Wednesday, August 08, 2007

On tour: The Other Mother

If I worked, I'd never have to worry about playing with my kids.

If I didn't write, I could afford to be more creative about playing with my kids.

She manages to make it all work. Her kids are well-behaved, she writes, and her house is clean. What's her secret?

I can't count the number of times I've compared myself to other mothers, believing they had some secret to family bliss that I wasn't privy to. Over time and with gentle guidance from dear friends, I've learned that every mother gives something up. Time with her children. Time for herself. (A clean house!)

I am fortunate that my bad habit brought me together with my friends. Unchecked, comparisons lead to paranoia that can only divide--and conquer, ourselves and our relationships. That's what Gwendolen Gross explores in her new book, The Other Mother.

When Amanda moves into the home of Thea's erstwhile best friend, both women hope they can forge a new friendship. But Amanda is a mother who works out of the home, and Thea is a stay-at-home mother. During Amanda's emergency stay with her family in Thea's home, each woman drops hints and reads into the other's actions about her lifestyle--and each woman feels judged. Over time, those assumptions escalate into resentment and even fear.

Both Amanda and Thea are likeable and more importantly, easy to sympathize with. Their first awkward interactions show how much they want to be able to bond, but don't feel able to trust each other--or themselves. Although their narratives are indistinct from one another, Gross does an expert job of getting into each woman's head, and in doing so, shows us thoughts we all think at one time or another, no matter which side of the mother/work fence we're on, or even if we straddle it.

Motherhood, much more than choices in politics, food, clothing, or even socioeconomics, makes us vulnerable to tiny judgments. Why, when we call ourselves "tolerant" of others, do we think all mothers should move in lockstep? Why do our differences in maternal inclination make us believe we have less in common than we actually do?

The Other Mother relies on external events to change Amanda and Thea, some of which I wasn't sure were necessary; one in particular seemed a bit contrived for the sake of emotional impact. However, the fact that they do change their attitudes only after these events is not unrealistic. As people, we often find ourselves entrenched in our lives, believing we're unable to change our ways, until something happens to make us think maybe enough bad stuff happens in the world; maybe we should work harder to spread the love around. The Other Mother likewise works to make us think about ourselves, our relationships, and most of all, our assumptions—and what we can do to maintain more pragmatic expectations, instead of making a fantasy our goal.

It's contest time! Drop me a comment about the times you felt judged by another mother for the choices you made, and be eligible to win an advance reader copy of The Other Mother!


Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

This goes back to the 1970s when I felt like a dolt for staying home with my kids. All of my friends at least worked part-time or were still in school. It wasn't even exactly a conscious choice. Only half-through college at 21, I couldn't make enough money to pay for daycare. It wasn't worth it. Did I mind it then? No. Was it a mistake for them? No. Was it a mistake for me? Perhaps. I am such a latestarter now.

9/8/07 4:21 PM  
Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

I think it's only a mistake when you resent it (when you're in the trenches) or regret it (once you're out of them). I don't want to be a late starter, but that doesn't mean it won't take a long time for my novels to be published - just that maybe I need a few extra years to mature before that can happen. A time and a place for everything, and all that.

Thanks, Patti. Anyone else? Fess up! I have three copies of this book that need homes.

9/8/07 7:23 PM  
Blogger Patti said...

When I left the job behind to be a full-time sahm everybody kept saying "But you'll go back to work when your kids go to school, won't you?" Now we homeschool, so it looks like I'll be home for a long, long time. And now those same people are asking "So what did you bother going to college for?" As if the only reason for higher education was to get a job. I hope to teach my sons to love learning for the sake of learning. I don't have to be a wage-earner in order to contribut to society.

10/8/07 7:16 PM  
Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

Patti, it's always nice to hear from a lurker. Thanks for the reply! Good for you homeschooling. (I don't have the patience.) Gosh, you'd think folks would realize that you have a degree same as any other TEACHER - just because you don't have certification doesn't mean it's not the same value.

Patti and Patti, if you want a copy of the book, email me at christammiller (at) gmail (dot) com with your addresses. Thanks!

Anyone else? Bueller?

13/8/07 8:14 AM  
Anonymous Gwendolen Gross said...

Hey, thanks for your thoughtful review--I'm now your blog-fan! I love it when people really relate books to their lives (esp since I do that all the time as a reader). Thanks again!
Gwendolen Gross

14/8/07 8:06 PM  
Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

Thanks for stopping by, Gwendolen! I really appreciate it. Glad you liked the review - I love fiction that understands my life. :)

15/8/07 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The secret is that everyone compares their life to the life of the "perfect" mom. Except there is NOT a perfect mother. It's just good to know that the "scam" of the perfect mom is getting exposed. Thanks for the post---good one.

21/8/07 1:27 AM  

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