A number of readers have zeroed in on the issue of Teale’s self-doubt and although it is certainly disturbing at times, I think it’s important to shine a light on the topic and see what crawls out to meet us. While most of us maintain a healthy sense of our own self-worth most of the time, I know more than a few highly successful people who have struggled at one time or another with the niggling question of their value in the world. And while these amazing folks may feel quite secure about their professional capabilities, when it comes to those cold nights alone with their own company, they are sometimes adrift in the neurosis of self-examination. The moment passes, however, and at the next exhilarating workplace experience, they are back on track and ready for the next adventure.
Teale, on the other hand, does not seem to have been able to pull herself out of her doldrums. With a husband who insinuated by words and behavior that she really wasn’t quite “good enough,” virtually no workplace success to fall back on, and few friends to provide a nourishing connection to her better self, she takes the slide down into a smaller life and the despair that goes with feeling inadequate. I would add to that the fact that when Teale checked out of the workforce to stay home with her son, she experienced the loneliness that many of us have met when the fantasy of at-home-motherhood doesn’t quite match the reality. I’ve done that gig myself, and it’s far harder than it looks!
In fact, I will make a confession here: at one point in my life I was a full-bore working professional writer who viewed women who stayed home with their children as being willfully unemployable, or suspiciously unmotivated. I didn’t have the luxury of choice at the time – I was a single mother and I had to work, and I suspect there may have been some resentment in my disdainful attitude. I was thoroughly cured of any arrogance around the issue after spending two years at homefull-time with my two youngest children, lovely little folks who were born 22 months apart.
It nearly killed me.
What I found particularly difficult, other than everything, was the fact that I was spending endless hours in repetitive jobs that never stayed “finished.” Changing diapers, preparing meals, mopping up spills, doing laundry – all on five hours of sporadic sleep. While I did it all with love, and I was completely devoted to my family, I had to make some changes to my sense of who I was in order to cope. Maybe some of us are born knowing how to do that with ease and grace but I was not of their number.
I think it’s possible that Teale’s sense of who she was depended entirely on the people around her, and when they didn’t reflect back to her an image of world-beating excellence, she shrank. It took one small event near the end of the book to jolt her onto the path of discovering a stronger sense of who she really was. Thank goodness!