Commentary

Working Mother

Unwittingly, I became a blogger at some point over the last two or three weeks. MediaPost, it appears, has stealthily jumped aboard the democratization-of-media bandwagon, opening up this and other columns to reader comment. While I was initially nonplussed--I quickly added my six or seven readers to the list of people I ignore, right alongside my editors, family members and court-appointed therapists--I realized it would be a dereliction of duty to cursorily dismiss the staggering responsibility that blogging entails.

Over the weekend, then, I embraced my inner blogger. I moved to Williamsburg, grew an ironic mustache, and started taking seriously every word that has ever been said to or about me. For today's column, I decided to affirm my solidarity with my brethren in bloggishness by selecting a title that truly reflects my newly discovered intellectual and pop-cultural worldliness: Working Mother. All of y'all only wish you could be as cutting-edge as I am.

My first thought upon perusing the June Working Mother was that there is no readily evident reason for actual working mothers to read it. Judging by the time-strapped existences of my sister and married-with-child woman friends, working moms make things work because they have to, you know? They don't solicit work/mommying tips from sources other than close friends or family because they don't have the time (or patience) to gauge the credibility of those sources. Besides, few of them have more than a handful of idle minutes per week to page through nonessential publications--and those that do generally prefer the superficiality of an Us Weekly or InStyle to the super-topicality of a work/parenting mag.

Where Working Mother goes astray, I think, is in dumbing down its material to make it accessible to all comers. A piece on involving dad and the kids in the housework features pix from that cultural touchstone of besieged mommyhood, "Desperate Housewives," while the "Gotta Say" box offers that "the vast majority [of you] say parenting is fun 90 percent or more of the time." What, like anybody's going to admit otherwise and risk being pelted with epithets by the glory-of-parenthood terrorists?

This bland, alternately affirming and all-embracing voice worms its way into nearly every item in the June issue, especially the first-person profiles of successful multicultural mothers. One begins, "There are challenges every step of the way in our lives, times when we have to dig deep inside ourselves to find our way through." This prompted an arched eyebrow, if only because I heard almost exactly the same thing from an "American Idol" contestant a few weeks back.

The rest of the mammoth feature which houses these profiles, Working Mother's annual look at the best companies for multicultural women, also disappoints, mostly because its ambition overrides the ability of its writers. The piece on so-called "über-mentors" doesn't deliver on the promise made in its subhed ("These advocates help women of color rise up the corporate ladder--sometimes putting their own careers on the line to do it"). Similarly, "White Women Read This," which explores why Caucasian women aren't trusted in the workplace by women of color, barely scratches the surface of its provocative central premise.

Then there's the 16 (actually, 18, but who's counting?) inspirational tips of "Take a Break," in which a mom/CEO/worker type offers nuggets of better-livin' wisdom that make me question not only her parenting fitness and sanity, but also that of anyone who greenlit her presence in the mag. Among the most noteworthy: "Don't hop in and out of the shower to get on with life. Go in the bathroom and stay there!" (because most good parenting is done from behind closed doors) and "Don't dust... Just put good food on the table and nobody will care what the place looks like" (well, except the child-welfare authorities). I likely missed a "this is in no way meant to be taken seriously" note somewhere, so take the critique for what it's worth.

Working Mother does earn points for its dive-right-into-things approach. The June issue doesn't weigh itself down with too much front-of-the-book swill; the sharp cover feature on a Deloitte & Touche attorney/smiley superparent commences on page 23. Several of its smaller items hit the mark as well, especially the feature on entrepreneur moms (which offers personality instead of platitudes) and the more-incisive-than-you'd-expect piece on "How to Raise a Really Nice Kid" (I confess to being a bit confused by the shampoo plug that accompanies it).

Ultimately, though, Working Mother works better as a here's-what-you're-in-for tract for working-moms-to-be than as a go-to guide for women currently juggling career and parenthood. Until it ditches the too-chummy tone and delves a little deeper--the aforementioned story on racial tension in the workplace would've been a nice place to start--Working Mother won't serve much of purpose to its readers.

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