Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A Book Review --- HAPPY HOUSEWIVES by: Darla Shine

Darla Shine wrote Happy Housewives in response to the television show “Desperate Housewives” in which hot, rich women complain endlessly about how bad they have it. I’m not much of a TV watcher, so the only episode I’ve ever seen was the season finale (fortunately, like all good soap operas, it only takes about five minutes to figure out exactly what’s going on) and I watched it just to see what the hype was about. I was particularly amused when one husband quit his job and told his wife that she should be glad to be going back to work since she’s always telling him how hard it is to stay at home. Darla Shine’s well-written and inspiring message to women is that it’s a luxury to be able to stay home and those of us who can should be grateful. I have to shout Bravo! to her assertion that surely we can muster up thirty minutes to cook dinner for our families instead of complaining that we have it so terrible.

However, if your biggest challenge adjusting to new Stay-At-Home-Motherhood was that you had too many housekeepers, babysitters and salon appointments, raise your hand. This book is primarily written for you. Now I realize that the trend of mothers staying home is mostly occurring at the middle and upper middle class income bracket levels, but are most of us doing that well? On really bad days at home I’ve often fantasized about going back to work just enough hours to pay for childcare, a housekeeper and regular highlights and bikini waxes. I thought I was quite blessed to have such an option… I had no idea that the greater tragedy out there was having all those things and not having to go to work every day to pay for them.

To Darla Shine’s credit, she does recognize that the “problems” of upper and middle class American white women are rather petty in comparison to the problems of people living in poverty and war zones. And there begins her “Easy 10 Step Program.” “Stop whining.” You have to love such a simple, yet profound, recommendation. I know from experience, that whining and complaining only compound the issues of isolation, boredom and feeling sorry for one’s self a lot of new moms (myself definitely included) experience. Kudos to her for realizing that there’s nothing “desperate” about having control over someone else’s paycheck and that those of us who can afford to stay home are incredibly fortunate.

In step two she admonishes all At-Home Moms to be proud of the very important job they’re doing. You know I applaud that. However, in the process, she spouts a lot of misinformation from the Dr. Laura School of Feminism and Women’s Studies. She asserts that feminists have “dropped the ball for women at home.” The reason she thinks so? Because career women weren’t that interested in her once she became a Stay-At-Home-Mom. Lack of common interests could have been the cause. Another cause could have been that the women she used to associate with at work were not very nice. In any event, that’s not really reflective of what feminism has done and continues to do for women everywhere. Perhaps she hasn’t heard about the mobilization of feminist mothers seeking to secure social security benefits, among other things, for women who choose to stay at home.

Furthermore, a quick visit to the NOW or Feminist Majority Foundation websites will show all of us lucky enough to be reading this from our comfortable home offices right now that most women have bigger fish to fry than worrying about being “respected” by all the bad feminists out there. Many women are struggling for the right to vote. Many are struggling against systematic rape and violence. Many poor mothers are struggling to have the right to control their fertility so they can feed the children they already have. Surely it’s not so unbelievable that those bitches at NOW mostly focus on these silly issues instead of whether aprons are considered hip or old-fashioned.

Once you get past the class-ism and anti-feminism, the book is fun, humorous and easy to read, and it gives some great ideas for learning to embrace your job at home. I, myself, had a similar realization after the birth of my second baby (that I really didn’t have it so bad and needed to try to make the best of my situation). I have done many of the things she’s suggesting and they really did benefit my family and me. I noticed some things I could improve upon (or simply had never thought of) as I read the book and went ahead and put some of them to the test.

Steps 3 and 4 are to “stop looking like a housewife” and “make your marriage a priority.” Both good advice. While I’m not guilty of her (hilarious) description of the fashion misadventures of many housewives, most days my definition of “accessorizing” is remembering to put on my wedding ring. So after reading this chapter, I went ahead and put on my big bracelets and a cute shirt, even though I would just be taking my kid to school, doing laundry and cooking dinner. I have to disagree that it makes you feel better all day, but it did make my husband come home and say, “Wow, you look cute!” and that, alone, made it worth the hassle of cleaning the béchamel sauce out of my bracelets.

There are some surprisingly detailed and practical (and kind of juicy) tips for spicing up your sex life too. No matter how far we’ve come as women, we can’t escape this universal truth: The woman who is giving a man great sex can get him to do just about anything for her in return. Wise (and happy) will be the wife who heeds Shine’s advice to “turn up the heat in your bedroom.”

In steps 5 and 6 we’re told to “bond with your home,” and “get back in the kitchen.” I’ve never had the luxury of actually finding out, but I really find it hard to believe that I’m a lot happier now than I would be if I didn’t have to scrub my own toilets. But the author has experienced both sides of the fence, so for now I’ll just have to take her word for it. Her advice that having a clean and nice house will make you feel better about being in it is, of course, sound. And she offers some simple ideas for helping everyone achieve that.

Her observation that cooking is a dying art disturbs me as much as it does her. If I had to list what I love most about my mother and grandmother, that they’re great cooks would definitely make one of the top three slots. The recipes she offers in this book are tasty, healthy and kid friendly. I tried a couple of them -- and some I can tell by just reading… I mean can you really go wrong when you mix potatoes, butter and cheese? And she offers some good resources for people who really don’t know how to cook.

In steps 7 and 8 she says to “keep your girlfriends,” and “make time for yourself.” Both of these are really excellent tips, but I think they can sound a little harsh for those not at her stage of the game. Her kids go to school. It’s quite a bit different to try to make these things a priority when your kids are older than it is when you have babies and toddlers at home and/or are pregnant (the same is true for her advice to work out regularly). Still, both are absolutely essential for a mom to maintain her sanity. And she offers some good scheduling tips to help us find the time for being “one of the girls” even after motherhood.

In steps 9 and 10, she says “don’t take it all so seriously,“ and “don’t wish for someone else’s problems.“ This is my favorite part of the book, because she really lets us know that she knows she’s not perfect, that she does have a sense of humor about herself and that she’s not so out of touch with reality as she makes it seem in the very beginning of the book. And she’s willing to admit to the world that she has bad moments where she’s been known to scream at and even swat her kids. A woman after my own heart. You’ll find yourself wishing she was in your mom’s group, because it’s obvious that she does care about people and cares about being a good friend and a good mom.

Her admonition to mothers to stop competing and start supporting one another is a really powerful and much needed social statement. And she even went so far as to say that those of us who are lucky enough to complain about being “desperate housewives” would feel a lot better if we turned that desperation into gratitude and used that gratitude to help out our fellow mothers who truly are in desperate situations. To that I say, Sing it From the Mountain Tops My Sister!

To learn more about Darla Shine visit http://www.darlashine.com/ .

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