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Empire of the Alpha Mom


Isabel wants Ryland to be happy, and he can’t be happy unless he’s in control. Thus, when he wants a cookie, she gives it to him. Thus, when in the car he wants his shoes off three blocks from the destination, she takes them off. Thus, she’s over there in her office.

Craig worries that Ryland’s getting spoiled. Isabel cites research saying that spoiling is an obsolete notion, that “a close parent relationship fosters independence.”

On this, Craig really must stand firm.

“The world revolves around Ryland,” he says. “I was the master of the house. Then he was born, and I’m no longer king of the house.”

Isabel could not believe her ears: “Craig said that? I would have said he was never king of the house!”

The boy’s 2nd-birthday party was staged in a fashionable Upper East Side coffee shop called DT-UT. At the last minute, Isabel learned the place had been double-booked with another party, and so she hurried over, with the village close behind, to stake out the best spot. Frantically hanging decorations, Isabel was lucky her babysitter was there to catch her when the table she stood on turned over. Thumbtacks scattered everywhere. “Scour the area!” said Isabel.

The place soon filled with children like Ryland and mothers like Isabel—women who described themselves as “proactive,” “dynamic,” handling “the job.” The Alpha Mom scurried about ministering to them—putting on hats, handing out maracas.

Craig stood back, alternately attached to his cell phone and the video camera. Between takes, he said he admires the drive, the intelligence, the “challenge” of Isabel but that the balance of marriage, child, and big career was a real “high-wire act.” And there was one more thing he wanted to say about balance: Isabel had given him a talking-to, and he truly never was king of the house. Their household had been a democracy, he said, and was now an autocracy. “There’s no question Ryland runs the house.”

The party would be a success if Ryland had fun, both parents agreed. “The little prince,” as his father called him, arrived as on a throne in the arms of his grandmother, and was transferred to the arms of his babysitter, with the nanny looking on, saying, “He’s such a lovely boy.”

He was showered with age-appropriate toys that would further his development. The guitarist sang “The Hokey-Pokey,” and Isabel tried to shake a little. Later, she would say the whole thing was a bit “overstimulating for me,” and that at such times, she repeats to herself “the mantra ‘focus, focus, focus’ ” and tries to remember the message of Alpha Mom TV: “You can get through it. Everything’s going to be all right.”

She picked her son up for the cutting of the cake and leaned over so he could dip a hand in. As Ryland wiped frosting across her sleek black shirt, Isabel was smiling for the cameras.


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