I recently read The Nesting Place, by Myquillyn Smith, and went through various frames of mind about it. The one sentence review: it’s got a lot of great decorating ideas in it, and some seriously gorgeous photos of what can be achieved on a slim budget. If you are not into a discussion on feminism, gender roles, economics, and the upsides/drawbacks of the “imperfect narrator” in literature, you can stop right now. Seriously, I’m giving you fair notice. Skip down to the Papercraft Lab link at the bottom!
Now here’s the much longer run down. I bought The Nesting Place on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s suggestion, and brought it along to read on a plane ride to Boston last Thursday. In the first few pages I got a pretty strong sense that this was Not My Sort Of Book.
Why? It didn’t start off with decorating advice. Instead, it started off with the saga of Smith’s dozen-plus homes, and the trials and tribulations of her and hubby Chad’s real estate journey.
The saga sounded familiar in its overall arc because, well, there’s this certain narrative that is warmed to by a reader I’ll call Zondervan Woman (The Zondervan publishing house put out The Nesting Place, and knows its market well). Here’s how it goes: We married young and the babies just kept coming, and my husband had rough times in his career journey, but all of this was God’s way of teaching me to be grateful for the gifts I already have.
I am all in favor of gratitude (and babies!), but reading Smith’s version of this narrative in the beginning of The Nesting Place did not make me feel close to her. It made me think that we are living on different planets. I am sympathetic to financial woes, and the Smiths had plenty. She goes on about the trouble her husband was having building a career, the debt they took on, how they kept having to move (14 times!) meaning their children had little stability, and they even had to get rid of the children’s dog once because they were broke and the free place they were staying couldn’t accommodate the pet.
But in all this there was no discussion of how Smith herself tried to land a full time job with benefits to give her children stability. It’s all about Chad’s jobs or disappearing jobs. She mentions once that a neighbor gave her a design job, but there’s no sense that as they faced financial troubles, she decided to focus on ramping up her decorating business, perhaps using the time while the kids were in school or even during nights/weekends when their dad could care for them, so she could help out with the immediate family finances. Maybe she did do these things. I don’t know. But the fact that she doesn’t write about them, that they are not considered a central part of the story, obvious questions she needs to answer, speaks to a fundamental tenet of this narrative: a mother is not supposed to work in a way that isn’t about hearth and home.
Through big chunks of the narrative, it’s almost like Smith hasn’t even thought about it. There’s this: “Chad worked extra jobs in the summer months, so I was able to scrape together money to spend on the house.” Yes, they made some money on selling the place, but a decorator working for clients who like to buy lined, custom window treatments can make a lot more. She talks about a friend who seems to have it all together, and this is the description: “She was the prettiest friend I’ve ever had, her husband had a fantastic stable job, and their two children were darling.” Did you get that second part? Her husband had a stable job. The woman who has it all together is not the head of a department at a hospital, the principal of a thriving school, the pastor of a growing church. No, she has it together because her husband has a fantastic stable job.
Indeed, no matter how bad the finances get, Smith, representing our target reader, needs to keep hearing how lucky she is to stay home, and how other women think she’s lucky too. When working mothers appear, it’s a morality tale. In The Nesting Place, there’s a sidebar called “Renting With Purpose.” Smith writes about being a new stay-at-home mom when “another mom with a newborn, a full-time job, and a pretty house said to me, ‘You are so lucky. I wish I could stay home with our baby.’ I remember thinking, But I think you’re lucky because you bought a house. And then I realized that she called me lucky.” Leave aside that, per the Pew Foundation’s 2012 poll, of mothers who work full-time, 9 percent say that not working outside the home would be ideal for them (the rest say part time or full time). Smith stumbled upon one of the 9 percent! Beyond that, this paragraph deserves a closer reading because, remember, Smith’s kids will eventually need to move a dozen-plus times, and lose their dog due to family finances, while this other mother is able to help her family afford a pretty home. But in our morality tale she must be seen as unhappy. Kids don’t really need money from their mother. They only need time. We must believe this. No matter what!
Anyway, all this was annoying me a great deal. But, alas, I was reading this on a wretchedly bumpy flight to Boston, in which no one could pull anything out of the overhead compartment for the entire duration of the flight. So it was either The Nesting Place or US Airways’ inflight magazine from the seat back pocket, and Smith won that battle. And when I read a little more, I started to feel different things. First, there was this little discovery, buried in the midst of a block of text, not highlighted at all like our working mother morality tale: “If something isn’t working for you, reevaluate. Right now, my husband is homeschooling our boys, and I run a business out of our home.”
Yes, it took a while, but eventually the Smith family figured out what a casual reader could conclude from their biographical saga: that Mom would be quite good at making money — probably more inclined to it than Dad was. The Nesting Place is a profitable blog, and this book is flying off shelves. Moms can work! Moms can support their families quite well — sometimes earning enough to provide stability, home ownership, and the upkeep of the family pet. Perhaps all the lessons life was teaching Smith earlier were actually pointing toward that reality. I’d love to see a Zondervan book on that.
But that is what it is. I was more happy to keep reading because the decorating advice is superb. Smith notes that people who are good at thrift store shopping are really just more diligent than other people. She gets something one out of 10 times she goes, which is a ratio I am glad to have learned. One thing she does buy there? Feather pillows, because you can buy cute pillow covers on Etsy, and then fill them with the good old fashioned stuff on the cheap (brilliant). Don’t pay a lot for end tables, she notes, because you can always find small tables and paint them. Spray paint random objects white to make them look like high end sculpture rather than junk. Duct tape can make wall patterns. Painting two pieces of furniture the same color makes them look like a matched set. Plants perk up any space, as do mirrors, which can often be found cheap and prettied up. I love the wreath she made of plastic spoons (p.168). Seriously, she made a wreath out of plastic spoons and it is amazing.
Smith is a hard working, brilliant decorator. She’s also a very smart business woman (a side note: Is she as skilled as she is because she had to decorate 14 new places on little money? Were her trials and tribulations necessary? They may have helped. But if she’d hung a shingle all that time, she could have worked with ten times as many homes for clients. I imagine lots of folks would be intrigued by a decorator who charged $100/hour for her time, but didn’t work on the normal to-the-trade cost plus mark-up model, which encourages designers to push pricey furniture). Which brings me to another issue that’s been bothering me about this book. It’s celebrating “imperfection” and how we’re all imperfect, and she’s imperfect too! And we’re supposed to like her more for all her flaws. I know people love this narrative. People have written me that their favorite blog posts are ones in which I’ve talked about my struggle to lose weight, my falling off the wagon with running, etc. This sometimes makes me feel like an anthropologist studying a culture, because I really don’t understand why people find these low moment narratives as compelling as they do. It’s not just my belief that life isn’t lived in epiphanies; non-fiction cannot always contort itself into the hero’s journey. The issue is that I’m more drawn to people’s talents and achievements. I want to get to know Smith because she’s an incredibly creative designer, not because she and her husband got into 6-figures of debt. I want to learn from her decorating ideas, not feel better about myself because hey, she has flaws and I have flaws too.
In other news: Did you read down this far? Good for you. Over at Papercraft Lab, Anandi (known here as commenter ARC) writes about her decision to incorporate paid work in the software field back into her life, and how she thinks it will help her creative business too.
77 thoughts on “The Nesting Place: Analysis, critique, etc.”
Great post. Seriously. In particular, your comment at the end where you talk about how people prefer to read about other peoples’ struggles really resonated with me. One of the things that turned me off blogging about my life is that the posts where I wrote about how hard a time I was having were the ones that got hundreds of hits and a ton of comments. The ones where something good happened maybe got 1/10th of that. I inquired about why this was and people said that it wasn’t schadenfreude (which it certainly seemed like), but that they were following up on their comments. I suspected this was bs, and your experience above reaffirms that to me.
What do you think it all means? Do you think that most people need to see that they are doing better than someone else in order to feel good/find that other person likeable? Do you think that people just want to see that their comments are received and appreciated? Do you think the low moments are just that much more relate-able than a successful woman talking about something good that happened to her? I’d be curious if you had any thoughts on this.
I also enjoyed your review of her book. She sounds like an amazing designer, but I agree I was also rolling my eyes at the stand-by-your-man undercurrent.
@omdg- thanks! I don’t know why it is. Here are a few theories. People like the “keeping it real” idea and maybe we assume that the negative is more real than the positive since we don’t think that people are naturally inclined to share the negative. But that’s not true. There’s a lot of complaining going on out there! We also have a cultural bias toward the “hard times made me who I am” narrative. We like our politicians to have come from rough and tumble circumstances, and have had the appropriate epiphanies as a result. People speak of having a ‘great biography’ and it really needs to look like that. Finally, I do think it’s the making-us-feel-better-about-ourselves part. Successful people sometimes want us to know that they are just like us (“Stars! They’re just like Us”) when, in fact, they really aren’t. They are much better than the rest of us at something. That’s why they are so successful.
I think it’s also partly a new “American Dream” thing – “Hey, we came from nothing and became $$$ through the Internet!”
Also, if you blog about being happy with your life, post pictures of your nice house or the fun stuff you do with your family (and god forbid it’s crafts or Elf on the Shelf), there’s a certain segment who think:
1. You’re lying about all of it
2. You’re doing it out of insecurity and need for external validation/keeping up with the Joneses
3. You’re trying to make “everyone else” look bad
I don’t really get it, though the solution is clearly to spend less time online 😉
I think a part of it is also that people are scintillated by the unexpected. Reading about a failure that someone very successful encountered is intriguing and interesting. A purely negative blog becomes just as dull as one filled to the brim with *happy happy joy joy* malarkey. It’s when the highs and lows are interspersed that people are drawn in, I think.
Likewise, I was drawn to this review because it was the only one with anything negative to say and I found that surprising and was also challenged by the points you made.
I enjoy reading negative, thought-provoking reviews of books and movies I love for the same reason- they challenge me to look at something from a different perspective.
@sarah- true on the book review part. Partly that’s because the internet has become a place where your friends tout your books and make $ selling them. To me, no book is perfect. Ever. The Great Gatsby isn’t perfect. So in any review I point out good things and bad things. I’ve had friends get upset about me mentioning problems I saw in their books, but to me, that’s what makes people keep reading my reviews — and that’s more helpful to them than if I’m just blowing smoke.
Maybe we like to hear these types of stories, not so much because we want to feel like we’re all “in this together”, but that they went through all the hard times and became successful. Don’t give up. Keep trying. And variations on that theme. I read a LOT of business writing and that seems to be a theme there, too. “The best entrepreneurs/financiers/title du jours have failed MANY times, they just kept trying. No matter how many times I’ve heard that saying, though, include those failures on a resume and no one seems to see them as beneficial. Why have you had X amount of jobs in the past ten years? Etc. It seems like there’s an awful lot of talking out of both sides of the mouth in many books, blogs and business writing. I hope I haven’t included too many cliches here. lol
This comment got me curious about what our most popular posts are, so I dug up our 2013 statistics. #1 post for 2013 was “Mr. Money Moustache vs. Laura Vanderkam.” Not sure what that says about our readership…
Our geography series and gifted kids posts also tend to be popular. I guess we don’t have a big schadenfreude viewership, and we tend to dis-invite readers who cause drama, though if we were trying to make money we’d probably encourage them instead.
I need to remember this thought so I can make a post on it when leechblock lets up…
Oh! I just realized why I like Laura’s work so much. I have read all the people you mention in your blog post and came to exactly the same conclusions. Thank you for providing that juxtaposition. I’m not usually a reader of productivity blogs (or at least, not for years) and I couldn’t quite figure out why I liked this one.
Ha! Now I’m off to google that old post. I think I read it when it was first published but I have ZERO recollection of what it’s about!
Here’s a link: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/mr-money-moustache-vs-laura-vanderkam/
It is always easier to weep with those who weep than it is to rejoice with those who rejoice…Human nature, I believe, and thus the popularity of the epiphany posts. Although, I must say I have learned a few things from others’ solutions to their problems. Sometimes it is good to have my thought process nudged in a new direction when I am stuck. As well, I think that people make a much better connection to truth they need to hear when it is presented as a story. They feel it, and there is power in it that isn’t felt in a less emotional presentation of the facts.
This is a fascinating review. I never (NEVER) thought about this perspective of why M.S. never pursued a job in all of those years, all of those moves, all of that accummulating debt. (That says a lot about my thought patterns, doesn’t it? Maybe I am a Zondervan woman).
Re: people’s draw toward the low moments, my blog has gotten the most hits/shares/comments when I wrote about my son’s brain tumor diagnosis last year. I think people wanted me to know they were rallying around us, and they don’t feel that same need when I write about organizing a closet one afternoon. I think my closet organizing can make me unappealing- sort of the “oh look at you; you just do it all don’t you?” sort of thing. The way to organize a closet and write appealingly about it is to make sure you let people know you’re not perfect and the rest of your house is in shambles. But you’ve got that one closet, darnit! (Broad generalization, of course).
@Katherine- I hope all is ok for your family. I think in the brain tumor case, yes, of course, people are rallying around you and registering their support. Maybe writing about our flaws is sometimes trying to draw that same response. But yes, there’s some element of chopping down the tall poppies in reader responses too — you are not allowed to have a great job, a happy family, and organized closets. Two is real, but all three? Oh my!
Yes- all is well. He had surgery at Johns Hopkins in December and was discharged two days later. You would never know it even happened.
My aunt in Australia described “Tall Poppy Syndrome” when I moved to Australia several years ago. That was the first I had heard that phrase, but she explained it as very central to the Aussie culture. No one should think they are better than anyone else, and if they do we will bring them back down with the rest of us.
I might enjoy reading a blog post by someone who runs half-marathons in <90 minutes, but that is completely unattainable for me. When you write about running, I find it encouraging. (Not the falling-off-the-wagon part, but the slow-and-steady part.) On my own blog, I have noticed that people respond more to posts that encourage them to do something manageable. I had no takers when I invited readers to finish the works of Shakespeare with me back in 2011, but people seemed to enjoy a series that focused on fixing one small annoying thing around the house.
I always find these business-women selling SAHMotherhood stories ironic (especially the ultra-right-wing women who make millions as public personas telling women to stay in the home and make less than their husbands). But that’s what sells. Or it’s what marketing people think sells.
(And it’s not a new thing, either– I’m always reminded of the Barbara Stanwyck movie, “Christmas in Connecticut,” which Wikipedia tells me is from 1945.)
I’m grateful that Nester and others like her don’t share that inferiority complex. It doesn’t make you unequal to your husband to not earn a paycheque if you are doing the very important work of raising up little humans. Do you really think that a childcare provider is a better option than their mother.
… except… they are earning paycheques, they’re just doing it by telling other women not to.
Do you really think that a childcare provider is a better option than their mother. – If it means our family has a roof over our heads and food on the table, sure. Also access to healthcare, quality education, and a safe environment, which all require a dual-income household if you’re living in a developing country.
I enjoy both the success and the failure posts – I think it’s nice to see a balance of the two sometimes to help me remember that even someone who talks the talk isn’t 100% at walking the walk. Hearing (a little, not a complain-fest!) about the failures humanizes you and makes you more relatable.
First, thanks for the link!
This is a fascinating look at the story behind the story. My first thought about why she didn’t look for a job herself was that maybe her husband wasn’t one to pitch in *at all* to do any house or kid stuff – I could see in that kind of relationship how adding a JOB on top of all the other stuff, especially if you’re struggling financially and can’t hire much help, would be far too stressful/hard. But then you write that HE now homeschools their kids, so…
The other thing people might find insurmountable is the child care issue. If you don’t have family nearby, quality daycare for more than one kid (and heck, where we live, even one kid) is not cheap.
If you’re only working because you “have to” and staying home is what you’d prefer, I’m guessing it is very hard to suck it up and go with a daycare that is less than perfect. (And they all are!) Second time around, I’m a lot more forgiving about daycare, but it’s still hard for me to make that tradeoff. (And we are not in dire straits, thankfully!)
I agree with your other commenters: this was a fascinating review, especially since it’s the only one I’ve read so far with anything negative to say about The Nesting Place (which ties into your point about people being drawn to negativity… but I won’t get into that one).
Regarding your points about not working while her husband struggled with his career, I have been in the same situation. I’ve been a SAHM for over 6 years now – on occasion I have done side work for my parents to earn some extra money and I worked super part time to earn some Christmas cash one season, but other than that I have been totally at home.
For us this is an intentional choice that we made when we got married – at least one parent would be fully home with the kids.
My husband currently has the higher earning potential and it is probably also a pride thing on his part – wanting to be the breadwinner, even if sometimes the responsibility has weighed heavy on his shoulders.
The lack of affordable childcare is another point, as is the additional stress and strain that managing another career would bring to our household.
For us, the choice between having a smaller budget and occasional money stress and the (albeit, imagined) stress of managing two careers (or even just jobs) and a house full of children is pretty easy to make.
I don’t mean any of this in a pugnacious or defensive way, it’s only that all the points that you made caused me to pause and realize why we’ve made the choices we have in our particular situation.
With a fourth child on the way and currently living in a school bus while we build a (not inexpensive) house, it’s definitely a question that has come up between us that we have re-evaluated from time to time, but kept coming to the same conclusion.
@Sarah – it is a completely legitimate choice, and yes, paying for childcare for 4 kids is expensive. The proportion of women who would earn more than that cost, especially if they had been out of the work force for a while, is probably not that high.
It’s more a question of being so tied to our narratives of how things should be that we don’t think about it. I presume that if your husband were to lose his job and be out of work for a while, you’d be thinking about what you could do too. I have a FB friend who, when her husband’s job ended suddenly, they both started looking for work. They both landed jobs, and his was better, so they went with that. But if hers had been much better, that would have been a considered choice too. Earning money is a family responsibility, just as caring for children is a family responsibility.
Laura, that is a brilliant quote! You need to make one of those motivational photos on Facebook and share it around 😉 “Earning money is a family responsibility, just as caring for children is a family responsibility.”
@ARC – thanks! One of these days I’ll figure out how to do those motivational photos.
And that doesn’t necessarily mean that both parents have to work outside the home. In a true partnership, both roles are equally important. I think, if Laura is honest with herself, there may be a tiny bit of resentment toward moms who are afforded the luxury of raising their own children versus having a daycare do it. I’ve met many women who’ve said they wish they could have been home with there kids in those early formative years. I’ve NEVER met a mom who said she wished she’d worked more.
A woman I interviewed a few years ago offered this observation. When people ask you how you’re doing and you answer with a little recap of your latest health scare, they’ll likely swoop in, feel for you, then top your story with a few complaints of their own. If they ask how things are going and you share something wonderful that just happened, watch how quickly they change the subject — or clear out.
It reminded me of a man I met at a workshop, who told me that once he started going after his dreams — instead of sitting around, complaining about his life — he lost a lot of friends.
It also reminded me of an exchange in Broadcast News: “What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?” Tom Grunnick asks. To which Aaron Altman replies: “Keep it to yourself.”
I think we have a responsibility to share what’s working, though.
Not only that, but what’s threatening to one person — as if there’s only so much happiness to go around — is another person’s reason to get up in the morning.
… or maybe some folks just need better friends
Man, people LOVE to hear that health scare. When I’m being generous, I think people know that your life isn’t perfect, but they still like to hear you say it. But when you have nothing but good things to say, they just feel inadequate in comparison.
Like @Nicoleandmaggie I am completely done with women who make money by telling me I shouldn’t make money and/or feeding cultural pressure for me not to make money. Imagine how we could remake our work culture if we stopped wasting time on whether or not mothers should make money and started working together to figure out how to make our workplaces fit better into the rest of our lives.
Being a Zondervan woman (or man) seems to have less to do with the reality of many situations and more to do with adherence to a certain narrative (dad as breadwinner, mom as homemaker) and the difficulty one has in accepting alternative narratives as legitimate ways to organize a life. Many Zondervan women work, and many SAHMs are not Zondervan women. Needless to say, I love the sociological category introduced here. 🙂
@sara – I know, we may be on to something here with this category…!
I’ll pass on The Nesting Place, thanks to your acerbically funny review. I would’ve passed on it anyway, not being interested in a) decorating; b) babies that keep coming (um, haven’t they heard of birth control? or population problems?); and c) what sounds like way more sweetness, cuteness, and Godness than I can tolerate. I can take any of those in tiny doses, but not a whole book.
I confess I am one of those readers who likes the rags-to-riches narrative, especially from authors who otherwise seem seamlessly successful– probably because it gives me hope and makes me feel less insecure.
Like Louisa (and for all the same reasons), I didn’t really give this book much thought—but your review and critique bring up so many great points.
And I agree that we need to do a more in-depth anthropological profile of the “Zondervan woman”!
As far as why negative posts get more interest, its likely partly because we find flaws more relatable than perfection. I get really bored of the airbrushed magazine-ready pictures of my adorable family type blogs. Its pleasing to look at for a minute or two, the way I like to flip through sales catalogs from J Crew, but I don’t feel any true connection to the story. Its not at all about schadenfreude, its more about getting hope (and maybe some practical ideas) of how to succeed and be happy despite the everyday challenges. When something great happens to someone whose story I’ve been following, I am genuinely happy for them, and may leave a short comment—but there isn’t much beyond that to discuss. On the other hand, if someone describes a challenge they are facing, I can give advice, support, commiserate, & also learn from the advice and experience of other commenters—much more of a productive discussion.
I’m not into decorating books, so I wasn’t planning to read The Nesting Place anyway- but I love your review! I also don’t understand why most people respond so strongly to the “hardship” stories. It’s not my personal preference; I find “success” stories much more interesting. I’d rather look up for inspiration than down for validation, but I think that viewpoint is more the exception than the rule, unfortunately, at least for adults. Most kids can be easily led if they’re inspired and challenged. That may be why I tend to prefer spending time with a roomful of kids (after age 6 so) to a roomful of adults. I wonder when and why we lose that sense of striving, and whether our current educational system is making it worse. Ah, another facet to this discussion!
Me too… all those people above saying that people prefer hearing about hardship and health scares… that just doesn’t jive with me. I feel really sad when my friends have to deal with hardship and health problems (and I listen because it’s my friend!) and I certainly don’t actively seek out such stories from other people. Of course, I also don’t watch sad movies or read sad books. And many people do.
More proof that I’m not normal? Or maybe not… I haven’t seen empirical evidence showing that people actually do prefer to read about sad things than happy things. I don’t know what my prior is there. My guess (based on popular romance novels) is that on average people like to read about people getting out of a hardship situation. Also sex.
I do think there’s something to the “can’t look away from a wreck”, but I don’t think many people actively seek out wrecks. And I always feel kind of dirty when I read the one Schadenfreude blog that is on many of the blogrolls we see. Even if the author is digging hir own hole and gets angry if anyone makes positive suggestions for how to dig out. If I had the technology to block it, I would. Mostly I don’t read it, but sometimes the headline is just too enticing and I always regret having clicked. (I’m learning not to, it’s a slow process.)
I would agree with your statement that people like to read about people getting out of hardships moreso than those that just wallow in them.
I am the author of a blog that is currently about hardship that we’ve opted in for (we are living in a bus and expecting our 4th child while we build a house) and that we are currently working our way out of.
I have to say that from what I’ve noticed from commenters is that they are empathetic with our struggles, eager to offer advice when asked for or needed and very supportive of our (thus far minimal) successes.
Interesting review. (I didn’t realize Zondervan was publishing this book until I got my copy.) I’m grateful you read it on a plane so we could hear your perspective on the first half AND the second half!
Reading The Nesting Place (and Money Saving Mom, and even Ina Garten), I have to stop and remind myself that these women are succeeding because–either by nature or training–they’ve become total badass businesswomen. That doesn’t always come through in their work, but it’s so evident in the results.
@Anne – I’ve been interested to see the comments on this review. So interested I might have to give A Thousand Gifts or Cold Tangerines another try, if only to review them. I know other people love these books… I’m just not Zondervan Woman.
Women with successful blogs are generally bad-ass businesswomen and I wish they would own that truth. Some do. Crystal has been forthright that she works at least 30 hours a week, and in the early days of MSM when she didn’t have 13 employees it was likely more than that.
I got curious and looked up my highest traffic posts. After I ignore the ones that are clearly in the list because Blogger doesn’t properly filter out search engine crawlers or something (I don’t think THAT many people want to read my tips on pumping breastmilk…) my top two posts were the one when I ranted about how I am not married to a unicorn- i.e., men who do household chores without constant nagging do actually exist and I am married to one- and the sort of follow up I did about men, women, and chores.
The fact that my highest traffic posts are about chores is deeply ironic given the utter chaos that is my house most days and there very little mental energy I actually spend thinking about chores. But at least they are positive posts, I guess!
Thank you for this review! I have heard that this book is wonderful, yet I am not buying books at the moment (have too many already that I need to read) so I don’t know when/if I would get to read it. Your post made it clear it doesn’t have to be on my top ten list.
I grew up as a homeschooler whose family leaned towards patriarchy. It was ingrained in me that the husband was the breadwinner, the wife did all of the home and kid stuff. I wasn’t even allowed to go to college because, after all, why would I need to if I wasn’t going to work?
Yes, I was brainwashed into thinking that working women were bad, somehow. That they didn’t care about their families. So I got married, had a bunch of babies (4, actually), started homeschooling, and taught piano part-time out of my home. Somewhere along the way, I started reading things (your books and blog, among others) and realized that I had been fed a bunch of baloney.
There is nothing wrong with homeschooling, or being a SAHM, or whatever. But acting like there is only one right way?? For my sanity, we are putting the kids in school next fall as I continue to build my piano studio business as well as finish my bachelor’s degree online. I feel like I am on my way, and it is kind of sickening sometimes to come across things that remind me of how I grew up. My daughters are growing up hearing a different tune, that’s for sure.
@Laura – oh wow, this: “Somewhere along the way, I started reading things (your books and blog, among others) and realized that I had been fed a bunch of baloney.”
The internet is subversive and wonderful. For every complaint about cat videos, we can make this point too. Good for you for going back to school and growing your business. Please keep me posted on how it goes!
People complain about cat videos?
@Laura (not V)
Good for you!!!!
This makes me think of the religion of my grandparents. They completely fell into the Zondervan category of women stay at home and shouldn’t complain either if there is some abuse as well. Needless to say I was quite happy to change my name when I got married to get away from the name association with that religion. I have to work at being open to those that profess a “Godliness” to their life as it brings back all those bad associations with those that can do no “wrong” if they go to church every Sunday.
Reading all these comments has made me wonder which blog post of Laura’s has received the most comments. Do you know if this one is the most?
@Linda M – nope, I think that was my review of Lean In. But it was another book review!
I just looked that one up. Very interesting.
I have an Ivy League degree, out-earn my husband most years and have, at times, been the sole-breadwinner, but I envy women whose husbands have stable jobs too and I don’t think that makes me a Zondervan Woman.
I think if you haven’t dealt with it, you probably don’t have a real understanding for what it’s like to have a spouse who is unemployed for months at a time–the stress of finances, of what to do about insurance, of handling the person’s depression at the job situation, of having to make choices about job offers that have too many trade-offs. Even when the other spouse is working and earning enough to support the family, chronic or long-term unemployment puts a family under a difficult strain. So it bothers me that this post implies that it’s somehow anti-feminist to wish a situation was better or different.
Likewise, if you’ve always had a full-time job when you had small children, it probably seems easy to just ramp up a business out of nowhere while you have little kids around and no regular childcare. It isn’t. Even if you’re very well trained, have a solid background in what you do, and have a door-opening resume, it’s really hard to build yourself into a business. And we don’t know what Smith’s background is. Does she have a design background? A degree in a related subject? Or was she self-taught? And we’re expecting that she could have just gone out and established herself as this different type of decorator with a different fee structure and no references how? That’s to say nothing of the childcare issues. When you aren’t working full time, you can’t just pop your kid in a daycare whenever you feel like it without paying for the other days. Ditto with a nanny. And finding random sporadic babysitters is actually quite difficult and costly. So again, with her husband unable to bankroll her business idea, where was she supposed to get the capital to invest in childcare so she could ramp up this business?
On a related note, I was flabbergasted by the comment that perhaps Smith hadn’t heard of birth control. We aren’t talking about 18 and Counting here, we’re talking about a woman with, what, three kids? Again to the previous point, babysitting is expensive. When you have two or three children and you are just thinking of starting a business but aren’t making a great side income yet and your husband isn’t making a lot either, it’s hard to justify the startup cost. When someone says “the babies just kept coming” (I’m not sure if that’s an exact quote from Smith or Laura’s summary) I take that to mean that it makes logistics more of a challenge, not that the person was too stupid or patriarchical to use birth control. That kind of condescension is hardly helpful in advancing the cause of women and mothers in the workforce.
I’m with you on not caring for the Zondervan type narrative, but more because I wish these women would tell me more about how they did it. How did they go from wanting to be home full-time (which is not something to denigrate, by the way, some people actually want to do that) to recognizing that they needed to make an income, figuring out what their marketable talents are, marketing them without a business background, and becoming successful? That’s the sort of detail I want to hear from people like Smith and Money Saving Mom. The usual working mom literature either involves traditional jobs or somewhere along the way the husband was able to pay for babysitting and household help so mom could build her business or follow her dreams. Those are helpful stories too, but it would be nice to hear from people who did things differently too.
Sorry this turned into a diatribe. I don’t actually disagree with the gist of this post and many of the comments, I just wanted to point out a different perspective.
Catherine, I am totally with you and wonder many of the same things myself. Even though I am currently not interested in making an income right now, I still wonder how these women get from point a to point b while taking care of their children and not completely stressing our their family. I know that Crystal from Money Saving Mom has talked about how she did stress out her family before she finally hired help, but it seems like you have to make some rather large sacrifices to get to the point where you can afford that. I would love to hear more details pertaining to this aspect of female entrepreneurial lifestyles.
This discussion has definitely sparked some conversation between my husband and I along these same lines.
Oh, and I felt the same way about the birth control comment: not helpful.
I agree with a lot of what you wrote here, especially on the startup costs + daycare issue. I am not in the Zondervan woman demographic, but was home for about 18 months and had one established artisan business and started a new one. I could not embrace the financial risk it required to put my younger child in daycare on a regular basis so I could grow my business. I am super risk averse, so the idea of spending an extra $1800 on childcare per month when my business wasn’t bringing in much more than that was too scary, considering we were already taking a hit on retirement savings and other longer-term stuff with me not working a “regular” job. And it was ridiculously hard to find a reliable occasional babysitter – we had one who was awesome, but in college, so her availability was limited. I can see how this would be even more daunting if you didn’t have a lot of money in the first place (and no one had a stable job).
Catherine, I wondered about those things too, thanks for bring it up. I’ve never started up a business…I’m sure its hard. I’m sure its harder when you don’t have ANY start-up money for promoting yourself or childcare. And if she did have a few kids close together, she was probably exhausted. The stress of a husband out-of-work plus exhaustion of pregnancy/small kids…why would it ever occur to her to suddenly start-up a business in something she’s never done before. Its different if she had previously had a successful decorating career and could jump back in, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m sure once things settled down, the kids grew up, she realized she had an aptitude for something and had the frame of mind to consider expanding it. But that moment comes when it comes, you can’t look down on someone for not having that “eureka!” moment earlier.
I liked this review a lot, but it didn’t give me any interest in reading the book. I’m not a Zondervan woman either, but maybe more to the point, I don’t want to read a book about decorating. I like the way my house looks–mismatched furniture, clutter, and all. No one would want to look at pictures of my house in a magazine, but why should they? My family and I chose the stuff we have and how to arrange it, and we weren’t interested in having strangers weigh in with their opinions.
In contrast to most of the other commenters here, I think maybe the *only* thing that might interest me about that book is the stories of hardship. I don’t really mind stories of woe and hardship because I tend to look at them as psychological studies: what are the ways that people respond when they are in certain situations. If you read enough of these, you start to see patterns and commonalities to what people do and why. You don’t have to draw lessons for your own life, but you can, I suppose. I do find that it helps me give advice to friends and acquaintances if I’ve read a story about a similar situation–positive or negative. Sometimes a cautionary tale is helpful too.
I don’t tend to get a lot out of narratives that are consciously intended to be “positive” and “upbeat.” To my sadness, I currently have two acquaintances whose husbands are dying of brain tumors. One of them sends out periodic emails that are amazing. She just writes about their life together, her thoughts, her musings. She doesn’t whine, but she doesn’t sugar coat. I don’t know how others react to her musings, but I find them amazingly moving. They bring tears to my eyes. They seem to me to be about honest grace.
The other one is relentlessly “upbeat.” She doesn’t brook anything that she deems “negative.” I don’t know her as well as the first one, but her online activity makes me anxious and sad every time I encounter it. I ended up unfollowing her on facebook because she provoked so much anxiety. If it works for her, it’s not my place to judge–but different things work for different people, and if I were facing down such a situation, that forced cheery smiley approach would make me feel despairing and isolated.
Maybe the other (I guess now ex-) friend really is just a happy optimistic person. Happiness studies do show that people adapt to all sorts of tragedy. It may not be a forced cheery smiley approach at all, but just her natural personality, or a strong belief in God’s will, or whatever. That sucks that her outward happiness makes you feel anxious and sad.
I didn’t unfriend her, just unfollowed her so I don’t see her posts in my newsfeed anymore. What led me to do so was the way she didn’t tolerate what she called “negativity,” and the effort she put into controlling what I could and couldn’t say when I interacted with her. She was doing this before I even knew anything about her situation. I don’t think that all, or even most, cheerfulness is forced and inauthentic, but I was getting that vibe about this. I wouldn’t call it “outward happiness.”
I actually think there is something about sharing flaws or something else mildly negative that encourages interaction. People can offer advice, or sympathy, or get into arguments, or just offer differing views and thereby have a conversation. But when everything has to be wonderful and perfect to the point that any dissent is labeled “negativity,” there isn’t much to say but “congratulations” and move on.
I found that same kind of thing frustrating when Lean In first came out. Sandberg said she only wanted to hear positive stories and not negative ones. I think that just served to shut a lot of people out of the whole conversation.
Wait, let me get this straight, you were saying negative things to someone whose husband is dying of a brain tumor and you got upset when she asked you to stop saying negative things to her? Unfollowing her was probably the kindest thing you could do.
Re: Sandberg: I don’t know to what you are specifically referring to, but regarding women balancing family and work: The negative stories are already out there. We’re saturated with them. We live and breathe them. You can’t open the NYTimes or read a blogroll without them. It would indeed be nice to hear some positive stories for a change. That’s one of the reasons LV’s blog is SO refreshing. There are so few women willing to be unapologetic for having it all. (Plug for Mosaic here.)
Maybe it *is* true that more people prefer to cut the tall poppies or pull the other crabs back in the bucket. Maybe nobody wants to read about successful women (unless, of course, they follow that narrative). Except I kind of do. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone and there’s nothing wrong with me.
@N&M and Karen – I think with everything, balance. I hope to not come across as Polly-anna ish. On the other hand, my problems are pretty insignificant compared with like 99% of humanity so I hope to aim for perspective too. As I’m hearing from people, the overcoming hardships narrative is compelling because it gives us hope, and humans probably naturally like the we’re-all-in-this together mindset. But I suspect there are a fair number of us who do like to know what successful people do and what we can learn from them, and are less drawn to the narrative that really they’re just like us and had all these troubles too.
That’s not what I’m getting from a lot of these comments though. I’m hearing that many of your readers don’t want to hear about others’ success, they do want to hear about others’ suffering, and if people aren’t suffering enough, then they’re horrible people who should shut up. It’s a pretty grim view from here.
I think “struggles” and “hardships” are very different than “suffering” – the former imply a situation that is temporary, that someone has the ability to change, and can be encouraging and insightful to read about. The latter makes me think of people in internment camps or diagnosed with a debilitating illness, which isn’t quite the same genre that I think most people are referring to in this discussion, from what I can tell.
Um, N&M, . . . no, you didn’t get it straight at all. But that’s probably my fault because I didn’t want to share too many specific details, and it’s not worth going into any further. With Sandberg, I was referring to a column by Maureen Dowd: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/opinion/sunday/dowd-pompom-girl-for-feminism.html?_r=0
I don’t always agree with Dowd, either, but I thought she had a point with this column. Not every story has a positive ending, and I don’t think there’s much to be gained by tacking on a false one, or by excluding people who don’t have one.
It’s funny, I was getting almost the opposite conclusion from these comments: I thought that most people seemed tired of and angry about “negativity” and wanted everyone to shut up who wasn’t brilliant or successful. Which probably means the comments are actually pretty well balanced, in the end. I think the blog is.
It may be that if successful people have at least a few flaws, and/or have struggled, it makes them easier to learn from. The most successful practitioners of a craft aren’t always the best teachers. Annie Murphy Paul had a blog that I can’t find right now suggesting that the best teachers and mentors are often solid “second tier” performers in a field rather than the most successful big names. Their success is more likely to be the result of hard work and creative problem solving than of luck or some kind of talent that can’t be replicated.
I can make a comment about the affording child care to make space for entrepreneurship angle, although from a very different mindset and background than the Zondervan woman- as some of you know, I recently quit my job and am figuring out what to do next. I have wanted to try to start a business for awhile, so I am setting myself up to do that. We have some savings, but not enough to carry us through at the standard of living we like for the amount of time I think it will take to give starting a business a good go. So I’m contracting part time, which honestly will bring in close to my current salary (without benefits and with much higher risk, though). It is a very similar arrangement to what @ARC has settled on. I’m just starting out (my last day at work is still a week and a half away), so I don’t know how it will go. But that is one way to start a business and still afford the child care- have another source of income to cover it. This obviously only works if you have some skill set you can rent out at a high rate, so it is not universal. Before I lost my patience with my current position, my plan was to try to build income flow through other means, such as ebooks and maybe some apps. That was a slower plan to follow, though, since I was squeezing it in around full time work and the rest of my life. I haven’t mapped out my plan now- I’m focused on the immediate needs of getting incorporated and the like. I will probably blog some details later, though, because I like working through ideas in blog posts.
This is interesting, but again, like you said, it’s an example of transferring from one career to another, not starting from scratch without savings or childcare in place.
I wish you the best in your endeavor!
To be honest, what is frustrating for me is that she is starting from scratch because she chose to not have a career. In fact, she thought that was superior to my choice to have a career and from Laura’s review, it sounds like she thinks my choice was worse for my family. I obviously disagree. But now she is making money off of presenting an image that continues to imply that my choice to pursue my career even after having children was unnecessary or downright wrong, and that rankles. I wish her the best in her endeavor, too. I just wish her endeavor didn’t involve publishing a book that implies women like me have made the wrong choices. Granted, I am not at all in her target audience, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be called to task for writing things about women like me that are just factually incorrect. I am not at all arguing that my way is the only way, or even the best way for all people. Just that there are other ways to be a mother and an entrepreneur than what we usually hear about. I also think that mothers who make money off of promoting the idea that other mothers should focus only on their families and not make money are being a bit hypocritical, and I’m tired of us all being too polite to say that.
I should make clear: I agree with the comment that having a spouse with a stable income is a wonderful thing and something to be grateful for. The fact that my husband is happy working in a full time corporate job certainly makes my decision to try entrepreneurship easier. I do wonder why we don’t afford the same perspective to men, though. I know my husband is grateful I have a high earning power, too. It makes the risk of lay off less stressful. In my ideal world, we rearrange our corporate cultures to truly support the idea that everyone deserves time with their kids (or pets, or houseplants- or whatever), and then more families could choose to have two earners and two involved parents. Right now, it is all up to the individuals to figure out how to make that happen in corporate cultures that evolved for a very different ideal. I’d love our efforts to go to remaking our work culture to match the modern reality, rather than to trying to entice people back to the old idea.
I suspect, mind you, without evidence, that these same people selling the white married woman having babies and staying at home even when it’s risky and they can’t make ends meet narrative are also the ones that say nasty things about single mothers and TANF recipients who shouldn’t have had babies. Because that’s an entirely different narrative. But it’s still the same patriarchy.
Logically, you should either wait to have babies until you can afford them with less risk or you shouldn’t. But from the narrative, either you’re morally justified in having babies (because married women are supposed to have babies) or you’re not. But I mainly see the “afford” language with the single moms and minority families, not the (white) married women whose (white) husbands can’t provide.
And, come to think of it, the backlash when someone does bring up having kids in bad financial circumstances is different. The backlash against the “afford” language with minorities and single women is always paternalistic– birth control is hard, abortion is bad, people make mistakes, etc. But with the married white women, you see people saying that having lots of babies without money and not using birth control is a choice and a good choice.
I’m not saying having children when you want them is a good or a bad thing (as someone who struggled with infertility and is socially liberal, I have complicated views), but that we should think really hard about what narrative we’re tapping into when we talk about this issue and would our response be the same if the woman in question was a different color or had no spouse instead of a spouse who neither brings in money nor takes care of the kids.
wait wait wait…did this author actually say anything against working mothers? or are we stereotyping her as a “Zondervan woman”? did I miss something? I thought this was a decorating book and she shared her life experience (as a SAHM) and is indeed marketing to SAHM, but did she truly, in her book, say anything negative about other choices?
Leaving aside the author and whether or not her writings contain the implications inferred here, I myself am a full time SAHM who made the choice not to have a career. If at some point, whether by desire or necessity, I choose to start one, I think that having more insight into how exactly that process has gone for other women in the same situation would be extremely useful.
Again, apart from the particular affronts that you list regarding Smith’s book, I don’t understand why the act of someone attempting to change their situation by taking their life in a totally different direction would be frustrating for someone looking on, unless one felt that the “right” choice was obvious from the get go and the other person just didn’t make it until it was too late.
@sarah – I’m working on a post on starting a business when you don’t have a lot of $$ for childcare. I’m always happy to learn what topics people are interested in.
I am not frustrated by what she’s doing- hooray for her! I’m frustrated by her portrayal of why she had to do it this particular way. Now, I only have that portrayal second hand, because I’m certainly not going to read her book myself (I don’t care about home decorating). I am reacting to Laura’s characterization of the first half of the book, which seems to have set up a false narrative about the life people like me live. I find that false narrative incredibly frustrating, because I think it impedes our culture from having a conversation about how we might change work to fit the realities of two-career families. Women like me (and some men, too) raise the question and the answer from a lot of people is that we should just stay home with our kids and our problems would be solved. I don’t care if other women want to stay at home with their kids. I’m thrilled for them if that is what they want to do. I do care when that is held up as a universally desirable thing, because it would have been a downright terrible choice for me to make, for a number of reasons. And I am annoyed when being a mother who does not earn money is held up as an ideal by a mother who is using the marketing of this ideal as a way to make money. Since I did not read the book and do not plan to do so, perhaps I am being unfair to this author. I don’t know.
@Laura – I will be very interested to read that post.
@Cloud – I can understand your frustration with that perception. This can be such a hot button issue for women on both sides of the coin that I think we all get our danders up when we think that someone has suggested that the choice that we made is “wrong” or we perceive our situation to have been presented unfairly or in a negative light.
I feel the same way when I read feminist diatribes about why we should all be in the workforce advancing the cause.
I think that we need grace and the assumption of positive intent to abound in these discussions.
@Cloud (and responding to @Catherine earlier) – yes, a spouse having a stable job is a blessing. And per what Cloud said, we can see this as true for men, too. I’m more irked by the language in The Nesting Place — that the woman who has it all together is not the one with the great job, it’s the one whose husband has the great job. I have a hard time picturing her using this same language for a man — he’s one we should all admire because look how handsome he is, his kids are darling and his wife is such a great provider.
I definitely agree with you on that–my reaction was to the implication that she was wrong to envy the woman for the husband having stability, but I can see how the tone would be an issue. As Cloud pointed out above, it’s really annoying when women make money off of saying women shouldn’t make money, or when people judge your fitness for parenting based on whether or not you work.
All of the “Quit Your Day Job” articles on Etsy (for example) and many of the tech startup advice articles I’ve read advise keeping the day job and either trying to reduce your hours a little or at least be VERY efficient with your non-work time while you’re starting up, rather than quitting outright. I guess the side effect to that is that you also can afford childcare (or have it already!)