Mommy Is Busy Right Now
Miller, Lisa, Newsweek
Byline: Lisa Miller
"Why are working mothers so furious all the time?" I was asked, recently. An answer, not entirely rational, springs to mind: "Personally, I could use a travel agent." It's a joke, sort of. School vacation is coming up. I'm swamped at work, and trip planning has become a time-consuming hell. A simple family vacation requires innumerable visits to destination websites; a suspicious scouring of rankings and reviews; and, at the heart-stopping final moment, a purchase on a site where prices and availability seem to change by the second. In the old days, it was simple. A woman would call a travel agent, and voila! The trip would be booked. Now agents charge $35 a ticket. Don't get me started on fees.
The yearning for an old-school travel agent is a metaphor for deeper and probably insoluble problems of domestic life, circa 2011. First, any illusion that mothers might have had about full-time employment as a "lifestyle choice" has, in this economy, been stripped away. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 77 percent of American women with school-age children work; a quarter say they sometimes work from home; a third work on the weekends. Why? Women fare better than men in this employment market. Those stories of a decade ago--Yale-educated mommies struggling with career angst as they mop up yogurt spills--seem as out of sync with today's realities as Leviticus.
Second, the "service economy" of the boom years has, thanks to the technology revolution and corporate cost-cutting, become a nightmare of self-service. Individuals, under increasing pressure to perform at work, have to do for themselves all kinds of things that other people--middlemen, customer-service agents, HR managers, and administrative assistants--used to do. This has given rise to the most tedious household chore of all: domestic administration. …