Wednesday, June 30, 2004

This is a bit painful, but if Caitlin Flanagan can change tunes (somewhat) on her view of parenting, then I can change my tune (a bit) on Flanagan.

I read her first New Yorker story, in this week's issue, and failed to come away angry. Charting Flanagan's works at the Atlantic wouldn't have predicted this; she appeared to get more and more traditionalist with each passing article, her last one, on the Nanny Wars, ticked me off royally. And she just dug her hole deeper in her replies to the letters that article generated.

The New Yorker story, "To Hell With All That: One woman's decision to go back to work," tells the tale of Flanagan's mother's decision to return to the professional world when Flanagan was 12. In short, the move made mom happy and daughter despondent and apparently began Flanagan's longtime obsession with the subject of staying home with the kids. But now that she's done the job herself for six years, she seems to have a harder time embracing the kind of all-consuming motherhood that she has sung the praises of in the Atlantic. She found the job isolating, the lack of stimulation stifling. And her transition from at-home mom to magazine superstar has softened her view of working parents, even as she retains fondness for traditional mothers. Her conclusion is there are no easy answers:
For many women, the choice amounts to the terrible prospect of either relinquishing a measure of influence over their children or abandoning—to some extent—the work they love. For them, this will always be the stuff of grinding anxiety and regret.
Coming from anyone else, this wouldn't be shocking. But Flanagan has made a career of denying that such anxiety should exist -- that there is a correct answer when it comes to parenthood, and that answer is at-home motherhood. Now that she's a working mom (with, presumably, a very flexible schedule), she seems to be seeing it both ways.

I'm not set to judge the new Flanagan just yet. Perhaps she hasn't changed. Perhaps the nice Mr. Remnick has toned down her parenting ideology. Perhaps she has changed her tone for a new audience. She lets past targets of her ire off with no real barbs (Betty Friedan and work-life balance for men get brief mentions without the usual full-on Flanagan assault). And to give credit where it's due, unlike her Atlantic stories, she doesn't sing an ode to housework (which sound strange coming from a woman who has proudly claimed that her nanny does many of the unpleasant household tasks).


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