To see what’s wrong with the state of womanhood today let’s take a look at Isabel Kallman. In the old days, mothers learned from each other, and more than anything else, from experience. But, most importantly, they had children because being a mother was what they wanted to do, and just part of the natural order of things. Not so in our brave new world, where motherhood is just another notch in the belt for ambitious women, and having a single child can make you an “expert” if you know how to spin it. No June Cleaver motherhood for this bunch – it’s all about showing who knows best, and it ain’t Dad. Of course, this super mom has a nanny, and a housekeeper.
Before becoming a mom, Isabel was a senior VP at Salomon Smith Barney, working “100 hours a week.” (Let’s just ignore the fact that that would be a 16 hour day, six days a week, but, hey, part of the spin is exaggeration.) But their firstborn was still “the hardest job I ever tackled.” Even those who make a living from the new power moms are a little taken aback. Carol Zuckerman, director of admissions for the Sunshine Kids Club on East 83rd in NYC, says “They put more energy into it than my generation. Like what’s the best stroller, the best nursery school, the best class – all of it. It’s not like everyone doesn’t want what’s best for their child, but to me, it seems people have a more professional attitude toward raising their children. A lot of it is very intellectually thought out and very scheduled, almost like they have a business plan for their children.”
And Isabel certainly has a plan, for a cable on demand channel offering the “latest, best of breed information” on child rearing – Alpha Mom TV is for “the new breed of ‘go to’ moms who are constantly looking to be ahead of the curve and ‘in the know’ on the newest innovations, hippest trends and research breakthroughs.” Isabel describes her customers as “the maven of mommyhood, the leader of the pack, definitely dominant.” Her business partner, Vicky Germaise, makes fun of the idea of the “soft and mushy mom. Come on, Betty Crocker’s Over!” These moms give you the impression they would punch the lights out of granny if she got in their way.
For Isabel, “motherhood did not come naturally to me. Maybe for some it’s innate, but for me, it wasn’t, and I learned it by pounding pavement in New York.”
Her bosses and clients described Isabel as fantastic, phenomenal marketing person…very hungry, very ambitious, and “relentless.” She describes herself as “very, very type A, very aggressive.” At some point, while debating other career options, and bored by her success on Wall Street, she and her husband decided to have a baby; something we really dedicated time in our schedules for.” Everyone said “follow your instincts,” but she “didn’t have the maternal instinct at all.” She “dived into motherhood in such a devoted way, not dissimilar to how she approached her job.” But part of the job was delegation: her son was just two weeks old when she hired a night nurse; at 5 months she got a nanny; after a year, she also got a babysitter, plus help from father and an intern in her business. “While the village watched him, she set out to master motherhood.”
Thus, she and her partner, who have one child between them, and that child only 2 years old, are now positioning themselves as the motherhood experts. But this should not come as any surprise, as this sort of hypocrisy, where motherhood has little to do with love of parenting but everything to do with ambition, is not incidental to the modern world, but a core and indispensable part of it. Like Hillary Clinton’s rise to power on the coattails of her husband or Martha Stewart’s ruthless pursuit of domestic bliss, all are part of the modern ideal, where how you achieve success really isn’t very important; the façade of expertise translates into real wealth and power.
Of course, the entire idea flies in the face of recent evidence, skillfully articulated by Steven Levitt and in his recent book Freakonomics, suggesting that, while the genetic inheritance in children matters very much, little of the kind of things suggested by the Alpha Mom program make any real difference in the results. But, hey, if you can use the idea to make a lot of money, it works, right? Most of the real experts pooh-pay the idea of the “perfect mother,” but that is certainly Isabel’s goal, or at least in business that is her goal. Even one of the people she would like to put on her TV programming, psychoanalyst Michelle Ascher Dunn, says that “human DNA is very hearty, that its really hard to go wrong as a parent” – good advice, unless you’re in the business of selling precision targeted Alpha Mom parenting advice.
Germiase and Kallman say, in all seriousness, that they intend to use the video on demand TV programming as a first step to “conquer the world” with a media empire built around the needs of alpha parents, to include toys, beauty products, books, music, etc. and modeled after every woman’s hero, Oprah, and to be called AlphaMomnimedia.
To show how misplaced this all is, but to give you an idea of the priorities that these women aspire to, Isabel wept when her child was rejected from the “best” preschool program for 2 year olds. (What with all her educational material, the nanny, the interns, the other paid help, etc., one might be forgiven for thinking that Isabel could home school the child until, say, its 4th birthday.)
“You know what I love? I have absolute control over my day. I carve out the time I want with my son and the time I want with my husband. Everything is on my own terms,” says Isabel. If this sounds more to you like the typical selfish, completely self-centered New York bitch than the perfect mom, well, maybe you’re right. She says she works more than 100 hours a week now, but “her son can walk into my office whenever he wants” – in other words, he does not need to make an appointment.
As opposed to the totally research driven Isabela, her husband seems to have a more natural response, referring to Ryland’s birth as a love that was “pure and instinctual”, and believing parenting should be about an “instinct of what’s right and common sense,” but, what with the ogre of motherhood around, he says “maybe I haven’t dared to criticize her.” At one point he does dare to say that he was “master of the house before their son was born,” a careless statement for which he is taken to task by his Alpha wife. But at this point, no one disputes that the Alpha boy is master of the house, and is referred to by his father as “the little prince.” Yet, even the Alpha Mom basically, like most moms, does whatever it takes to shut the kid up – like giving the kid a cookie.