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Grace Carlson

‘Learn to Relax by Cultivating Hobby’
Is Radio Advice to Overworked Mothers

(17 March 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 11, 17 March 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Over New York City’s municipal Radio Station WNYC in the middle of a busy Saturday morning came the voice of a public health lecturer. “Learn to relax,” she said. “Cultivate a hobby. Relieve the tension of wartime living by healthful recreation.”

Warning her listeners against the dangers which lie in the long hours, increased worries and general stresses and strains created by the war, the doctor pointed out that individuals must obtain adequate rest and relaxation or there will be a still more alarming number of mental breakdowns in this country.

The well-meaning doctor went on to offer some practical suggestions for healthful recreation – sports, folk dancing, even such simple advice as to “sit down on the floor and play with your child.”

But what thoughts went through the minds of the working-class mothers in this radio audience as they listened to instructions on how to relax?

11:45 a.m. – Saturday morning. The baby in the high chair, crying to be fed. Three-year old Jackie, just in from play, struggling with the worn-out zipper on his handed-down snow suit. The half- cooked meal on the stove, but no butter in the ice-box. Should she let seven-year-old Joan finish setting the table or should she send her to the store for butter? Perhaps, if she went to the store herself, she could persuade Mr. Engelmeyer to bring out a pound of oleomargarine. This would save precious red ration points and still more precious money. Maybe, she could even buy a package of cigarettes and save Bill a trip downtown after he gets home from the shop.

Two Kinds of Mothers

Into her thoughts comes the voice of the radio lecturer, “Learn to relax” – and the weary housewife sighs to herself, “RELAX! Where, When, How?”

But the “Cafe Society” mother, sitting before her mirror, patting astringent on her face finds inspiration in the radio speech. Just put of bed after a hard night at Cafe Zanzibar, followed by an hilarious party at a friend’s apartment – one can’t go to bed at 12:00 o’clock, curfew or no curfew – she feels the need for “healthful recreation.”

“Sit down on the floor and play with your child.” “A charming idea,” she thinks and perhaps after two-year old John Pierpont Van Renssalaer III has had his lunch and been cleaned up by his nurse, she will go into the nursery and play with him. Anyhow, getting down on the floor and playing with the baby will probably be good for the waistline as well as be “relaxing.”

To the already long list of tasks, which make up the life of working class mothers – washing, cooking, sewing, scrubbing, watching over the children – are now added the problems of housekeeping in wartime. Trying to make the ration points stretch to fit the food needs of the family; shopping around for the lower-priced childrens’ clothing, which has almost disappeared from the stores; attempting to meet the rapidly rising cost of living with wages “frozen” at a low level – all these, and many more such war-created problems tear down the physical and mental health of the housewife of the working-class.

Offering her the ordinarily sound medical advice about not worrying, getting enough rest, and learning to relax, is simply ironical. There was far more insight on this point shown by the cartoonist in a recent issue of a medical journal. He shows a thin, harassed-looking mother in a doctor’s office with a crying baby in her arms and a whining child pulling at her skirt. “What you really need,”, the doctor says to her, “is two weeks on another planet – alone.”

But how can THIS planet be made into a fit habitation for mothers? When will mothers get a chance to enjoy life WITH their children? Only the socialist movement can really answer these questions.

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Last updated: 18 September 2018