While I freely admit that I do not live the life of a working mother, Lisa Miller’s latest Newsweek article “Mommy is Bust Right Now” caught my attention. In this article, she outlines what she takes to be the problems of domestic life in 2011.
She begins by lamenting that she does not have a travel agent (and then that they charge $35 a ticket) and laying out a woeful tale of what it takes to plan a simple family vacation.
While I have not had to plan a family vacation, I have used websites that book flights, hotels and so on. This process has not been particularly onerous. While I do admit that calling a travel agent to make it all happen might be easier than clicking a few buttons, it hardly seems to be an ordeal worth lamenting. But, do not take my word for it-take a look at the sites yourself and see if they are hellish portals or not.
Also, given the economic conditions that many people face in the United States and especially in other countries, it is hard to muster up much sympathy for someone who is complaining about vacation planning. After all, many people need to be concerned with coming up with enough food for the month.
Miller goes on to make the reasonable point that mothers in America generally need to work because of the economic situation. She is quite right about this. As such, I have no disagreement with her on this point.
She then laments that the service economy is now more of a self-service economy. As she points out, because of technology and cost cutting, what others (such as customer service agents and administrative assistants) used to do for her must now be done by her. She focuses primarily on domestic administration: insurance forms, banking, expenses, gift returns and so on.
While she is quite right that service is not what it once was, that the process is more automated and that it is less personal these days, my experience has been that I have always had to do most things for myself. In any case it is not only working mothers who need to do these things themselves-presumably everyone who is not rich enough to have minions is in the same sort of self-service boat.
Of course, Miller contends that working mothers are in special circumstances because corporations and marriages fail to properly accommodate them. She certainly has a point here. As she notes, women still tend to get stuck with most of the domestic duties and these would leave them with less time for their other responsibilities and recreation.
Assuming this is true, this does point to the need for corporations (and other employers-after all, not everyone works for the corporate masters) to revise things so that women face burdens that are comparable to those male employees must endure. Of course, it would be nice if employers also revised things to reduce the burdens on men and women who are not mothers.
It does also point to the need for women to insist that their husbands do more to share the burdens of domestic management. It might also make some sense for women to work on simplifying their lives wherever possible so as to reduce the burdens they think they must bear (like elaborate birthday parties, relentless schedules of activities for the children and so on). Then again, perhaps that can only go so far.
Miller does note that there are companies that are making an effort to make things easier or more pleasant. As one example, she notes that the shoe seller Zappos hires only upbeat folks to make the process more pleasant. While this does not help the people who have to do with cheaper footwear, it is nice to deal with pleasant people-whether you are a working mother or not. For example, I like buying running stuff from Roadrunner Sports because everyone I have spoken to has been very pleasant and knowledgeable about running. In fact, it is rather like talking to a fellow runner who just happens to be selling running stuff rather than enduring a sales ordeal.
Miller also mentions LifeCare, Inc. which offers concierge services. They can, as she notes, find things like life size cutouts of Lady Gaga for birthday parties. While I can certainly appreciate that having something like a Lady Gaga cutout is essential to a person’s well being, this seems to be the sort of option only available to those who are already reasonable well off. Folks who are worried about having enough money to get their children presents obviously will not be able to avail themselves of concierge services of this sort.
That said, Miller does nicely illustrate the perceived plight of the upper middle class working women. However, given that people face far worse plights, it is a bit of a challenge to feel the sort of sympathy Miller no doubt hoped that her article would generate.