Childrearing

Amy Sohn Tells Mommyish Why Gen X Parents Are Spoiled

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Amy Sohn‘s much anticipated Brooklyn-based novel on the dissatisfaction of urban parenthood comes to us just two years following the success of Prospect Park West. In this sequel, Motherland, we’re once again confronted with the complex motherhoods of Melora Leigh, celebrity mother now divorced from Stuart Ashby, and nonfamous Park Sloper Rebecca, who secretly had an affair with him. Thrown in with a cast of new characters, including double daddies Marco and Todd, we’re right back at Prospect Park Food Coop, walking the streets of Seventh Avenue, and minding the extensive stroller parking.

Author and mother Sohn shares with us why her philandering characters can’t keep it in their pants and why most media depictions of motherhood are pretty unflattering.

It’s an understatement to say that the characters of Motherland are dissatisfied with their marriages. Would you say that they are also dissatisfied with parenthood?

They struggle with it, like we all do. Rebecca has a very specific problem regarding a secret she has been keeping about her son. Melora has always been disconnected from her son because she has so much child care and had ambivalence about motherhood to begin with. Marco doesn’t want a second child and his husband does, so he’s really stuck — he loves being a father but isn’t ready to be a father of two. Gottlieb is jealous of the incredible physical bond that his sons have with their mother, and Karen is realizing that when your life is falling apart it’s tougher to be a strict disciplinarian. For her, that’s a good thing. She has to improvise more, compromise, and be more lax with her son than she used to be.

Park Slope in Brooklyn, where Motherland is set, has the reputation for being a breeder’s paradise. The novel complicates that notion, as did Prospect Park West, with rampant infidelity, drug use, and deeply unhappy marriages. Are you commenting on that particular neighborhood or modern parenting in general?

I am using Park Slope as a lens to talk about modern parenting. It’s such a rich locus. We are internationally known to the point where the parent coordinator at one of the public schools gets calls daily from French and German parents moving to NYC who want to tour the school. But I don’t think the issues in my novel are unique to Park Slope. Modern marriage is so tricky. The roles are ill-defined (parent/child, husband/wife, leisure/work) and it leads to a lot of confusion for everyone. We have female breadwinners,  SAHDs, parents who want to be friends with their kids, self-employed or over-employed parents who never stop working and are on devices all the time. No one finishes work at five o’clock any more and it makes family life much more difficult than it was 40 years ago. Park Slope is my Peyton Place but there are many Park Slopes in many American cities.

As you said, Motherland explores a lot of modern parenting avenues, such as same-sex parents, single parents, and adoption. With them are more traditional parenting dynamics. But what are you seeking to say by paralleling say, a gay daddy cruising on Grindr with a heterosexual woman having birthed a baby from an affair? 

As much as I wanted to explore the confines of bourgeois life and nuclear families, I also wanted to explore the odder, unique aspects of modern parenting.  In a culture of extreme breastfeeding a woman may not realize she is fertile as long as she’s breastfeeding. That wasn’t an issue in the 1940s when few mothers breastfed. Grindr has only been around a couple years and has revolutionized gay dating, and some of the men on Grindr are dads. Modern parents today include single moms by choice, moms who chose never to marry, and single moms by divorce. There are so many new kinds of parents that I felt it was my duty to showcase them.

The main characters, all parents, do love their children. But the kids seem to take a back seat to the many other dramas or dilemmas in the character’s lives. Would you describe these characters as self-obsessed or just trying to cope with their circumstances? Or neither?

The characters’ primary problems are with their romantic relationships and not with their kids. The kids are very deliberately in the background in this novel. That’s because I wanted my characters to be having extreme adventures and those are hard with kids in tow. Some of the characters are self-obsessed but they are also in crisis and people in crisis become self-obsessed. They are trying to live again after feeling dead for a long time, and in the process of “living” again some don’t make choices that are the best for their children. But this has been a dilemma for parents as old as time. The difference is that I’m trying to show female infidelity when many American novels of the past half-century have been more interested in male infidelity.

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