COVER

THE PRIVILEGE OF HOME

PATRICIA CHISHOLM March 1 1999
COVER

THE PRIVILEGE OF HOME

PATRICIA CHISHOLM March 1 1999

THE PRIVILEGE OF HOME

Danielle Crittenden is in full working-mother mode. She arrives for an interview at a Toronto restaurant crisply dressed and coiffed, bracing for more questions about her new book, What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman. Although the book at times succeeds in drawing vivid portraits of the problems women facemost notably, the pressures on working mothersCrittenden has been widely criticized for peddling a solution that is either unpalatable or unavailable to most women: postponing work and career at least until children are in school. Animated and poised, Crittenden says she has no desire to ratchet up the guilt so com mon among working mothers. "In some cases they might not have any choice," she says, "but I'm not addressing each individual woman's case. I'm talking as a general rule. Let's be honest about the conse quences to our children and the consequences to our mthhc~rc~ w~ ni rciI~ +hic "

Crittenden, 35, appears to have lost very little by choosing to stay with her own children while they were preschoolers. Her career was well-established—she has been a journalist since she was a teenager, beginning with a column in The Toronto Sun, a newspaper co-founded by her stepfather, Peter Worthington. She skipped university, and by the time she married fellow journalist David Frum in 1988, she had worked in Africa and China as a freelance writer. Currently, she is the editor of Washington-based The Women’s Quarterly, she is due to begin a monthly column in the National Post, and she comments on women’s issues for U.S. and Canadian radio and TV. Now that her two children, aged 5 and 7, are both in school, she describes herself, with a touch of irony in her voice, as a “thoroughly modern independent woman” who typically works from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

She says she still would have stayed home with her preschoolers even if she did not enjoy financial security, and cites her own mother, Toronto journalist Yvonne Crittenden, as her role model. “Yes, I’m privileged,” she says, “but I also think I was very privileged to have a mother who made very big financial sacrifices for me when she was single.” She was raised on feminist notions that women should have careers, but now dismisses the women’s movement as extreme and ultimately damaging. Among other things, she argues, the movement’s emphasis on day care has pushed women into the workforce when they might prefer being home with their children. “Very few women,” she says,

"give birth and say the first thing I want to do is dump the kids so I can get back to the office.”

On the issue of mothers who must work to support their families, Crittenden remains frustratingly vague. “How, in the space of a generation, have we made it a perk of only the rich to be able to care for their children?” she asks. “That was not true a generation ago, it was not true during much poorer times in our history. What is it today that causes so many women to feel that they have no choice but to work?” Good questions, no doubt, but for most working mothers, Crittenden misses the point.

PATRICIA CHISHOLM