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Parental Indiscretion

Better than Perfect


Illustration by Kristina Micotti

Rachel Laing

The latest addition to my Facebook Diatribe Inspiration File was a little gem of stereotype reinforcement from The Huffington Post that promised to tell husbands the “7 Reasons Your Wife is Stressed Out All the Time.” 

The author, a woman who had earned a PhD in psychology, didn’t tell America’s befuddled men that perhaps their wives were noodling on their strategy for an upcoming deposition or running through the details of a complex corporate merger.


Guys, she’s fretting about whether the other moms in the playgroup are judging the dust bunnies in the corner and the toothpaste grime stuck on the sink. She’s agonizing over what teachers will think of her if she sends little Mackenzie to school with ratty hair or a nutritionally inferior lunch one day because she forgot to get bread at the store and had to improvise.

How I scoffed at this analysis! The moms I hang with can negotiate a billion-dollar real estate deal before breakfast—which their kids can make their damned selves. But alas, I noticed a few of these fierce career women I refer to had posted the article not with scorn but agreement.

And I’ll admit that I, too, have expended a great deal of mental energy imagining how I might be perceived as a mom and domestic goddess against the standards set by… whom? Magazines and commercials designed to make us feel inferior? Our own upbringings? Each other?

At the risk of engaging in the very hetero-normative generalizations I just decried, I offer some observations:

I have never left a party with my husband and heard him say, “Man, did you get a load of that clutter on the kitchen counter and inch of dust on their bookshelves?” But I’ve heard plenty of women’s tongues wag in judgment of others’ domestic state of affairs.

Likewise, I’ve never seen a man frantically tidy up before friends visit. Some guys are neat; some are not. But most of them just really don’t care what you think about it.

You know how Silicon Valley geniuses say they wear “uniforms” (Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck, Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie) to remove inconsequential decisions from their lives so they can focus on what’s most important? They’re on to something.

A few years ago, my career and family life got so busy I was effectively forced to bare my shortcomings if I wanted to keep my social life. Something had to give, and I realized vying for the “How Does She Do It?” Envy Award was hardly worth sacrificing the actual rewards of fun times with family and friends. So I dropped the (already rather unstable) façade of being a person who stayed on top of her domestic game.

I haven’t noticed any drop-off in the response to invitations. Instead of worrying about my house looking like a magazine spread, I focus on what I enjoy doing: cooking good food, sharing laughs, and—just for good measure—making sure my guests’ wine glasses stay filled so they forget the dog-pee stain on the bathroom rug.

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