TBR: Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life

Today’s book is Dispatches From A Not-So-Perfect Life OR How I Learned to Love the House, the Man, the Child, by Faulkner Fox. (Side note: until I started this project, I had never noticed how all of the nonfiction books I read about parenting have long subtitles.)

This is a hard book for me to review, because it’s such a personal narrative. It’s about Fox’s struggle with Motherhood and her attempt to keep her sense of self in the midst of the fatigue, messiness, and routines of being a mom to small children. She does a good job of identifying the problems she faced, but doesn’t really try to propose solutions or broad analytical frameworks. Her main goal is to provide a lifeline to other women in the same situation, to make them feel less alone, less crazy, less guilty. I wasn’t feeling any of those things before I read the book, so I’m probably not the target audience.

That said, I enjoyed the book. I didn’t find it laugh-out-loud funny, as some of the reviews I’d seen suggested, but it’s got a light touch and is well-written. Most of all, I liked the author and enjoyed spending a few hours in her company — if she lived nearby, I’d want to be her friend. She’s mastered the art of raising complaints/concerns about her life and the world without sounding either strident or whiny, which is a rare skill.

The book is divided into thematic chapters, some of which resonated more for me than others. The one that hit home the most for me was on friendship, in which Fox talks about her frustration with her inability to make friends with the mothers around her and the superficial levels of conversation she has with them, and comments that she wants to join an old fashioned consciousness-raising group to talk about motherhood, how it really felt, how it was often joyous but also frustrating. Me too. I found it interesting to see that on her website, Fox has set up discussion boards for women to talk about these issues — I’ve definitely found the internet, especially parenting email lists, my greatest source of support.

Fox thinks that it’s judgmentalism, and the fear of it, that keeps women from talking about these issues. That’s certainly part of it. I agree with her analysis that it’s hard to just put in the hours to make new friends. I also think the playground and coffee shops, those famous mother hang-outs, are terrible places to try to talk, because in neither one are small kids likely to safely self-entertain for long periods of time. My older son is now 3 1/2, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn if we have a playdate the kids now actually can play together for 20 minutes or more at a time and the adults can have something resembling a real conversation.

Fox would really like to be able to get together with mothers without the kids, and attributes the difficulties of this to men not doing enough child-rearing. I think she’s totally missing the perspective of the full-time working mom, who rarely feels like she gets enough time with her children. Sure, I’d miss an evening with them occasionally to spend with a good friend — but probably not for the awkward getting-to-know-you stage with someone who might someday be a friend.

Finally — at least in my experience — the biggest obstacle to friendship between full-time working moms and at-home moms is not judgmentalism but scheduling. Working moms want weekend playdates; at-home moms rarely do. For a while I was working a "compressed workweek" meaning I worked 80 hours a payperiod, but over 9 days rather than 10, giving me a weekday off every two weeks. So I’d have my day off and head out to the playground. I had fun with my son, but never really connected with the parents. They all seemed to know each other, and didn’t seem interested in meeting someone new, especially not someone who wasn’t going to be there on a regular basis.

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