Do we moan too much? Darla Shine, author of Happy Housewives, says yes. The basic premise of her book is that housewives spend too much time moaning about how hard their lives are when really we should count our blessings and get on with it. “When did it become fashionable to be an out-of-control mother on the edge?”
Darla chats at you from her kitchen island about how great it is to be a housewife. She shares her journey of how she came to terms with giving up her career in television to raise her “babies” and learnt to love her new role.
It’s not for everyone. Darla argues that every mum should stay at home with their children, leaving behind careers like she did. I’m sure many women would love to do this but don’t have the choice, they have to earn money. Darla is rich and spoilt and fairly disengaged from reality - one important criterion for her new house was that it had to have a swimming pool and she was annoyed to discover there was no built-in barbecue. She’s American and does things stuffy English girls like me don’t approve of, like waking up her seven year old son just to tell him he can stay home from school to watch movies with her.
But I loved the book. It was great to have such a chirpy endorsement of what I do, especially when some people do put you down, albeit unintentionally – one friend referred in passing to my “dropping out”, the implication being it was negative to leave law for housewifery.
This week I could hear Darla’s voice echoing around my house, spurring me on; one morning I’d already damp-dusted every room and finished the ironing by 8.30. “Happy housewife?” I thought, rinsing out a pooey terry-towelling nappy. Yes. It’s smelly but fulfilling when you really go for it and think you’re doing a good job and can see you’ve achieved. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching your children scoff down something you’ve cooked. The converse is of course that there’s nothing more demoralising than having them refuse to eat something you’ve spent time and effort on, but Darla has an answer for that – “It’s okay to admit that some days really do suck”.
A lot of what Darla says is just common sense to me – but obviously not to other people! A lot of what she says is shallow and something I can’t relate to. A lot of what she says made me think – after a hard day, “would you want to come home to you?” A lot of what she says is hysterical - “I read a report that only 30 percent of married women were having orgasms on a regular basis...No wonder the women at the PTA are a bunch of crazy bitches”.
But the central message is sound. It’s all about celebrating, being proud of being a stay at home mum whilst recognising the realities – “Some days I look at my children when they’re out of control and I wonder why they’re misbehaving, what I’m doing wrong.” - and how to cope with them.
Happy Housewives is very much aimed at a certain market of women with choice and Darla has been criticised for her simplistic attitude of what’s right and wrong for women and their children. But the success of the book, website and now radio show demonstrates how many women relate to what she says – for all her faults she has touched a nerve, found a gap in the market that women want to be filled.
Darla is trying to start a revolution “Let’s fight this stupid image these desperate housewives are giving us”. Her message is simple but effective, stop moaning and work at things and you will enjoy yourself and feel more fulfilled. You can’t have it all, she says. “I think something will suffer, either your marriage, your kids or your sanity”. She’s old fashioned in her approach; many reviewers don’t like the slant she takes on husbands – “They want only three things in life: attention, appreciation, and sex”. But I’m sure husbands would approve of her recommendations – don’t nag him to death and don’t use motherhood as an excuse for not having sex! Relationships aside she’s encouraging some really important things for society like trying to bring families together for meal times, home cooking and talking to your children, basics which are lost in today’s world to the detriment of everyone.
She takes on feminists – “I’m annoyed that they’ve dropped the ball for women at home”. I would argue that feminism means having choice and that women like me choosing to stay in the home is liberating. We are empowered because giving up our careers to take on this domestic role is not imposed on us, as it was in the 1920’s with the marriage bar as described in a book I reviewed recently, Jenna Bailey’s “Can Any Mother Help Me?” Those mothers felt resentment as they were forced to give up jobs. We can now decide that being at home is better for our families and chose to do so and therefore feel more fulfilled. Fashion is changing I think, it’s not unusual for thinking women to elect be in the home and not the office. I’ve seen the other side and am grateful for the life I can now have. Darla would agree entirely – “Let him freeze his ass off on the train while I sleep...”
Happy Housewives is a fun book with a message. There are practical tips; when it comes to housework, “if you think it, do it” recipes and web links. I think I’m naturally a housewife, I like wearing my apron, so I didn’t need much encouragement from Darla. But it’s refreshing to have someone so excited about what you do.