Lisa Belkin, Life’s Work: Confessions of an Unbalanced Mom (2002)

Lisa Belkin is the New York Times’ “Life’s Work” columnist and this book basically is a chosen collection of her columns and some personal essays on how to reconcile motherhood and job… I’ve returned to work 2 weeks ago after my maternity leave, and I try to remember some details about this book, not because it wasn’t good, but because my mind is cluttered with a massive to-do-list and my memory is foggy. I read this book while at home, nursing my baby: both circumstances have changed but it didn’t change my view on this book.

Perfect Madness had a tragic voice, Judith Warner was sincerely outraged by what she analyzed as a motherhood trap… Belkin’s book tone couldn’t be more different, and to me it also sounded more down-to-earth. It is as though she said: yes, we want it all and it’s bloody hard, but what can we do about it? What solutions do people find? She investigates her family history and gets to meet people who are trying to be creative. Her tone is witty and realistic. “My editors say Life’s Work is about the intersection of life and work. I say it is about the collisions that happen daily at that intersection.” Her message is comforting and exactly what I need to hear right now: “I have yet to hear from anyone who feels they are doing everything right. So it’s not just me who can’t do this- and it’s not just you, either.” And her conclusion to this crazy quest for perfection (about the same that enraged Warner, by the way) is “so what?”. One book answered with a simple, optimistic shrug.

One damper: she speaks a lot about mothers working from home, part-time as a consultant or freelance. Journalists can certainly do this, but these aren’t ordinary circumstances… And I was slightly annoyed she had such a US-centric view, but I can’t hold it against her. Most columns were published during the dot-com era, so some of them have aged well and some obviously not. Remember those stories about dot-com start-ups where the average age of employees was under 25? (these companies had no maternity benefits and obviously didn’t allow a nice balance between life and work… but now they’re mostly extinct species). Oh well, I’m not getting any younger myself…

I’m not sure whether Lisa Belkin’s column at the NYT is still a regular feature. But she created quite a noise when she wrote an essay in 2003 about women leaving the workforce (unless I’m mistaken it was she launched the expression “opting out”). An interesting column published last year analyzes how some women are “opting in” again, and she had a week-long NYT blog in June on Equal Parenting. I’ll be sure to check on other articles from her.

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2 thoughts on “Lisa Belkin, Life’s Work: Confessions of an Unbalanced Mom (2002)

  1. How interesting! I do love the way you’re reading through these motherhood books at the moment because I’m very much appreciating your reviews. It looks like my motherhood book is going to focus on the effects motherhood has on creativity, with lots of stories of women artists and the challenges, successes and disasters they negotiated. So I’m quite keen to read what Belkin has to say about creativity. I should perhaps get hold of this.

  2. I didn’t mean to be misleading here… when I say “creative”, it relates to the ways people try to adjust work and home demands, not to the people themselves. I’m afraid the interviewed people are very much from the corporate world (big or small ones)!

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