Struggling With Parenthood In Utopic 'Motherland'

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Park Slope has become the "it" neighborhood to raise a family in Brooklyn. The new novel Motherland gives a tour of the neighborhood's brownstones, European coffee shops and personalities — in particular, the mothers of Park Slope, who definitely have a certain look.

"She might wear a Baby Bjorn. She's incredibly concerned about organic milk. You might see her walking down the street with a slightly expensive stroller, a kid inside it, and a dog kind of pulling them all half the way down the street," author Amy Sohn tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Laura Sullivan.

"It's really a way of thinking more than it is a household income," Sohn says of the affluent mothers.

While Motherland zeros in on the lives of Park Slope parents, it's more focused on partying and infidelity rather than diapers and teething.

One mother is trying to keep the truth about her son's paternity from her husband. Another character is adjusting to being a single mom after her husband leaves her for a transexual. And a gay dad, uncomfortable with his partner's decision to adopt another son, turns to alcohol and sex with strangers he finds through an iPhone app.

Sohn, who lives in Park Slope, admits she's writing about her neighborhood as if it were interesting. She calls her novel an imagined soap opera of what might take place behind her neighbors' closed doors.

High drama aside, Sohn is commenting on something very real. She believes parents of her generation, those in their late 30s and early 40s, are putting too much pressure on themselves to have a perfect family.

"What happens in Motherland is it comes back to haunt them," she says. "All the sort of utopia they've tried to create kind of shatters before their eyes and they're left to really look around and wonder what an honest life is and who they really are."

These types of parents are realizing that the utopia they've constructed around family is partly a myth, Sohn says.

"The way that they're reacting against that is to kind of pretend that they're not moms and pretend they don't have these responsibilities and misbehave a little," she says.

Sohn has dubbed these types of parents as the "regressives": parents who behave more like 20somethings than 40somethings, all the while terrified of admitting the difficulties of marriage and parenthood.

"It's almost a substitute for the real kind of rebellion that takes genuine courage," she says.

Instead of confronting problems like whether to have more children or if they need to go back to work, they leave their responsibilities at the door of a party.

But Sohn doesn't point the finger at women themselves. She says there's a real lack of community support that existed when she was growing up in Brookyln in the 1970s.

Even though Park Slope has seemingly transformed into a neighborhood that's got it all, Sohn says she's noticed some parents turn inward when dealing with parenting issues and not to their friends or parents.

"Where are we getting our advice about child rearing? From random strangers on the Internet messages boards," she says. "It's not a good place to go when you're trying to figure out how to get a child to sleep through the night."

Some of Sohn's neighbors weren't too fond of her portrayal of Park Slope residents in her last novel, Prospect Park West. Now, she's become a bit of a persona non grata in her neighborhood.

"I have been wearing sunglasses, somewhat intentionally," she says.

Luckily, most of Park Slope is empty now and on vacation.

"Once we hit Labor Day, it's all about getting the kids back to school," she says. "They're going to be onto their own family and own school supplies and they'll forget to be mad at me for being such a rabble-rouser."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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