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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hurried Woman

Yesterday, during a rushed trip to the library, a book title grabbed my attention: The Hurried Woman Syndrome: A Seven-Step Program to Conquer Fatigue, Control Weight, and Restore Passion to Your Relationship. Although I don’t have time to read all seven steps of any program, I grabbed the book and proceeded to skim bits of it at red lights on our drive downtown. I was annoyed by the time we hit the Art Museum.

I’m sure reading at red lights must be a symptom of Hurried Woman Syndrome. I can certainly relate to the problem of feeling overwhelmed with things to do, and I agree with the author that chronic stress is bad for our health. What annoyed me was the author’s implication that the stresses women face are ours alone to deal with. Sure taking vitamins and exercising is good advice for combating stress, but why are so many of us stressed out to begin with? And why is this a woman’s syndrome? I thought of The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars (by my friend Miriam Peskowitz) which frames the stresses parents face as social problems that affect men, women and children, not just matters for us to deal with as individual already guilt-ridden women.

No such feminist perspective from Brent Bost, author of The Hurried Woman Syndrome. In fact when Bost noticed his wife was coming down with the same stress symptoms as many of his patients, did he cut back his twelve- to fourteen-hour workdays as a gynecologist to help her raise their four sons? No. Instead Bost decided to survey other ob-gyns to come up with a solution to what he calls “a significant medical problem.” Although he acknowledges that even mothers who work full time do more parenting, housework and carpooling than their spouses, getting men to carry more of the burden is not one of the seven steps. On the contrary, Bost advises women to “avoid nagging” and “don’t try to change him.”

Skimming Bost’s book got me thinking about the sources of my own stress. I acknowledge that much of it is self-imposed, as he suggests. I really don’t need to read at red lights (and usually don’t). Honestly, I have been trying to slow down since vacation and do feel a bit less harried. However, some of my stress just comes from the reality of having children who argue with each other and snap themselves with bungy cords while I’m on the telephone and ask questions incessantly, especially when I’m trying to make a left turn at a busy intersection. For example, here are just a few of my son’s recent car questions:
Mom, why is pee yellow? Why is it called a highway when some highways aren’t even high? Is that woman (on the radio) named Mary Cantell, or is it Mary Can’t Tell, like you can’t tell anyone that her name is Mary? Mama, is it OK to eat your sweat?

These questions come pretty much non-stop from sunrise until well after sunset. Frankly, I have no idea why pee is yellow. That’s why we need school to start…soon!

And that brings me to the stressors that have a wider social dimension, like the lack of good, flexible childcare (one of the issues Miriam talks about). Camps are over for the summer and school doesn’t start for two more weeks, and I know I’m not the only mother struggling with this.

Another stressor is our country’s lack of a national health care system. Although we are all thrilled that my husband Tom is starting a new job after Labor Day, it turns out that he won’t get health insurance from his new employers for three months, so we are going to have to pay over $1000 a month to stay insured during the interim. (That's not counting the minimum of $80 per month we pay in prescription co-pays or the $50 ER visit we had a few weeks ago. That's just the insurance in case something really bad happens.) I know many parents who work longer hours than they would like just for the health insurance. Solving this problem is not one of Bost’s seven steps either.

In general, Bost’s book brings me back to one of my favorite questions: What do we need the serenity to accept, and what do we need the courage to change? Bost talks about individual change, and many of his suggestions for taking control of our lives are good. For example, I can stop reading at red lights or remind myself that I want to encourage my son's inquisitive nature when he's asking non-stop questions. There are other things I just can't change, however, like the fact that I have young children and an aging mother simultaneously. For those situations, I need grace and serenity. And then there are the things that I can't change myself, but that we as a society could change if we put our collective minds to it. If we really have an epidemic of chronically stressed people (especially parents), it seems to me it's time we put our heads together to see how we might make life easier. Instead of more self-help books, perhaps we could start with childcare for late August.


Anonymous Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system. Health insurance is a major aspect to many.

8:10 PM  

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