In the course I am taking about mothering and motherhood, as students we are asked to write journal entries after our readings. This particular entry is based on the Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It, Margaret Laurence’s Fire-Dwellers, and readings in Maternal Theory Essential Readings edited by my professor Andrea O’Reilly.
Susan Maushart writes, “That having a ‘joint project’ called a baby drives most couples apart, reducing intimacy as it reinforces gender-role stereotypes.” There is a lot to this statement. Relationships of any kind will be strained when faced with a challenge, and no one can ever be fully prepared for all that is involved with childcare. In our culture it is assumed the woman will do all of the actual childcare because the man needs his energy to work for pay. We see resentment from the male spouses in both novels. In the case of Kate in I Don’t Know How She Does It, her husband does help around the house. Though she does all the planning and preparation in order to keep the household running. Kate’s husband is unhappy that his wife makes more money than he does. He may be upset with himself for not performing his assumed gender role properly, by being the main breadwinner, but he resents Kate as if she has betrayed him for being successful financially in her career. With Stacey, her husband places all parenting responsibilities on her, so when she “fails,” like how her son is “too” sensitive for her husband’s liking, he abuses her emotionally, verbally, and physically. Also, men are used to being cared for, so when a child enters the home, he is no longer his wife’s main concern. Reddy alludes to this when she blames the children for killing the romance in her relationship with her husband, likening the love of her children to adultery in itself.
In both novels, both partners’ eyes wandered, at least. As far as we know, Kate’s husband is only flirting with another woman. Kate has an emotional relationship with a client. She goes on dates with and kisses him. In Fire-Dwellers, Stacey sleeps with another man, and Mac another woman. In both cases the partners stop seeing each other as romantic partners and see each other as symbols of the stress of life at work and at home. Kate and her husband barely have sex, she avoids it whenever possible. When Stacey and Mac have sex it is violent and void of care. People crave intimacy, all these characters search elsewhere for it. None of these affairs lead to anything serious, these outside relationships fill a void. It is like being hungry and eating a bagel knowing it will not fill you for long but will for right then. The word cheating seems silly. Cheating what? The patriarchy’s regulation of heterosexuality and gender roles?
The ideal is in such instances the two partners will triumph over all obstacles, their relationship dent free. Projecting myself on to this, I actually have no idea how this works. I have never seen this work, and when I see heterosexual, monogamous couple co-parent successfully I do not get it. I’m a single parent, I’m a solitude-loving writer, and I hate group work. I may be an extreme exception that should not be taken for the rule.