I didn’t want to write about Amy Sohn’s story “Modern Mothers’ Turn to Scratch an Itch,” in the New York Times’ Sunday Style section. Any “trend” piece about a handful of wealthy women whose idea of work/life balance is leaving their kids with their husbands at the summer vacation house during the week as they frolic around the city in “metallic lace and satin mini” or “[rack] up a bill as big as it would have been for a family of four” while eating alone at a sushi restaurant seemed like it just isn’t worth thinking too hard about.
But then the story continued to gnaw at me for the rest of the weekend. I found myself increasingly annoyed by the, albeit seldom employed, model of parenting exalted by this piece.
As Sohn points out, spending the week alone in the city and the weekend with family up in the country used to be the norm for men. This was particularly true for Jewish families who spent their summers in the Catskills. Now I don’t think these moms are necessarily “bad mommies” just because they enjoy a little time off. Nor were the fathers necessarily bad dads if they did too. What gets me is how they justify their enjoyment.
It seems as though all of these mothers have absorbed an all-or-nothing attitude towards parent-rearing, one that dictates that kids should always come first and the only way to escape it is to escape them completely.
As Sohn puts it: “Perhaps Mom Ewells relish their solitude because it is so fleeting. In a culture that expects parents to be beholden to the needs of their children, mothers are not expected to demand, much less desire, time away. A working vacation is a socially sanctioned way for them to get it.”
There is one mom who says she loves her summers off because it gives her a chance to get in shape. During the school year she only gets to exercise about once a month, but during July and August she goes to the gym or yoga every day. Call me a dreamer, but isn’t the goal for moms and dads to be able to exercise more than once a month while parenting full-time instead of binge-exercising two months a year?
Ultimately it seems as though implicit in these moms’ freewheeling summers is a wholesale buying into the culture of self-abnegation that makes them want to leave their families in the first place. Until we fix that, these little hiatuses will serve as nothing more than chardonnay and Soul Cylce-filled stop-gaps in the parenting gone wild culture that continues to entrap us all.
Elissa Strauss, a lead blogger for the Sisterhood, also writes about gender and culture for places like the New York Times, Jezebel and Salon. Follow her on Twitter @elissaavery.