When Gwendolen Gross contacted me with a review copy of her new novel The Other Mother for 5 Minutes for Mom, I was intrigued to read a fictional account of many of the thoughts and feelings that most of us have about "other mothers."
What I was not prepared for is a book that would pull me in so quickly. I had about an hour one afternoon, so I took the novel out on my front porch. I was drawn in immediately by the first paragraph, and the second page, and the third. At that point I realized that if I wanted to be able to spend time getting ready for my vacation over the next couple of days, which is what I needed to be doing, that I had better put the novel aside and save it for my vacation. So I did it--reluctantly.
Gwendolen Gross is a mom herself, so I thought it would be interesting to hear more of her personal experiences with motherhood and mothers. Her daughter is five and her son is eight. She started this book when her son was six weeks old!
JD: We all have that "Other Mother" who does something well that we don't. As a mom and/or homemaker what is one thing that you do well and one thing that you wish you did better?
GG: Just one of each? Oh, my. One thing I hope I do well with my kids is to show them that one can find pleasure in work—that the work of childhood includes writing books and playing ponies and making elaborate sculptures out of wood, grass, and old bicycle inner tubes (all their ideas), and that if you try enough, you can find ways to use that creativity into adulthood---even as your work. As a mom, well, I know I have more patience than I started with, but I’d like a freighter-load more, please.
JD: Oh, me too, please, if the patience fairies are reading and doling it out.
JD: As a writer, I assume you do (or have) work at home. If this is the case, do you feel caught in the middle of the Working Mothers and the Stay-at-Home Mothers?
GG: Yes, exactly. Not that I’m caught in the middle, I’m just not one or the other (I write at the library, a cafe, or home; I teach workshops outside the home, and I find laundry and cooking very, very distracting)—and people seem to ally themselves socially with one or the other. People aren’t exclusive, but there’s an obvious play date-scheduling bit between moms of younger kids who work, or who stay at home. Luckily, I’ve found plenty of friends who have unusual schedules, who have unusual ideas, and who are, well, unusual—like me. I’ve learned that I don’t need to make friends through my kids (though of course I have); I can also make friends who are older, younger, who have no children—I sing with them in chorus, I meet them in the workshops I teach, I meet them writing at the coffee shop. . . My friends are friends of common interests, but not always common choices.
JD: What advice do you have for moms who find themselves resenting or judging other moms or being overly defensive of their own position?
GG: You have to believe you’re making the right choices. Of course, there will always be guilt. I think it is manufactured with the placenta, and transfers with birth—or else is stored for birth or adoptive parents in that unbelievably kissable child-skin. I guess I’ve learned to respect other people for what they do—who they are—which is not always what I do, or who I am (thank goodness, we have enough novelists). If someone doesn’t respect my choices and me it might sting a little, but I have decided not to waste my emotional energy on those people. There will always be the gossipmongers, the holier-than-thou (they probably feel guiltier, more insecure, and more resentful than you do).
JD: Your book was written with such balance. I found myself understanding both of the mothers and being irritated by both of their attitudes as well. Did you strive for this type of non-judgmental stance on the Mommy Wars? How did you hope to change the reader's view of all the other mothers we encounter in our lives?
GG: Thank you so much! I started writing The Other Mother when my son was an infant—and I felt I was neither working nor stay at home mom. I wanted to try on each hat, and see what it felt like. So I made up characters—but I wanted each to be fallible, each to do all those things of motherhood that complicate our lives and hearts. Parenting changes just about every relationship you have—and the changes are just starting at birth. I still have a lot to learn, so I let my characters make some mistakes for me. I was hoping the reader would identify with both characters—maybe not always—by having two first-person narrators (and one tends to feel confided in—and is more likely to believe—first-person narrators). I was hoping the reader would do exactly what you did—find yourself understanding, and criticizing, both characters.
Right after the book came out, one of my neighbors strolled by with her most recent baby, and stopped (still moving the stroller to rock baby to sleep) to tell me, “Your book—it made me think about what I’m doing—about my choices and my job and everything!” I wanted to jump up and down like a lottery winner, but instead I said thank you—and then we had a long talk about her life.
Click over to 5 Minutes for Mom for my full review and a chance to win one of two copies of this GREAT book (along with another review of a great early chapter book for your kids). You can find out more information about Gwendolen Gross and her books on her author site. You are also invited to participate in her free writing workshop blog, "The Other Mother--for Moms Who Want to Write."