UMass professor pokes fun at being a parent in new book

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Being a parent isn’t an exact science, but the media often portrays it otherwise, bombarding mothers and fathers everywhere on how to parent their children. Adjunct University of Massachusetts journalism professor Meredith O’Brien discusses that topic and more in her new book, A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum.

Released by Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing in January, the book is a compilation of 76 essays and columns that O’Brien – a mother of three – has written on a variety of parenting issues over the past eight years. O’Brien’s book is filled with experiences she’s had with her children, and the immense expectations the media places on parents to be perfect.

“The book shows how parenting has changed over the past eight years, at least in my eyes, through my experiences,” O’Brien said. “I thought they might make for interesting reading when put together, so I shopped around and looked for a publisher.”

O’Brien doesn’t claim to have all the answers to being a perfect parent, but the book delves into her reasoning that there’s no right or wrong way to raise your children.

“One theme that runs through the book is that I’m shocked about how parents are told what to do and how to do it,” she said. O’Brien wants to send out the message that not all parents are perfect, and they can’t live up to all of the standards that some parenting experts put out there.

“I hope parents can find the book humorous and take joy in that they’re not the only imperfect parents out there,” she added. “I think parents feel they have to appear as though they have it all going on, that everything’s perfect. The house is clean, the kids are perfect and getting straight A’s, they’re superstars in soccer and you have a thriving career,” she said. “The reality is most people don’t live like that, and hopefully this book will let people know that a lot more people than you think lead less-than-perfect parenting lives.”

A freelance writer, O’Brien brings a abundance of experience in writing and blogging about parenting through many different publications. In addition to her teaching at UMass, she currently pens a weblog – entitled Boston Mommy – on the Boston Herald’s website. She also writes a column for the Boston area publication, Parents and Kids and online for Working Moms in Pop Culture and Politics.

O’Brien – who received a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Political Science from UMass and a master’s degree in Political Science from American University – began her career covering politics for various newspapers, including the Springfield Republican. She co-authored the book The Buying of the President in 1996, but most of her work since then has dealt with parenting.

“It wasn’t anything that I ever set out or planned to do,” O’Brien said, in regards to her work on writing about parenting. “It just happened. I was home with twin babies, and I really couldn’t get out of the house. I didn’t have to leave my kids to go research anything and I could write about my experiences from home.

“Writers are advised to write what they know, and Meredith O’Brien has taken that advice to heart in her new book,” said Karen List, Chair of the UMass Journalism Department. “Since she juggles the demands of three young children, her freelance writing career and her teaching at UMass, it’s something of a miracle she could find the time to write the book at all. She’s an exceptionally committed and talented journalist, teacher and mom.”

O’Brien balances her responsibilities as a mother by doing her work while the kids are at school, but her book explains that there is no right or wrong way to make that balance work for any parent.

“I made some choices about my career and decided I would work from home because it would work better for my family,” she said. “But that’s not necessarily the answer for everybody. When you have kids it changes everything and you need to know that you need to work out what’s best for your family, and don’t let anyone else tell you what to do about it.

“One of the toughest things about being a parent is trying to figure out what the right decision is, in the moment, for anything,” she added. “And probably the reality is that there is no right decision. I always feel like there’s some right answer out there, but I somehow don’t know what that is, and I feel like I’m winging it most of the time.”

O’Brien’s 304-page book retails for $16 and can be found in major bookstores everywhere.

Eli Rosenswaike is a Collegian staff writer and can be reached at [email protected]