Motherhood and The Ten Year Nap

“What if you wrote what you’d seen, the way people write about war? What if you wrote about what you were seeing about women and children, even though maybe it was hopelessly uncool and wasn’t the big male world?”  Meg Wolizter, referring to her new book “The Ten Year Nap.”

The “hopelessly uncool” subject matter referred to in the above quote is motherhood – or more specifically, the “career” of motherhood, the matter of taking the role of mother so seriously that an intelligent, successful, upwardly mobile woman would walk away from all the trappings of a life in the corporate world and plan birthday parties instead of corporate meetings, arrange play dates instead of conferences, and read bedtime stories instead of legal briefs.

Ms. Wolizter has been skulking around her local diner, observing women in her very own Manhattan neighborhood who “opted out” of their heavy duty careers and “opted in” to spending time with their children. 

With “The Ten-Year Nap,” Ms. Wolitzer decided that “women who weren’t necessarily leading lives of bold action could still be the subject of muscular fiction,” writes Mokoto Rich, in her profile for Sunday’s New York Times Book Review.  The novel, which Rich defines as a “multicharacter meditation,” is simply Wolitzer’s way of capturing the nuances of characters who “happen to have children and happen not to work.”

Now, I haven’t read this book, but I’m certainly keen to do so.  I myself was a woman who “opted out” of the career world in favor of being a “stay at home mother,” and I did so at a time when it was particularly unfashionable.  Back in the late 1970’s, college educated women who did not pursue their chosen career were almost viewed as being ungrateful …after all, women had fought hard for the right to be taken seriously in the corporate world, and deciding to stay home was akin to giving up, saying it wasn’t possible after all.

The debate about this all rages on, and I certainly think it’s entirely possible to have a fulfilling career, and to be a wonderful mother who has a satisfying relationship with her children.  But I have a feeling that Ms. Wolitzer has picked up on the same change in the wind I’ve been feeling lately – that young women are beginning to realize they’re missing out on so much, that even though their kids might be fine, they aren’t.   In addition to being overburdened and harried by the demands of work and home -for let’s face it, women bear the brunt of inside the home tasks, no matter how many hours they work outside of it – they’re letting an absolutely fabulous opportunity slip through their fingers, a chance of a lifetime, really.  After all, watching and supporting another human being grow from babyhood into an adult person, helping to shape their choices, and just enjoying their company for as many hours as you possibly can – how cool is that? 

Of course, I can say all this from the perspective of almost thirty years, having a child who is now grown, and independent, but with whom I can honestly say I’m still very close.  My son actually left home quite young, so, to a certain extent, our time together was somewhat truncated, particularly by modern standards.  Which is perhaps why I’m now so grateful that I was here in the house every day, being so much a part of his growing up years.

And, of course, I’m not even taking into account the economic reality that most mothers face when deciding whether to work outside their home.  Really, it’s such a shame that society doesn’t place more value on the work of raising people, because that’s what mothers do, isn’t it? – raise people who will one day grasp the future.

So,  The Ten Year Nap is definitely going on my must read list.  I’m excited to meet these women, and see what they’re thinking about all this.

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12 thoughts on “Motherhood and The Ten Year Nap

  1. When I first glanced at your post I thought “no way am I reading that book” because the SAHM versus Working Mom debate is one I prefer not to touch with a ten foot pole. But then I realized the book was a novel and that changed everything. (Hmm, why is that?) Anyway, I will definitely add this to my list; thanks!

  2. So you write reviews of books you are going to read? I can’t even keep up with reviews of books I’ve read. What is that? This DOES look fascinating. Thank you.

  3. Julie-Wolitzer was quite clear that she wasn’t taking any kind of side in the SAHM v working mother debate, she was simply trying to tell a story – or a “multicharacter meditation” as the Times writer tagged it 😉

    Care – Don’t kid yourself, I’m not that much of an overachiever! The article in the times caught my eye, and it seemed like a book I (and other women) might like.

  4. I found having it all completely exhausting – it just means doing it all. But then again I was glad to have somewhere to go where I could talk about books and not just about how my child was developing. I think it’s an impossible conundrum for women and there are no rights and wrongs – we all muddle through as best we can. I’ve read Meg Wolitzer’s other novels (The Wife was fantastic) and will certainly be reading this one – thank you for the heads up!

  5. There is no righ and wrong answer to this, is there? At least I have not found it and have muddled through like everyone else, first part time and then full time and now still full time and I would not like to have to make the choice all over again! I think I’m trying to have it all, but as in the previous comment, found it and find it exhausting… I’ll put this one on my list! Have you read ‘We must talk about Kevin’ (by Lionel Shriver)? That novel brings it home that even if you give it all you can, that does not necessarily mean that the outcome is as we want it to be!

  6. Mrs. B – Let me know what you think when you get round to reading it.

    Litlove – You are so right about the muddling through part. And I also gree about Wolitzer’s other books – she’s very good.

    Seachanges – It is exhausting, no matter what choice you make. I have not read that Shriver book, although it’s been on my tbr list since I read her latest novel.

  7. Hmmm… that sounds like an interesting read. I do not have kids yet, but I am at the age where it is expected I will at any time and everyone wants to give me advice about either working or staying at home. You made this sound like an interesting book. I shall look forward to hearing what you think after you read this one.

  8. I will definitely be picking this up. I have no kids yet, but I fully plan on staying at home with them at least until they’re in school. I’m not saying that women who don’t are wrong, I’m saying I’m just as right as they are. I’d be interested to see what you think when you get around to reading this.

  9. I realize that this is one I must read. Good heavens, perhaps I could even have written it. But no, my angle was different. I’ve been “at home” since 1988 when my first born joined the world. Motherhood was the career I chose and wanted and don’t regret it for one moment. Money? We could always use that — my lack of contribution financially pains me at times. Yet I know in my heart the decision to be here, to raise my children, to be that presence in their lives has been the only one for me. I look at them now and see the results of my efforts and what it has meant to me as much as to them. And now, with my health situation, I realize even more that I am glad I did this. I respect and admire women who can do both — mother and other for a career but I knew it would never be right for me.

  10. Kim – It’s a difficult decision to make, and every woman has to find the right balance for themselves. I think whether you work outside the home or not, it’s vital to have interests besides your children, for your own sanity and ultimately, for theirs as well.

    Raych-Good for you that you’ve been able to make this plan ahead of time – I hope it all works out when the time is right. (And welcome to Bookstack!)

    Sherry – Your experience sounds much like mine. I have no regrets about “staying home” because I had lots of other interests outside the home that were fulfilling to me. I don’t think I would ever have had the energy to “do it all.” I’m amazed at the women who can!

  11. I also enjoyed Meg Wolitzer’s other novel – The Wife. This new one sounds a bit like Rachel Cusk territory? Have you read anything by her – this is her theme ad nauseum (and I mean that!) I thought Cusk’s The Lucky Ones was fascinating and a wonderful exploration of this issue – how does parenthood fundamentally change who women are? But then Arlington Park asked some of the same questions with quite different answers. I’d love to know what you think of either.

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