Mothering with privilege

The last one on I Don’t Know How She Does It.

In the course I am taking about mothering and motherhood, as students we are asked to write journal entries after our readings. This particular reading was based on the Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It and readings in Maternal Theory Essential Readings edited by my professor Andrea O’Reilly.

Allison Pearson’s novel I Don’t Know How She Does It is by no means representation of everyone’s experience with motherhood. The main character, Kate Reddy, is a white, heterosexual, middle-class, cic-gender woman, with a husband, and hired help. She, a fund manager, and her husband, an architect, have two young children – a girl and a boy (which I know happens, but like, how idyllic in a romanticized 1950s way). The problem is not necessarily telling the story, a fictional one at that, about a woman with privilege. It is the underlying story that this version of motherhood is the only, or at best most common, version of motherhood. Reddy is granted a lot of choices with her privilege. She complains about these choices, and it is hard to feel sorry for her, especially when she depicts herself as a martyr, because not all of us have these choices. I realize that I – a white, cis woman, receiving a university education, and in a heteronormative relationship – have my own privileges others rightfully resent. But, whatever the reason, my heart or my shoes (see, I’m using my Christmas-privilege), I really do not like the story of Reddy and her crying over her privilege.

Reddy, like a lot of us, cares about what other people think. She cares when her roots show, that her daughter gets into the best school, that her home’s décor is a signifier of her middle-class status, that her kids of the best birthday party entertainment, and how other mothers see her as a mother. She sees material things as the best way to mother her children. In her own way, she means well. As Sara Ruddick writes, “I made my quilt to keep my family warm. I made it beautiful so my heart would not break.”  The problem is, she does not realize that not all of us have the luxury of worrying about scheduling spa days and high-ranked schools, we are too busy procuring food for the week and making rent.

Reddy’s character is especially frustrating because she comes from a working class background. However, this behaviour is linked to how Reddy’s history shapes how she views the working class. Throughout the book Reddy treats those from the working-class deplorably. When she gets lice, from her own daughter, she initially blames the cab driver. She yells at people on the phone, assuming they are uneducated and stupid, and hates on cashiers if the check out line is long, instead of acknowledging they are working as fast as humanly possible for people like Reddy who do not appreciate this work. She makes racist and homophobic jokes, uses the illness of drug addiction as an insult, and thinks her sister’s life is inadequate because she is still a member of the working-class. We do learn that Reddy’s childhood had very little material things. Her father was an alcoholic and people around Reddy said if only her mother has runaway money, she could have escaped. Reddy’s snobby attitude can be linked to the idea that she views her father and his behaviour, and her mother’s helplessness, as an illustration for an entire socio-economical class of people. Reddy says that at times she feels like she is travelling on a false passport, that as someone from the working-class, no one will accept her now that she is a member of the middle-class. I can relate to this, as someone who statistically should not be writing a journal entry for a university course at this moment. Her past may also explain why Reddy is so resentful to stay-at-home mothers: she does not want to be like her mother, because she does not want to be treated like her mother.

There are some aspects of her mothering experiences that I can relate with. Reddy gets upset when she gets a notice too late about needing to send her daughter to school with food for a school feast. When my daughter first started school, the piles of notices sent home would make me cry, I could not fathom any extra work being added to my plate. I also understand what it is like to try to integrate into society after a rough childhood. As Reddy says at times throughout the book, colourful characters are welcome in literature or movies, but not in real life.

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