Jessica Grose is an opinion writer at the New York Times, where she has a newsletter on parenting and often writes candidly about taboo topics like waiting to find out if she’s miscarried or choosing to take antidepressants while expecting. Her latest book, Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood (out December 6), combines memoir with scientific, historical, and contemporary reporting to illuminate the often difficult and highly politicized experience of being a mother in America today. She’s a relentless advocate for a wide range of ways to parent, and tries to level with readers about the reality of what they see online.
Grose, who turned 40 this year (“Everyone deals with their increasing decrepitude in their own way”), has also written two novels, Sad Desk Salad and Soulmates, and two nonfiction titles, Home Economics: How Couples Manage Their Money and Love, Mom, with Doree Shafrir. She was also the founding editor-in-chief of Lenny Letter, the newsletter and website from Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner. Here, the self-described member of “the cult of Orange Theory” talks to the Cut about the value and vulnerability in storytelling, why her parents were critical to writing this book, and how she’s celebrating the holidays this season. Grose lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughters, ages 6 and 9. Here’s how she gets it done.
On starting her day:
My husband once described waking up with kids as getting shot out of a cannon. And it still does feel that way sometimes — there’s no gradual, leisurely wake-up. Immediately it’s just Things need to start happening.
All the alarms in the house go off at seven. And they each [Grose’s daughters] have their own little alarm that they set themselves the night before. And so we are all allegedly awake at 7 a.m. On paper that is true, kind of, but like, what is “awake”? Are your eyes open? Have you actually left your bed?
My husband brings me coffee in bed. This is one of his finest qualities. I wish we had put it in our marriage vows. I drink coffee with cream and sugar. I’m like a child, I want it as close to a milkshake as possible. Never plant milk. Always light and sweet.
On a typical workday:
I am a complete hermit and I could be perfectly happy never leaving a ten-block radius. But I’m trying to. The pandemic really played to my worst impulses on that. I look like a goblin most days. Especially writing days, where I am head-down working on a column, which is two days a week, I will not get dressed until it’s done. I don’t shower. I look like the Gremlin. I am fully absorbed in writing and it takes a lot of silent concentration.
I’m trying to be more of a public human being now. It’s tough. If I’m going into the office, I like to try to make an effort. Usually jeans, heels, and a nice top is my go-to, but I’ll wear dresses and tights and boots. When I’m in the office or leaving to go somewhere to report, the structure of my day is really different and I need to be very efficient. I need to be strict about what time is being spent doing what thing, just because I have to factor in a 40-minute commute.
On the book’s first chapter, about her own pregnancy and its difficulties:
I try not to think about it anymore because it was really scary and painful. And to write that chapter in particular, I tried to put myself back into how I felt every day when I was really sick and I didn’t know that I was going to get better. I didn’t know how long it was going to last. I didn’t know if it would ultimately harm the pregnancy to be throwing up so much and to be so depressed. I am trying to get used to the fact that I’m gonna have to talk about it — over and over and over — because I’ve written about it. It is getting easier, but it’s still sad to think about and sad to think about other folks who are probably experiencing all that right now and feeling that extra layer of guilt on top of also feeling very physically bad.
On getting personal and drawing boundaries:
When you’re reporting, even if it is sort of adjacent to what you’re living through, you can have some distance from it. I think if I had to write personal essays every week, it would be much harder. But that’s the joy of getting to report and having that be such a big part of my job. I can explore these issues that are obviously incredibly important without always having to feel like I am excavating the most painful moments of my life for everyone to gawk at.
On social-media parenting:
Most of us know intellectually that what we are seeing on social media isn’t “real,” that there’s dirty laundry shoved in a closet off-camera, or the toddler in a picture had a meltdown at some point during that photo shoot. But I think seeing so many images all the time, as we all do in the modern world, does something to us subconsciously, and sets our expectations of the ideal at a certain place that is not attainable for basically anyone. So, I think pointing out the artifice matters, if only to constantly be reminding ourselves that these images shouldn’t be used for aspiration, even if they are incredibly beautiful and seductive to look at.
On how parenting writing is framed:
There’s an assumption that these issues are only vital and super-relevant when you yourself are living through them. And I don’t feel that way. Raising the next generation is and should be a concern to everyone. It touches politics, it touches education. Just this year, the formula crisis and Roe were huge issues. Those sorts of things are going to happen all the time and have nothing to do with the age of my children. I’m way past the time where I will ever be able to benefit from paid leave, and yet I still think that the politics of it and continuing to cover it is interesting and important.
On the people who help her get it done:
This book would not have been written if we had not moved in with my parents during the pandemic. My parents are in their early 70s, and they are in really great health. The fact that I not only live near my parents, but that my parents are in good enough shape to help us with our kids, is a privilege and one kind of generational wealth that I feel needs to be talked about more. It’s top of mind for me because I did a piece about folks who are struggling in the sandwich generation right now.
My parents were lovely enough to allow us to move in with them in May or June 2020, and they were incredible. They saved us. I wrote the proposal that summer. It wouldn’t have happened without them. Because I have a full-time job, once I sold it I basically worked six or seven days [a week]. I would do reading for the book at night, and then I would block off Sunday morning, when my husband would take the kids and I would write until I couldn’t anymore. Then I had a book leave that was eight or nine weeks, during which I tried to take at least one day off a week.
On celebrating the holidays:
I am Jewish, my husband is not. We celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. We have a menorah that is one of the few things that my great-grandmother took with her when she left Austria in 1938 or 1939. It’s a very modest menorah, but it was one of the very few things she could take with her when she left. I still feel like I’m grappling with how to teach my kids about being Jewish and what to teach them about being Jewish, but it is very meaningful to me that we light the candles and do the prayers with that specific menorah. I feel very lucky to have it.
On her family’s evening routine:
We get home and I let the kids watch a little TV while I cook. I also get a vegetable in at that time — they will eat whole raw bell peppers, which I’m like, That’s nasty to me, but great. God bless. They eat the pepper or carrots or whatever so they don’t whine while I’m making dinner. It’s one of the domestic tasks that I actually really enjoy. I have a set of rotating recipes that take half an hour or less to make. So they watch an episode of TV and by the time it’s over, dinner is usually [ready]. We try to eat as a family as much as possible.
That post-dinner, pre-bedtime hour when they do homework, I catch up on work. If there’s stuff that needs to happen, it will happen between 6 and 8:30 because basically I turn into a pumpkin and my brain doesn’t work well after 9 p.m.
[The kids’] bedtime is officially 8:30. Even though they’re different ages, we put them in their rooms at the same time. The older one stays up reading as late as she wants, whereas the younger one falls asleep immediately. After that, I usually get in bed and watch TV until my brain melts into my shoulders. I watch a lot of Bravo, a lot of true crime.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.