How Hard Can it Be? is the sequel to Allison Pearson’s 2002 novel I Don’t Know How She Does It, offering a look at juggling teenagers with elderly parents, and lying about your age to return to work.
Two very small children. A high-profile career. A woman in her mid-thirties.
It’s no longer an unusual story, but back in 2002 it became the basis of an international bestseller called I don’t Know How She Does It.
Written by then first time novelist Allison Pearson, the book later became the basis of a movie by the same name, staring Sarah Jessica Parker as its chief protagonist Kate Reddy.
The book was essentially a look at balancing middle-class motherhood with a big career, and all the challenges – including the sexual harassment, lack of sleep and other things – that come along with it.
Now in 2017, the key character Kate Reddy is approaching 50. She’s been out of the workforce for seven years, has two teenagers, is renovating a house, and has a husband whose pretty much useless with the kids and going through some kind of mid-life crisis that involves an obsession with cycling. To top it all off, Kate’s experiencing menopause. And she needs to desperately return to work to support her family.
So Kate now offers a different kind of story about modern motherhood – one that examines what happens to women when they get past the juggle of babies, toddlers and young children. Her fast-approaching 50th birthday is the centrepiece of Pearson’s sequel called How Hard Can It Be.
And how hard can it be?
Well I’m sure plenty of women in our audience know exactly how hard it can be and could relate (and find the humour) in Kate’s account. She’s now part of the “sandwich generation”, women squeezed between caring for kids and older parents – and in 2017 also attempting to have a career at the same time, or resurrect the career they gave up many years ago.
Kate needs to explain the seven year gap on her CV, since leaving her role as a hedge-fund manager. Having essentially been told by one recruiter she’s too old to re-build her career, she decides her next best option is to lie about her age.
That means hitting the gym – up to seven times a week – remaining calm and controlled in front of her much younger male boss, hiding her menopause systems (described in quite graphic detail by Pearson) and avoiding mentioning the real age of her kids.
Here’s Kate describing the job interview, in front of a four-person panel, three of them male — the fourth a woman, from HR of course.
“Why do you think you are right for this role, Kate? (Because I asm so desperate for a job in my industry, any job, that I will be your pathetically grateful slave and work harder than three younger guys combined?)
Can you tell us about your experience to date? (Well, up to a point, I can. Please do read my most imaginative CV.”
The narrative follows Kate dealing with her teenage daughter’s ‘Belfie’ incident (that’s a selfie, involving a bum) to attending ‘Women Returners’ meetings (“Women returners. They sound like ghost in some horror movie, don’t they?”) to job interviews, and finally into a city job with her old hedge fund.
It’s also intertwined with plenty of poignant and smart takes on the pressures affecting working mothers. It’s funny – laugh out loud funny – relatable, and at time exhausting, trying to keep up with Kate’s frantic pace and schedule (especially when you’re trying to steal pockets of time to read within your own schedule). Plenty of issues are covered and commented on, including sexual harassment, ageism, the ethics of writing your kid’s essays, selfies, women and social media, sexting and self harm.
But for women still in the “I don’t know how she does it” stage – juggling young kids and a career – this book is somewhat terrifying. It doesn’t get easier? Not even 15 years later?