Elisabeth Glas * Elisabeth Glas * September 11, 2015 * 220 Pages
Initially, I thought this book was a novel. The book title, coupled with the playfulness of the book cover, made me think it was going to be “light fiction with a point.” In actuality, Tom and Sherry is mostly nonfiction, written more along the lines of Lean In, Unfinished Business, All Joy and No Fun, and Thrive.
There IS a fictional component to this book, however. Characters Tom and Sherry appear in every chapter. They banter back-and-forth with each other about work pressures, family obligations, parenthood, relationships, and the social expectations they feel stifled by. While I didn’t find the inclusion of the fictional story helpful or entertaining (in fact, most of the dialogue between Tom and Sherry seemed somewhat contrived and cheesy to me), I think author Elisabeth Glas intended to use their story as an aide to better illustrate the book’s main points.
Truthfully, though, the message here is pretty simple. Glas believes that the key to “having it all” is to eliminate choices motivated by guilt. She argues that we do more (or sometimes less) than we want or need to because we are trapped by antiquated social expectations of what men and women “should” do as workers and parents. In her opinion, if we could just “eliminate guilt-driven choices, we [would] be able to eliminate wasted energy and time, allowing us to have it all within the course of a 24-hour day, every day.” So, in other words, guilt makes us waste our time. And Glas argues that once we eliminate guilt, areas of waste will become obvious. Eliminate the waste, and, voila!, your kids will be ready to go to school 30 minutes before schedule.
If that argument sounds overly-general and vague, well, that’s because it is. “Guilt-driven choices” covers a lot of ground. It’s a nebulous term that is difficult to pin down in real life. Glas acknowledges that different people will feel guilty about different things, but she has trouble giving realistic and convincing examples of what even SOME people might feel guilty about. The few examples she does give are too cliche to be relevant. For example: Mom makes dinner, washes dishes, puts the baby down, and then folds laundry…while Dad sits in the easy chair and watches TV. Mom could use some help, but she feels guilty about not being able to do what is expected of her as the primary caregiver, so she never asks Dad to lend a hand. When I read that example, I thought, What century is this? I’m 35, married, with three kids, and NO ONE I know lives like that. It’s a tired example from a gone generation, and I think we are mostly past it.
I think Glas is correct in acknowledging that gender stereotypes absolutely still exist and that guilt helps keep them alive. But our inability to find balance in our lives is not COMPLETELY about our own personal feelings of guilt, right? What about lack of access to child care options? No paternity leave or paid maternity leave? Is Glas saying that if we stopped feeling guilty we would fight harder for these benefits? I’m just not sure.
Ultimately, I felt like Glas didn’t acknowledge the true complexity of the “work-life balance” struggle, so her solution seemed out-of-touch and unrealistic to me. As someone who is in the parenting trenches everyday, I just really had trouble finding concrete advice in here that I could use.