Sarah Bregel has joined a long list of mommy writers who converted their kids’ misfortune into career success. Bregel used her new status as professional divorcée to get published at Slate, with The work of marital maintenance is a privilege not everyone can afford.
Bregel’s piece is about another mother informing her that divorce has lowered her status:
A few months ago, my husband and I announced we were parting ways after eight years of marriage. The response has mostly been supportive, though a few reactions hinted at something else: the idea that I simply didn’t do enough to make my marriage work. This well-meaning acquaintance and would-be marriage counselor thought Target was the place to tell me what I’d done wrong, just as others had before: I didn’t take enough date nights; I didn’t employ enough teenage babysitters; I didn’t go to therapy with enough consistency. I also didn’t take “marital maintenance vacations,” (which is what vacays sans kids are called these days, or so I’ve been told by fellow parents who often take them). I didn’t even take staycations, which, if you didn’t know, is when the kids go to grandma’s for a week so you can stay in your pajamas and spoon-feed one another tiramisu.
To be clear, this is not about wealth, vacations, marriage counselors or baby sitters. It is also not about keeping romantic love alive (keeping mama happy). This is about class and status. Bregel’s status dropped when she signaled to the world around her that raising her kids in an intact home wasn’t a priority. Bregel’s kids are no longer a good match for the married mother’s kids to hang out with (although it sounds like this already wasn’t common). It would be considered crass for the married mother to say this outright, but she used the cover of advice to get this message across. Clearly Bregel got the message, which is why the “advice” stung so much.
Bregel responded in the only way she knew. She wrote an article accusing the mothers who remain married to their children’s father of having privilege. The subtext is sure they have higher status (for who can deny it?), but they didn’t earn it. Bregel closes with:
What’s not said enough is that becoming passing ships doesn’t just happen out of sheer negligence, though. Romantic dinners and getaways might be one helpful component to a lasting marriage. But imagining everyone has that kind of freedom is a certain kind of privilege. No, money might not buy happiness, but it does buy more date nights, therapy, and those ever-loving adults-only vacations I keep hearing about. I missed the boat on that one, but you go ahead and sip that piña colada at your all-inclusive resort. I’ll be over here babysitting all the neighborhood kids and writing about fitness gear at 4 a.m. so I can finance my divorce.
When Bregel submitted the piece to Slate, the editors obviously knew it was a winner. Married mothers can gloat over their higher status while feigning concern for the unfortunate. Baby mamas can join in mock solidarity to express their outrage at being excluded by the higher class married mothers, dooming them to the company of their fellow trashy single mothers. Everybody wins. Almost everybody that is.