato farmer," and I said, "No, thanks. I'm not a potato farmer," then I would have a problem.

We have a cultural problem. Even--and maybe especially--mothers and at-home mothers carry this stigma and apply it to one another. If you don't feel valuable, it's hard not to be embarrassed by your work in the world. Sometimes, the at-home mothers I know will comment about how difficult it is not to "be someone." When they had paid work, even if it wasn't particularly life-changing, they mattered. Now taking care of children, they don't.

This isn't famine. As my husband likes to point out, I get to take the kids to the beach while he goes to work. I'm not complaining; I'm illustrating something true that can change and when it does, can bring improvement to all of our lives.

It seems like from a journalistic perspective, the working versus at-home issue has exhausted itself. It has! And it never was the right issue to begin with. We need to dig down and repair the underlying and destructive beliefs that have led us to be more upset by a book about a happy at-home mother than one about a serial rapist. In that process, we need to transform our thinking about value, work, and children. We need to take the god of money off of his throne and not merely give hot air to certain ideas--"the greatest things in life aren't things"--but illuminate the dark corners of our prejudice and uncover new ways of being people in the world.

We need to read more books about stay-at-home mothers.

Monday, June 3, 2013

What are women for?

I checked in with my blog and discovered that I hadn't visited in several weeks which always begs the question: what WAS I doing?

Well, I planted a vegetable garden and got six chicks and changed 213 diapers and attempted to potty train and worked on a new novel, taught some yoga classes, officiated at a wedding, preached a sermon, read three books and washed my kitchen floor.

I also blogged for some other places. I'm up today to support the amazing organization MotherWoman in their 'Advocating for Mothers' campaign, at Huffington Post with a piece called, "What Are Women For?" I love this piece and wonder what other mothers think.

I also made a confession at She Reads in my Tell Me Something True piece. This is another one of my favorite posts--and favorite sites--close to my heart and my work.

So while I am ambitiously under-achieving in the blogosphere, I have done something!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What Does A Mother Know?

Let's start with the envy. That's always a good place to begin. I envy the perfectly compelling, intriguing, spot-on title of Leslie Lehr's latest novel, What a Mother Knows. What does a mother know? It's such a meaty question.

Lehr is the prizewinning author of the novels, What A Mother Knows, 66 Laps and Wife Goes On, plus three nonfiction books, including Welcome to Club Mom, must know something. Her essays have appeared in anthologies such as Mommy Wars, The Honeymoon's Over, and On Becoming Fearless. She was the screenwriter of the romantic thriller, "Heartless" and wrote "Club Divorce" for Lifetime. She has a BA from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, an MFA from Antioch, and teaches in the world renowned Writers Program.

Here's the story:
How far will a mother go to protect her daughter?
Michelle Mason can’t remember that day, that drive, that horrible crash that killed the young man in her car. All she knows is she’s being held responsible, and her daughter is missing.
Despite a shaky marriage, a threatening lawsuit, and troubling flashbacks pressing in on her, Michelle throws herself into searching. Her daughter is the one person who might know what really happened that day, but the deeper Michelle digs, the more she questions the innocence of those closest to her, even herself. As her search hurtles towards a shattering revelation, Michelle must face the biggest challenge of her life.

I'm so excited to have Lehr visiting for my Mothers' Month and giving away a copy of the novel. I asked her a few questions.

You write a lot about mothers, from Welcome to Club Mom, to Nesting, to What A Mother Knows. Why?
There is so much to write about! I have two daughters. I thought I was ready going into it, but no. Motherhood is overwhelming. 

What’s the first book you remember reading?
Are You My Mother  - the one where the little bird asks everyone, even a tractor, if it his mother. So sad – and so happy when he finds her. Hmm, maybe that’s why I write about mothers so much. Wanting one, being one, needing one.

What would you say is your biggest writing quirk?
I have to have popcorn and Diet Pepsi, no matter what time of day it is.

What does success mean to you?
Gong to bed with a smile on my face.

Where are you from and what do you love best about your hometown?
I’m from Upper Arlington, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, and the best part of growing up there is the Fourth of July. Every neighborhood has a float for the parade and a van goes around in the morning with a loud speaker waking everyone up in time. Then there are neighborhood BBQ’s and town swimming races and ice cream socials, and of course, fireworks. I moved to LA on purpose, but I wish my kids could experience that. Excuse me while I get plane tickets…

What is the best part of your web site? 
I like that book clubs can contact me for a Skype visit. Most people like the lemon bar recipe.  They’re in the story, so my friend Cathy made four dozen for my launch party this week. They were gone in minutes.

What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?
You can’t fail until you quit. Thanks, Dad!

To win a copy of What A Mother Knows leave a comment here on the blog or on my Facebook author site. What does a mother know? Tell me one thing in your comment!

And visit Leslie on her website
Find her on Facebook
Tweet with her on twitter @leslielehr1 
and get your book group together for a Skype visit with her. Sounds awesome! Thanks, Leslie. I can’t wait to read it.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Save The Happy Mother!

I read this article today in the Puffington Post and it alarmed me so much that I am starting my own  campaign to save the happy mothers. Read the facts below. I think you'll agree that this is a pressing (and depressing) problem we all need to immediately address.

Happy Mothers Join The Endangered Species List
by Materna Ty

The latest news from the Hew Center for Public Research indicates a alarming reduction in the number of happy mothers. The numbers have declined so significantly over the past decade that studies suggest only one hundred such mothers are left in existence. This means, for the first time in human history, the happy mother has become an endangered species.

"How can this be?" asks researcher Pilly Fussle of Serious University, home to the Mother Think Tank, Yo, Mama. "Truthfully, none of us are surprised. For nearly a century, maternal satisfaction has been in steady decline. Women continue to become mothers, but the existence of the happy mother occurs less and less often."

In order to locate happy mothers, a team of fifty researchers had to search the globe for six months. "We found the fewest number of Happy Mothers (HM) in the U.S.," says Fussle. "The greatest number live in Australia."

But Yo, Mama only studies the existence of such mothers. They refuse to draw conclusions as to the reasons. For that, you have to turn to sociologist and psychologist Bernafrette Muddleton, the preeminent doctor of theories of human endangerment. "There's a lot of pressure to be a happy mother," wrote Muddleton in a official press release. "What's so funny about poopy diapers, fear of kidnapping, teenage drinking and laundry? Nothing. That's what. I haven't been a happy mother since my children weren't born. The only truly happy mother I know had a lobotomy." Later, she retracted her statements, explaining that she'd forgotten to take her anti-depressant that morning and that none of her conclusions had to do with her findings as a professional.

"Motherhood can be isolating, dehumanizing, exhausting and confusion," said the famous novelist of mother fiction, Samantha Wilde. "This is a cultural problem that demands a cultural solution. Happy motherhood isn't an impossibility. Motherhood contains a preponderance of joy. What needs to change is our definition of the successful life. Devoting at least some of our years to nurturing children is in the best interest of the whole human community; mothers need to be elevated and supported. When that happens, the happy mother will roam free on the planet."

Other mothers didn't express such a positive attitude or use four syllable words to show off. "Who has time to be happy?" said mother of four Ruru Newstick. "I don't even have time to read your silly article." Said Oprah, "This is a national tragedy. And I'm really glad I never had any kids myself. Because I like being happy. It really sells my magazine."

In the wake of the shocking news, a Nebraska mother of twelve, Sunester Sunnyside, has created an organization called, Save The Mothers, that has already raised a million dollars, proving that, while they might not be a happy people, no one gets more done than a busy mother.

We asked Sunnyside if she's one of the few HM alive today. "I am," she told the Puffington Post in an exclusive interview that lasted six hours on account of her being constantly interrupted by her multitude of children. What's the secret to her joy? "Kids are fun," she said while nursing. "I laugh with them. I lowered my expectations about other stuff, a clean house, professional success, material wealth. We spend lots of time together just playing. I also taught my children to pick up after themselves. My husband supports me. And when it gets rough, I take a time-out in my bedroom, lock my door, and eat a bon-bon. It's a good life. Children bring out the care-free child-like side in me. I skip and hug and kiss and cry every day. What other adult can say that?"

Sunnyside confirmed her status as the exception by serving the entire Puffington Post media time home-squeezed lemonade and brownies her teenagers made. She seemed virtually unbelievable. "Look," she said, "go see how dirty my bathroom is. We all have to make choices, set priorities. I can't wait to help other mothers reclaim their natural joy."

To accomplish those efforts, Sunnyside is using the funds raised to start a Happy Mother Commune where families will live together and share childcare responsibilities. "You know why a mother is depressed? Because she can't leave her house to buy a stick of butter without an ordeal! Freedom and joy will come with community, connection, and sharing the burden. Now, if you don't mind, I need to go change a diaper." To reach Sunnyside, drive to Nebraska. She doesn't get internet yet.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

This Stuff Makes Me Crazy!

Okay, mothers, what I'd really like to do for you for my Mothers' Month is come and help you clean your house. Wouldn't that be an awesome gift? Since I can't, here's the next best thing, the permission to live with less mess.

Well, I can't possibly be the only mother overwhelmed by STUFF. And by stuff I mean: toys, clothes, books, and treasures (otherwise known as rocks, dirt, small pieces of paper and tiny, plastic objects). Where did all this stuff come from? I have probably, in seven years, bought my children collectively one toy and ten outfits and yet my house teems with it.

Photo by Bill Longshaw courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.
Here's my problem with stuff: it consumes way more of my time than I want it to. I love playing with my children, reading to them, dancing with them, cooking with them, making art with them, running around the yard with them and having them give me back rubs (just kidding on that last one). I do spend time doing those things. The trouble is I spend an awful lot of time cleaning up their toys, tripping over their toys, putting books back on shelves, trying to find homes for random objects, and feeling, occasionally, defeated by the sheer quantity in our house.

I wish I could look away. I wish it didn't bother me so much. I wish I didn't want to live in the 1850s when kids had three toys and all slept together in one bedroom. But let's be honest, life with children IS different now than it has been for, essentially, the entire length of human history. The kind of product rich lives even children with parents of modest incomes enjoy didn't exists one hundred years ago. Sometimes I think about how hard it must have been for women without washing machines and dishwashers. On the other hand, they had a two room house and instead of ten balls for the kids to toss, they had one. Also, how hard was it to clean the outhouse? Just let it stink!

All of us have to spend some time cleaning up and putting away and taking care of the things we possess and love. And it's great for kids to have toys and enjoy them. But I'd venture to guess that a lot of women's lives--mother's lives--would be easier if the house didn't froth with objects. Can we give ourselves permission to have less? Can we begin to redefine a good life? Can we pass on what we don't need, get rid of what's broken, and let children enjoy the best and simplest of toys: boxes and blankets?

I don't know about you, but I need permission to free myself from some of this stuff, and if you need it too, Mama, I want to give it to you. Your life is good and full of love. Let's fill our houses with the stuff that doesn't get dusty, use batteries quickly, break under pressure, or end up forgotten on the floor. All that good stuff: love and time and laughter and peace.

Now there's some good, free advice that won't clog your toy box! Are you with me?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mother's Day? Mother's Month! May is for Mothers.

This is the mother of all months, the month for all mothers. It's May and I am dedicating my online presence for the month of May to the millions upon millions of mothers on the planet. Every day in May, either on my Facebook author site or on the blog, I will post about mothers and for mothers. I'll also be giving away books, a book bag, chocolate and maybe a few surprises. Join me by subscribing to this blog or liking me on Facebook so you don't miss a post! Then share me with mothers in your life--especially the ones who need a boost.

I'm kicking off the month with a live performance tomorrow at the MotherWoman fundraising breakfast of my Motherhood Is Meaningful Manifesto, which I'll perform with the amazing artist, minister writer and radio host, Alysia Crosby. For those who aren't at the breakfast, a link to a video of the piece will be available soon after and it WILL empower you.

I'm up from some reader participation, too. If you make something or have something that mothers would enjoy or benefit from, how about giving a few away this month to other mothers? Just leave me a comment or send off an email and help me to nurture the mothers.

As a prelude to my mothers month, here's my own mother, author Nancy Thayer, with a few words about cheese in what has become The Cheese Wars on Chick Lit Chit Chat.

A mother's love is always cheesy.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Read about my cheese!

I am with the amazing Julie Valerie today at Chick Lit Chit Chat talking cheese. Something I know nothing about. And doesn't that make a great post?

I'm also giving away a signed copy on her site of I'll Take What She Has. Click the link below, enjoy the cheese talk and enter to win a copy.

Here it is!