Parenting lessons from ‘Bridget Jones’
so I wasn’t exactly chatting up the 30-something who seemed to speak
to women everywhere (including this 46-year-old!) when she burst onto
the scene in the ‘90s describing her struggles with, in no particular
order, weight, relationships and work.
it wasn’t Bridget, but the next best thing – the woman who knows her
best – author Helen Fielding, who is out with her third novel in the
massively popular series.
the latest book, “Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy,” Jones is still
lovable and hapless and a singleton, to borrow one of Fielding’s
favorite words. But Bridget’s also 51 now. How exactly did that
happen? Yes, I feel slightly old just writing her age.
entering middle age, Jones has changed in other ways. The one-time hater
of “smug marrieds” is a widow now. (Spoiler alert – the book
begins years after the beloved Mark Darcy, played by Colin Firth in the
movie versions, is killed by stepping on a landmine in Darfur.) She’s
also a mom of two young children, juggling lice infestations, video
games, irritating mass e-mails from parents at school, and sex with a
lover 20 years younger.
this were a video, I would say, “Re-rack the tape.” How many moms in
their 50s – or moms of any age – are scheduling nanny coverage for
rendezvous with their lovers?
that’s one of the many things we can learn about parenting in the
modern age from Bridget Jones the mom and from Fielding, who’s also in
her 50s and a mom of two (her kids are 7 and 9).
who says she loves being a “mum,” doesn’t like to talk about her
kids publicly. We can certainly understand that, but she did share how
grounded her two little ones keep her.
I was getting ready for the book tour, I was thinking, ‘Oh, what am I
going to wear?’ – which of course any woman would think,” Fielding
told me. “And I’ve got a red dress, and I was prancing around in
front of the mirror and I was singing ‘Lady in Red’ – and then my
son said, ‘Mummy, you look like a Virgin Air hostess.’ Not that
there’s anything wrong with Virgin Air hostesses, but that wasn’t
really the look I was aiming for. So I love the way they bring you down
to earth,” she said.
more of my conversation with Fielding. The interview has been edited for
clarity and brevity.
Wallace: Is this book mirroring your
life? You are a mom of two little ones and so is Bridget.
Fielding: Well, I think it’s always
easiest and best for me to write about things that I know and
understand. With all the Bridget books, it’s all based a little bit on
things that happened or might happen to me, or happened to me a little
bit, that I exaggerate or change to make it funnier or into a story. And
also people tell me things. I’ve found that women especially are
always coming up to me and telling me funny stories of things that
happened to them or things that went a bit wrong, almost as if I’m the
Pope or something, like they want some absolution: “Bless you, my
child, you are human.”
Wallace: What are the similarities between Bridget the
parent and Helen the parent?
Well, I think the more interesting thing is what
are the similarities between Bridget the singleton and Bridget the
parent. Because Bridget was always trying or thinking she ought to be
perfect, whereas in fact she was just human and muddling through. And I
think it’s interesting with parenthood that, as with being a woman,
the bar is quite high these days, or seems to be, so Bridget again is
reading self-help books about being a mother and thinking she has to
talk in a sort of calm voice all the time and then going, “Come to the
table, come to the table, one, two...” and then not knowing what
she’s going to do when she gets to three.
As a mom, as a writer, as an observer, why do you
think we’ve gotten to this point where we, as women, feel we have to
be perfect at work, perfect at home and perfect in every way?
I think it’s sad that that’s happened. And I
think Bridget’s done something to make people feel it’s all right to
be human and kind and fun and, you know, keep buggering on, muddle
through – and that’s something I feel really, really proud of.
You write a lot about children and parenting, and
also about sex as Bridget enjoys a relationship with a much younger man.
Is there a message here for women and moms?
She’s a comedy character and these are romantic
comedies, but to me comedy always comes out of truth, really, and
sometimes painful truth. So when I was writing about Bridget in her 30s,
it’s funny, but it was painful for Bridget. She did want to have
children. She had the usual confusions about it and the biological clock
was ticking and all the uncles were saying, “Why aren’t you
married?” And she was still saddled with this idea of being a tragic
barren spinster, which thankfully has now been replaced by the notion of
the singleton, which is great. And so I did wonder whether to leave
Bridget’s age fake. But then I thought, “No, I’m going to say
she’s in her 50s, and she’s still Bridget and life’s still going
You said you didn’t write this book with a
message. But we see Bridget as a woman in her 50s who is interested in
sexual relationships and not just running around in her mom jeans.
Aren’t you saying a woman can be sexy and empowered even when she’s
no longer in her 30s?
But of course. I think in this new book, you see
Bridget’s struggle to realize that. So when she starts off she is
still grieving, even though it’s five years after Mark’s death, and
she’s still got all the baby weight and she thinks no one will ever
fancy her again, ever, ever, ever, and the whole landscape of dating has
changed since she was last single. And I think a lot of people find
themselves in that position. When I first wrote Bridget, there was no
e-mail... So now she’s coping with Twitter, and the fact that, you
know, lots of people meet online now, so she has to find her way around
that and texting. But with the help of her friend she teaches herself to
get into the game, and then she meets her gorgeous younger man on
Wallace: You’ve been asked this in just about every
interview, but I still have to ask: Why did Mark Darcy have to die?
It’s become a huge Internet outrage. So the question is why?
I went to a local restaurant and a man came
running out after me saying, “You’ve murdered Colin Firth!” But he
was very drunk. Stuff happens in life and no one gets to the stage of
life that Bridget’s at without stuff happening, without losing people
and having to deal with tough things. And Bridget’s always been a
survivor. I think that’s what life is like. People do find things to
laugh about even in the darkest situations. It’s about the heroine
really getting through the tough things and finding herself as a woman
again and finding fun again.
What would you say is the hardest part of being a
Fielding: I think the very interesting thing these days is
technology. It is a new element, and children evolved in a sort of
Darwinian way so that they know what all those 90 buttons are for on the
three remotes to work the television. They just somehow instinctively
know how to operate all these things. And I think technology’s moving
so fast, it’s very hard for parents who haven’t evolved to know
what’s safe in these devices, and how much they should use them, and
what’s good and what’s bad. I mean Bridget says to (her son) Billy,
“Come off your iPod, you’ve had your time.” And he goes, “It’s
not an iPod.” And she goes, “But it’s thick and black and
therefore evil.” And he says, “No, Mummy, it’s a Kindle. It’s a
book.” And then she’s really confused. He’s reading Roald Dahl.
And I think we don’t know what technology’s doing to children. We
don’t know what’s good and what’s bad.
Is Bridget a helicopter parent?
I think she aspires to be a helicopter parent but
obviously she’s never going to pull that off. But I think she also has
that guilt when she gets a bit of time off, like when the nanny’s
taking (the kids) to school in the morning. Then she feels like sort of
a Joan Craword figure who’s going to drift down in a housecoat and
say, “Hello darling. I’m your mummy. What are your names again? Do
you remember me?” So it’s that sort of, sometimes, exhausted and
just wanting to read the paper in silence, but then when she’s not
with them, missing them and feeling guilty about it. I think a lot of
moms probably have that dual thing going on.