Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Parenting lessons from 'Bridget Jones'

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 1:07 PM EDT, Fri October 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In Helen Fielding's latest "Bridget Jones" novel, Jones is now a single mom of two young kids
  • SPOILER ALERT: Jones is a widow; her beloved Mark Darcy has been killed
  • Fielding, also a mom of two, says the "Bridget Jones" books are based a little bit on her life
  • Jones, even in fiction, can offer moms a break from pressure to be perfect, says Fielding

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and her reports at CNN Parents and follow her @KellyWallaceTV on Twitter.

(CNN) -- On a day when I felt utterly exhausted by my lengthy mom "to do" list (field trip, curriculum night, review homework, bake cupcakes, order food for birthday party, clean house, write this story and then collapse), I relished the chance to talk with "Bridget Jones."

OK, 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.

No, 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.

In 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.

Besides 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.

If 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?

Perhaps 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).

Fielding, 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.

"When 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.

Here's more of my conversation with Fielding. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Kelly Wallace: Is this book mirroring your life? You are a mom of two little ones and so is Bridget.

Helen 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?

Fielding: 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.

WATCH: Ladies, stop trying to be perfect!

Wallace: 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?

Fielding: 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.

Wallace: 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?

Fielding: 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 on."

Wallace: 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?

Fielding: 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 Twitter.

WATCH: Colin Firth talks love scenes: "I like the idea of them" but "it's a very odd experience"

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?

Fielding: I went to 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.

READ: How to cut your kids' cell phone addiction

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

Wallace: What would you say is the hardest part of being a parent?

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.

Wallace: Is Bridget a helicopter parent?

Fielding: 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.

Follow @KellyWallaceTV on Twitter.

Like CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:25 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Mo'ne Davis is the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series. She's an inspiration, but will she change the face of the sport?
updated 8:36 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
There is a reason why when people post pictures of themselves during their middle school years on Facebook for "Throw Back Thursday," we all stop and take notice.
It could cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise your child -- and that's not even including college costs, according to new government estimates.
updated 12:09 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
From parent to son, uncle to nephew, there's a raw, private conversation being revived in America in the wake of violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Children sometimes get left out of our conversations about mental illness. The truth is, they suffer too.
updated 5:14 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
CNN's Kat Kinsman says that talking freely about personal mental health and suicidal thoughts can help others.
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
morning person
Easy tips on how to improve everything from your dinner order to the song in your head to your career.
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
The case of an Arizona mom who left her kids in a car during a job interview highlights the fluid line between bad parenting and criminal behavior.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A children's book about gun rights has benefited from an unexpected boost in sales after it became the subject of a mocking segment on a talk show.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
Some campers and counselors keep the campfire flames burning with summer flings that become lifetime commitments.
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
After letting her 7-year-old son walk from their home to a park to play, a Florida mother faces up to five years in jail for child neglect.
updated 11:36 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, who lost her son in a hot car, hopes mandatory technology in cars and car seats will stop child death from heatstroke in cars.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Not to mention your jeans, bras and pillows? Here's a definitive guide to keeping all your quarters clean.
Imagination Playgrounds have snaking tunnels, platforms and springy mats just like any other playground. But they're different in one fundamental way -- they're built by kids.
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Grammy Award-winning singer Sarah McLachlan, a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls, talks about parenting, sex and whether women can have it all.
updated 7:54 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain.
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
The case of a South Carolina mother arrested for allegedly leaving her 9-year-old daughter at a park while she was working sparks debate over how young is too young to leave a child alone.
updated 11:15 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
CNN's Kelly Wallace reveals 5 common parenting mistakes that many parents admit to making.
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Is it a bad idea for parents to let kids drink underage at home, or does an early sip make drinking less taboo? Studies are divided on the subject, which is a tough nut for parents to crack.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cellphones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
Professional photographer Timothy Archibald uses his camera to connect with his autistic son.
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Do you wish you could outsource the summer cooking, cleaning, and camp planning associated with kids? Here are 5 ways to do it -- and why you shouldn't feel guilty about it.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
The death of a Georgia toddler in a hot car raises the question: should government or automakers get involved to prevent accidental deaths from heatstroke inside a car?
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
It's not just the 'baby blues.' Postpartum depression affects about 15% of new mothers. Here's what one 'warrior woman' is doing to fight it.
Post your personal essays and original photos, and tell us how it really is.
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
What does it mean to run "like a girl"? A new viral video points out that the answer changes depending on whom you ask.
updated 5:22 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
CNN reporter Moni Basu lived in the U.S. nearly 30 years before becoming a citizen. Here's what it meant to pledge her allegiance.
updated 5:07 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
Her daughter was cut from the team. Her son didn't get into that coveted honors class. It was hard but also helpful. Here's how one mom learned to find lessons in failure.
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
The presence of transgender and gender nonconforming youth at NYC Pride March is latest effort to increase visibility of the transgender community.
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
A new ad by the hair care company Pantene asks why women are always apologizing and raises the question of whether women say "sorry" more often than men.
updated 8:48 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines this week urging doctors to tell parents to read to their infants and toddlers.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Sat June 28, 2014
David Martinez grew up thinking he was just an average American kid. When he learned he was undocumented immigrant, it made him re-examine his beliefs about Mexican identity.
updated 1:47 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
A new survey says that working fathers, like working mothers, find it hard to balance work and family.
updated 6:29 AM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
Jenny Mollen has no issue tweeting her breastfeeding. The new author talks motherhood and having a (more) famous husband
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
Experts say "mean girl" behavior begins as young as elementary school. Here's how to prevent raising a mean girl.
updated 6:40 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
While dads today don't get the same respect and attention as moms, and are often depicted as clueless, they've come a long way, baby.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT