Cover image from Amazon.com
I really enjoyed reading Jennifer L. Scott’s book Lessons from Madame Chic and it kicked off my new interest in all things French. Her second book, At Home with Madame Chic, came out earlier this month and I finished reading it last week.
I liked the book, but–and I hate to say it–I was a bit disappointed in it. Scott’s first book focused mostly on individual French-inspired pursuits (like finding your personal style and dressing better in your daily life), but At Home with Madame Chic is intended as a guide to cultivating a French-like home life. However, most of the advice repeated lessons that I had picked up on in the first book–like use your best linens and tableware, play more music, light candles, plan and eat more meals at home, invite friends over more often, etc.
The remainder of the book read, to me, like an overwhelming list of all the tasks that good housekeeping involves–meal planning, shopping, cooking, laundry, cleaning, childcare, errands, etc. Even just reading the recommended tasks and schedules made me feel breathless and tired. I don’t see how it all fits in and gets done, even with Scott’s tips.
The book is good, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Lessons from Madame Chic. Maybe I just can’t relate to it. Scott is in a very busy season of her life right now–she’s raising two young children as a stay-at-home mother who also works as a writer and blogger. In contrast, I don’t have small children, I work outside the home, and I probably have much lower standards for housekeeping than Scott–I’m content to let a lot of cleaning slide. 😉
Like most information I receive about marriage and children, too, this book reinforces my (current) choices to postpone (and maybe avoid altogether) marriage and childbearing. It’s easy to forget how hard and busy life is for wives/mothers of young children–and it’s too easy (and ignorant) to say that stay-at-home mothers have plenty of flexibility and time. Scott’s days are filled to the brim and precisely scheduled around school, activities, errands, etc. There are no long naps or leisurely chunks of free time. Also, when your workplace is your home, it seems like you’re never off-duty. There’s always something to be done.
I also noticed that Scott’s experience directly reflects a depressing reality of life for many American women today–the double-duty of prime responsibility for both a career and the keeping of the home. Scott uses the word “help” a lot in her housekeeping discussions–as in, “ask and encourage your family to help you care for the house.” The choice of the word “help” bugs me because it denotes that the speaker is still primarily and singularly responsible for getting everything done…and I don’t agree with that, personally, given that Scott has a successful writing career of her own and provides almost all of the care for two young children. Her twin roles of writer and caretaker are to me, at the very least, equal to her husband’s career demands, but he seems (from what I gather from the book) exempt from most housework and regular tasks.
I’m sure Scott would not be interested in the advice of a stranger who doesn’t know the real Scott or her life. I totally get that. But if she was interested in my two cents, I would encourage her to change the language that she uses regarding housework. We women should avoid using the word “help” so that our families learn that housework falls equally to all members of the household who are employed in outside pursuits. Also, I would advise Scott to use language differently in another way–to speak up about and legitimize her own successful (and presumably demanding) career. She writes books and articles, runs a successful blog, and makes prestigious public speaking appearances–but I didn’t really learn any of that from the book (just from her blog!).
All of these points are not to say, however, that there is not joy and lightness in the book. There certainly is. There’s a lot of light and music and dancing in Scott’s happy household, and that sounds lovely. Scott also emphasizes the need to go with the flow of life when original plans are derailed–to lean into unplanned events and the ebbs and flows of energy that make up a day or a week. Scott seems approachable and comfortable, too–she emphasizes that casual dining, decorating, and entertaining are just as good as their formal counterparts, and that it’s all about connecting with and caring for the people you love, not trying to impress them. I really appreciated all these points.
Overall, this book really made me think–and that’s the point, right?! 🙂 What’s funny, though, is that it made me think more about the challenging realities of home life for working women in America rather than French housekeeping methods. But I’m sure many working women in France experience many of the same outdated expectations as American women. How do we cultivate a good homelife without reverting to old gender roles or lopsided workloads?