A mother who works 60 hours a week wonders if going to church could help her cope with the daily frustrations of life. Mariella Frostrup tells her she must find a way to let off steam
The dilemma I feel angry a lot at the moment – I'm taking it out on my husband, and because my two-year-old is inseparable from him I'm worried I'm also hurting him when I head for the front door. I'm so frustrated. I'm the main breadwinner and I work 60 hours a week while my husband and mother-in-law look after our children. It's the best-case scenario, but it drives me mad. My husband constantly whines about how tired he is from his 27-hour working week. When I'm at home I'm in primary care of the children. I would find the sick feminist joke that is my life funny and enjoyable if I was appreciated, but I'm not remotely. I have my character assassinated on a daily basis. Do you think church is the answer? I don't believe in God, but all that singing and being grateful has to help, surely?
Mariella replies It surely has. Who'd have thought that at this point in the 21st century, in an increasingly secular society, we'd need God's house more than ever? The unfairness of your situation is writ large for all to see so I'll refrain from my customary feminist rant. Where should those in need turn? Facebook? Mumsnet? The songs and solace offered by the church have taken on a compelling new allure. Led by kindly, cuddly, old-world characters like Rowan Williams who you suspect, given 10 minutes audience, would really understand your problems, the church is far more appealing in a crisis than social services, not least because you don't need to go through a complex automated phone service to reach a human being.
Embracing religion is one of the few guaranteed ways of joining a real- life community, carving out a blame-free 90 minutes a week for yourself against the backdrop of Mass, and experiencing a cathartic blast of exuberance during hymn singing. I'm more naturally tilted towards Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens's atheism, but surely even they would appreciate that desperate times lead to inexplicable choices?
Nobody understands what you are going through better than the many millions of other women going through exactly the same thing. Your letter offers further proof of the extent to which we're all struggling to marry post-feminist expectations with our primitive instincts in an era where work is no longer a choice but a necessity for all but the supremely privileged or utterly selfless. Only a truly desperate creature would contemplate embracing a religion they don't believe in just to get some respite from their daily life.
Netball clubs, zumba classes and book clubs are a less philosophically taxing but nicely diverting option. Joining female contemporaries in any group activity on a regular basis is a surefire way to stop my head exploding, and it sounds like you too need to release some of that pent-up pressure. Steam disposal is a survival secret men have pursued for centuries – hence the endless array of essential extracurricular activities they have to indulge in, from football matches to DIY, cycling to engine assembly.
Rather than joining the masses dashing from one megastore to the next, spending money they don't have on things they don't need, where better to spend leisure time than in the house of the Lord? Mother-in-law and partner will be banished to the back of your brain as you belt out "Jerusalem" and count your blessings. Let's bring back poetry clubs and knitting circles, village bakes and children's Sunday clubs, too. I'd nod in acquiescence to a mythical life in the hereafter in return for some peace and quiet in the here and now. It's either that or join the WI.
The Thatcher fantasy has become our reality. Community is a thing of the past, social networks are increasingly in cyberspace, not outside your front door, and we're all being worn down by the death throes of our once-great civilisation. The good news is that though work adds an extra eight hours to your already packed day, it also gives you an opportunity to talk to people who aren't asking where they've left their socks and what's for supper. In the bosom of the working world you probably thought your husband would wait on you hand and foot in gratitude for your efforts. Was that a derisive snort I just heard from the entire female population? Any word that prefixes "holidays", unless it's "working", creates an oxymoron for hard-pressed mothers. I wish I had a magic answer, mainly selfishly, because my own life would be so vastly improved. But I don't. Church seems as good a place as any to start your search for salvation!