Caitlin Flanagan's Plastic Bubble

April 19, 2006

Just when you thought the Mommy Wars were fizzling, here comes another book to reinforce the notion that working moms are gypping their kids. The newest stay-at-home spokesmodel, Caitlin Flanagan, is working the circuit, promoting her book “To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife.” She’s probably coming to a bookstore near you, if you need to let your inner heckler out.

She’s an odd bird: one of the few female writers whose features appear regularly in the Atlantic Monthly, Flanagan makes me crazy. She’s smart, she’s a terrific writer, and she picks some engaging topics that reel me in. But by the time I’m finished reading an article, I want to beat her pert, privileged self with a broom.

Here’s why: she doesn’t know her cohort. And she can’t step out of her own story. Nearly everything I’ve read of hers is an ambitious pseudo-sociological musing, built upon the spindly legs of anecdotes harvested exclusively from her coterie of rich, educated SAHMs with nannies. There’s a whole world of mother experience out there that she’s never really deigned to explore.

In many ways, she’s uniquely unqualified to be making pronouncements about stay-at-home motherhood. In an article about nannies, she admits that she has never changed a sheet in her life, yet she groups herself with middle-class moms. She has raised her kids with the help of a full-time nanny and housekeeper, all the while writing for high-profile magazines. Sounds great! Where do I sign up?

The vast majority of SAHMs are doing all the cooking, cleaning, and childcare, day in, day out. I wonder if Flanagan had to live that version of motherhood, if she would be tooting the same horn.

Her own mother went back to work when Flanagan was 12, and she’s never gotten over that loss. That’s her story, and it trumps her mother’s story, which is that she was unfulfilled at home and became happy overnight upon returning to work.

In the end, what she believes about mothering doesn’t offend me much. She’s got a luxurious set-up; I’m not surprised that she finds it satisfying and recommends it to others. What disturbs me is that a woman of her intelligence has so little imagination when it comes to other mothers, other marriages, and other classes (especially!)