Best Selling Author Jennifer Weiner on Finding Balance

Jennifer-Weiner

Jennifer Weiner says “I’m a firm believer in ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get.'”  Well, I asked and asked and I got an actual interview with her.  I mean, it was by email, but that’s actual enough for me.  Jennifer Weiner is not only my second interview with a famous person, but is also a bestselling author of many engaging, funny, and addictive books that are even made into movies.  My favorite is Good in Bed, which I remember reading on the elliptical machine in college.  Good times.  Not really.  I hated that thing.  But I loved the book.

Jennifer Weiner also sticks up for “chick-lit” books and doesn’t think they should be looked down upon.  Since this website aspires to be the chick lit alternative to Psychology Today, I applaud this idea.  In this vein, Jennifer Weiner (I’m going to say her full name every time, because I’m so excited) also is not embarrassed by loving The Bachelor/ette!  Um, who else do you know who loves the Bachelorette?  She regularly tweets about The Bachelorette and is hilarious, more so than even me.  I KNOW I KNOW, impossible, but I’m being serious.  Examples:

“I don’t even know what a vista is, but we walked out onto this vista.” Excuse me while I go weep for America’s future. #BachelorInParadise

— Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner) August 5, 2014

Elise says she’s “already having connections.” I think she has confused “connections” with “strong drinks.” #BIP

— Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner) August 5, 2014

So, you ask, are you going to get to the interview, which is why I am reading this article, since it’s not like I have a million other things to do, like watch my kids, who are somewhere around here, I think?  So, without further ado, I present: Jennifer Weiner!

  1. Which is harder, writing or parenting?

Parenting – because the stakes are so much higher. If you write something that’s not great, you’re disappointed in yourself, and maybe your readers are unhappy, or you get a bad review…but you move on, and there’s always a chance to do better your next time out. If you screw up parenting, you’ve messed up an entire person, possibly occasioning years of therapy, painful family get-togethers, and/or a revenge memoir.

  1. How and when do you make time for your partner while raising two kids and writing?

The honest answer is that I outsource everything I can. I decided a long time ago that the most valuable thing I could pay for is not stuff, not clothes, not jewelry or houses or vacation, but time. When my second daughter was born, I had a doula overnight for the first three months of her life, a wonderful woman who’d bring me the baby when she needed to nurse, then take her so I could sleep. Which was a ridiculous luxury…but if I’m not sleeping enough I am basically worthless as a writer and a human being, so it was a smart investment, and it helped me prioritize the way I’d spend my time and money as a mother.

So…I have a lot of childcare. I have help around the house. I have a great assistant, and an amazing babysitter, and a wonderful, supportive mom who spends the summer with me and my girls. Getting someone else to do the stuff I don’t care about – the laundry, the grocery shopping – gives me time to do the stuff that matters. I can be present for my children and my gentleman caller, I can dive into my work in progress without worrying that the fridge is empty and the school lunches aren’t being made, I can make time to exercise every day, because that’s important for my mental health. I have time to read and watch TV and even take naps sometimes!

I think a lot of women struggle with this. I know that I did. It felt like I was being selfish, and that a better woman would be able to do it all and not miss a step – bring home the organic bacon, fry it up in a pan, wash the pan, put the pan away, wipe the kitchen counters, sweep the floors, supervise baths, read bedtime stories. But when you’re doing all of that, when you don’t make yourself a priority, you end up short-changing yourself, and you end up suffering and, ultimately, your kids and your loved ones do, too.

I think we all need to be honest about how we spend our time, and what sacrifices we make, and how those sacrifices come at a cost. The longer we keep propping up the myth that women can have it all, the more women are going to hold themselves up to an impossible standard, and suffer when they fall short.

(Interviewer’s note: 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think is a good book that discusses how to make the most of your time/money to live the life you want, even if you’re not Jennifer Weiner!)

  1. Why do you love The Bachelor/ette so much?  (I do too.)  How do you reconcile being a feminist with watching the Bachelorette?  (I think it’s actually getting a lot more feminist in recent seasons, especially with Andi being so matter of fact about sleeping with who she wants when she wants and not letting anyone shame her about it.)

The first season of “The Bachelor” coincided with my first book tour, and I think I bonded so tightly with the show because I started watching during this very strange, surreal moment. I’d dreamed about publishing a book, but I hadn’t let myself dream of writing a bestseller, and I never guessed that my book would be called “chick lit,” not just a novel, and that I’d have to go out of my way to try to get critics to understand that it wasn’t just a fluffy beach read (luckily, the readers understood that from the get-go). The show became my escape, and my guilty pleasure, and I loved watching it as entertainment, but also to do the kind of feminist close reading that let me enjoy it, but also unpack all of the messages it was sending about love and womanhood and what our culture values in women.

Being a feminist and a “Bachelor” fan is not always the easiest thing to reconcile, because, for the most part, what the show says about women is regressive and old-school and horrible. It defines desirability very narrowly  for both genders, although, just like in the real world, it’s much more forgiving of a guy with a few extra pounds than a woman (there has not, and probably will never be, a bachelorette Bob Guiney equivalent). It says that looks matter more than smarts, that careers hardly matter at all, that a woman is a desperate, pathetic un-person without a man in her life, and that, in terms of sex, the rules are still different for men than for women. Women are punished for drinking too much, or being sexually aggressive, whether it’s Juan-Pablo turning on Clair after she initiated their underwater hookup, or the other women shaming Courtney after she took Ben skinny-dipping. It’s the unspoken expectation that couples do the dirty in the Fantasy Suites, but I felt like some people did bash Andi for sleeping with her two final prospects in a way that a bachelor would not have been…even though Andi was terrific, and completely matter-of-fact about her choices.

  1. What advice do you give your daughters about relationships? Are you looking forward to them dating or not?

 My girls are six and eleven and, lucky for me, my oldest is a very young eleven. Not that she’s immature, but on the kid-to-tween spectrum, she’s still very much on the “kid” side. (For example: a few weeks ago she went on a whale watch, and she insisted that she needed a towel. I asked why – they weren’t planning on swimming with the whales – and my daughter explained that she wanted to use the towel as a cape when she ran around the boat and played superhero. I thought for a minute, then said, “So…you don’t like boys yet.”)

The most important thing their dad and I do is try to reinforce their self-esteem and sense of how great and smart and lovely they are every day.  My hope is that, if they’re feeling confident and appreciated and loved, just as they are, they won’t look for validation and approval in bad relationships – that they won’t be clingy, or decide that they’re in love with the first guy who pays them any attention, that they won’t be peer-pressured into making bad choices, that they won’t obsess endlessly about their looks and their bodies.

Some of that just comes with the culture. It’s part of the air we all breathe. Like every mom I know, I try as hard as I can to be body positive, to tell my girls they’re beautiful, to not talk about good foods and bad foods, or exercise as punishment for eating, or complain about my body in front of them…but, still, my six-year-old has asked me if I think her legs are “a bit large,” and my big girl knows that calling another girl “fat” is still a devastating insult. I try to counteract that as much as I can, and I hope that their future partners’ parents are teaching their kids to love a woman for who she is and what she does, not for what she looks like.

  1. What was your favorite stage of parenting?  Baby, toddler, child, pre-teen?  Least favorite?

 I had a hard time with newborns. I’m not the most patient person in the world, I’m not someone who gets gooey over tiny little babies. When my eldest was born I remember feeling sleep-deprived and cranky and fantasizing about the moment her real parents would come and get her….or the day she’d be old enough to use her words and tell me why she was crying!

Of course, like many deluded write-at-home moms before me, I set myself up for failure. I’d had the idea that I would be this instantly wonderful, completely confident and at ease mother, totally present for my baby when she was awake, totally productive while she was napping. This did not happen. Instead, I found myself distracted and frustrated when I tried to take care of her, distracted and exhausted when she napped (which felt like almost never, and not for very long), and overwhelmed and miserable trying to be both a mother and a writer.

So…I got help. I found someone to spend a few hours every afternoon with Lucy, so I could do some work. Of course, the first afternoon I took my laptop to a coffee shop, the first thing I read was Caitlin Flanagan’s take-down of middle-class moms who hire nannies and work outside of the house not because they have to but because they want to, and what a disservice these selfish women are doing to their children. I think I cried for an entire week…because I just couldn’t do it. I have nothing but respect and admiration for women who can care for newborns full-time without losing their minds, but I couldn’t do it, and I felt like a failure.

Now that I’m older and wiser (and not in the midst of post-partum sleep-deprived misery), I know that every woman has to find her own path, her own definition of ‘balance,’ and I don’t think I’d be so thrown by a “middle-class white ladies, you are doing it wrong!” article or book, partially because there’s just so damn many of them (people in publishing must have data showing that insecure middle-class white ladies will buy any book that tells them they’re failing). I believe that my daughters have not just survived but thrived by having a mom who worked and a community of grown-ups who’ve helped raise them – their sitters, my assistant, their grandmothers, aunts and uncles and cousins and teachers who all have different skills and different histories and different points of view, and who all want the best for my girls. And, because I had some balance in my life, because I got to spend a few hours every day being a grown-up and doing the work I love, I was able to really enjoy my children when I was with them, and be a better mom than if I’d insisted on being the only one responsible.

Things have only gotten better as my kids have gotten older. I feel like every age is my new favorite! Three was delicious, and four was fantastic, and five was great, and, honestly, I’d love to freeze them at exactly where they are right now and keep them at six and eleven forever, where they’re old enough to have a conversation with, old enough to take to a nice dinner, old enough that they can make their own beds and handle their own wiping duties but still very much kids.

  1. Can you tell me one fact about yourself that, after brief thought, you do not think you have ever shared in an interview before?  Please?

I’m probably the most makeup-challenged woman you will ever meet. I blame this on my mother, who never wore makeup, which meant there was nothing in the house for me to experiment with when I was a kid. Plus, I have very sensitive eyes (I tried to get contact lenses for my wedding, and, after the third time I almost kicked the poor ophthalmologist who was trying to put them in, I gave up and squinted through the entire thing). So, I can’t wear contacts, I flinch and cringe at the thought of an eyelash curler, have to do deep-breathing exercises while having eyeliner applied. It’s an ordeal.

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