Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety

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Press: Vermilion; New Ed edition (March 1, 2006)
Publication Date:2006-3
Author Name:Warner, Judith


Manic cake-baking at midnight. 
After-school activities and young social lives that require dedicated and complex organisation.
Mother-of-the-birthday-boy meltdowns.
No Sex.
No Nights out.
No Sleep.
What's wrong with this picture? That's the question Judith Warner asked herself after taking a good, hard look at the world of modern motherhood, at anxious women at work and in bed with unhappy husbands.
By moving personally between the worlds of stay-at-home and working motherhood, interviewing numerous women and reading and seeing what our popular culture and politicians had to offer on the subject of motherhood in our time, Warner comes to a stark conclusion: that what is now happening in the culture of motherhood is nothing less that perfect madness.
Written in a lively, accessible and often amusing tone, this is a book that all mothers will be able to relate to.

From The New Yorker

In this polemic about contemporary motherhood, Warner argues that the gains of feminism are no match for the frenzied perfectionism of American parenting. 
In the absence of any meaningful health, child-care, or educational provisions, martyrdom appears to be the only feasible model for successful maternity—with destructive consequences for both mothers and children.
Comparing this situation with her experiences of child-rearing in France, Warner finds American "hyper-parenting"—pre-school violin and Ritalin on demand—"just plain crazy." The trouble is a culture that, though it places enormous private value on children, neglects them in the arena of public policy.
She is concerned less with sexual politics than with the more pervasive effects of the "winner takes all" mentality, and makes an urgent case for more socially integrated parenthood.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Booklist

With all the opportunities available to modern American women, why does Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique continue to resonate with so many of them? Writing from the perspective of her first few years of motherhood spent in France and her subsequent return to the U.S., Warner ponders the cultural factors driving the madness of pursuing perfect motherhood and the toll it is taking on American women. 
Drawing on books, articles, observations, and interviews with hundreds of women, Warner finds too many well-educated middle-class women succumbing to the guilt, anxiety, and hyper-competitiveness surrounding ideals of motherhood that are often self-imposed.
Instead of focusing energy on changing the culture and laws that do not support women's career ambitions and parenting obligations, women have emphasized self-control, personal achievement, and self-perfection, dooming themselves to endless self-criticism.
Warner explores the social, economic, and cultural developments that have led to this juncture and--given the unlikelihood of turning the U.S.
into as family-friendly a nation as France--how women can reevaluate their priorities and gain balance in their personal lives.
Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association.
All rights reserved

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


"'Has got not only mothers talking, but fathers too'. 
Helena De Bertodano - The Times"

About the Author

Judith Warner is the author of a range of non-fiction books including the bestselling Hillary Clinton: The Inside Story. 
A former special correspondent for Newsweek in Paris, she now lives with her husband and their two daughters in Washington DC.

From The Washington Post

When Judith Warner returned to Washington after several years of living in France,  she felt she was a pretty good mother to her two young daughters. 
A few months back in the States cured her of that.
Suddenly, she was caught up in the modern American mommy rat race and wondering why on Earth what had been so easy in France was so hard back at home.Friends and acquaintances all seemed fellow sufferers, despite outward appearances.
"They had comfortable homes, two or three children, smiling, productive husbands, and a society around them saying they'd made the best possible choices for their lives," she writes, "yet many of them seemed miserable." Like hers, their unhappiness was "a choking cocktail of guilt and anxiety and resentment and regret," a mixture that is "poisoning motherhood for American women today." Taking a page from Betty Friedan, Warner calls this situation "the Mommy Mystique." (Many of the 150 women Warner interviewed for this book call it merely "this mess.") It's a "culture of total motherhood," she writes, that demands the suppression of mothers' ambitions -- unless those ambitions were directed toward getting Jackson into the best preschool in town or helping Maya score a better grade on her social studies test.
Stay-at-home mothers are made to feel inadequate if they want too much time away from their kids.
Working mothers are giving up on careers, either because the cost of child care proves prohibitive or because they can't tune out the guilt.
Many end up living a souped-up version of a June Cleaver lifestyle, complete with breadwinner dad and PTA-obsessed mother, all the while reassuring themselves that this was their choice.
Their toned-down expectations and low-level resentment manifest themselves in sexless marriages and increased rates of depression.
How did this happen?Warner believes the causes are many.
Our culture's expectation of mothers has always seesawed between warning them to back off from their children (lest they foster wimps) and exhorting them to regard raising children as their life's work.
We're currently in the clutches of the latter ideology, she says, thanks in large part to the prevalence of "attachment parenting" philosophies that lead mothers to believe they must respond instantly to a baby's every need or else doom him to suffer "abandonment issues" for the rest of his life.
We've also bought too much into the therapy culture, Warner says, by intensely parenting our children as a way of curing ourselves of our own childhood wounds.But the biggest culprit in the total-immersion mothering trap, Warner says, isn't the media or our own neuroses.
It's the rise of a winner-take-all society that inordinately rewards the wealthy while throwing scraps to the rest of us.
Today's middle-class parents live anxious lives, worried about job security, the affordability of health care and housing in good school districts, the prospect of paying for their kids' college educations and their own retirement.
With families under such financial stress and little help from the government, it's no wonder mothers are over-focused on their children's success.
After all, in a winner-take-all society, there's no place for the average kid who will become the average grown-up.
In other words, the mania for privatization that drove the Reagan '80s and continues today has finally trickled down to motherhood.
Now, all problems you may have balancing work and family are yours alone.
(Unless, of course, you're a single mother on welfare, Warner points out.
Then the government is happy to meddle in your life.) If you choose to work, it's up to you to find quality day care.
If you choose to forgo the second income and stay home, it's up to you to find a way to afford preschool or a morning out for yourself.
We've come to believe that this way of life is "necessary and natural," Warner writes.
But it wasn't always thus: "Things used to be different in America," she says.
"There used to be structures in place that gave families a certain base level of comfort and security.
Things like dependable public education.
Affordable housing.
Job security.
Reliable retirement benefits." In addition: tax codes that provided healthy exemptions to couples with children, low-interest educational loans -- even government-run and -subsidized day care for children whose mothers worked during World War II.The only way out, Warner says, is for mothers to rejoin the political scene and to call for a new "politics of quality of life" that would create institutions to help us care for our children so that we don't have to do it all on our own.
It wouldn't be cheap; Warner estimates that mimicking the French plan for child care and paid leave would increase government spending by $85 billion per year.
(Though not so costly when you consider that Bush's recent tax cuts are costing more than $200 billion per year, she points out.) Modern motherhood is exacting costs, too.
Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood showed how mothers become poor in old age.
With Perfect Madness, Warner convincingly shows the psychological damages.
What more do we need to learn before things change?Reviewed by Stephanie Wilkinson Copyright 2005, The Washington Post Co.
All Rights Reserved.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From the Preface“This Mess”This is a very personal book.It is a snapshot of motherhood - of parenthood, really - as I found it in Washington, D.C., and its suburbs from the fall of 2000 to the summer of 2004. 
And although in writing it I made every effort to take my research further--away from the big cities of the East Coast, back in time to the colonial roots of America's cultural history, then forward again to our day--I know that what I have written here is not an encyclopedic overview of Motherhood, Now and Forever.It's not a scholarly history.Neither is it a book of self-help.It's not a book about the work-family conflict.Nor is it about "balance," or the problems of working mothers, or the virtues of stay-at-home motherhood.It does not contain much by way of policy.It will not tell you how to raise your children.It is, rather, an exploration of a feeling.
That caught-by-the-throat feeling so many mothers have today of always doing something wrong.And it's about a conviction I have that this feeling--this widespread, choking cocktail of guilt and anxiety and resentment and regret--is poisioning motherhood for American women today.
Lowering our horizons and limiting our minds.
Sapping energy that we should have for ourselves and our children.
And drowning out thoughts that might lead us, collectively, to formulate solutions.The feeling has many faces but it doesn't really have a name.
It's not depression.
It's not oppression.
It's a mix of things, a kind of too-muchness.
An existential discomfort.
A "mess," as one woman I interviewed called it, for lack of a better word.She wasn't a woman who normally lacked for words.
She was a newspaper editor.
A headline writer.
A professional wordsmith.
And yet, as she sat with me one night, half-buried in a sofa in a circle of moms, she struggled, and stumbled, as she tried to express what it was that made her life feel like it was always about to come apart.None of it made much sense, really, she said.
She was a person lucky enough to have many choices.
In the hope of finding "balance" she'd chosen to scale down her career--working part-time and at night, in order to spend as much time as possible with her nine-year-old daughter.This is the kind of arrangement that mothers are supposed to dream of.
This mom knew she ought to feel blessed.
But somehow, nothing had worked out as planned.
Working nights meant that she was tired all the time, and cranky, and stressed.
And forever annoyed with her husband.
And now--her daughter was after her to get a day job.
It seemed she was finding that having Mom around most of the time wasn't all it was cracked up to be, particularly if Mom was forever on the edge.
So what was she to do?The woman waved her hands in circles, helplessly.
"What I'm trying to figure out--" She paused.
"What I'm trying to remember…;is how I ended up raising this princess…;how I got into…;how to get out of…;this, this, this…;this mess."This mess.The words crackled like lightning in the suburban living room where we'd been sitting since sunset.
It was a Tuesday evening in the winter of 2002, the bath-into-bed-time hour was past, and the moms, out for a night without kids, were exhausted.
The conversation had been moving laboriously, the big issue, Motherhood, lurching heavily across the coffee table like a big medicine ball full of angst.Like the newspaper editor, the other moms didn't feel entitled to complain.
By any objective measure, they had easy lives--kids in good schools, houses in good neighborhoods, dependable husbands whose incomes allowed them to mostly choose what they wanted to do with their time.
Most had chosen to pursue Mommy Track jobs--part-time work, a big cut in ambition and salary.
But they didn't mind that; they knew that that was a privilege.
Still, there was something that bugged them.
It ate away at them.
It cast a pall on all the rest.
What they couldn't make peace with was the feeling that somehow, more globally, they were living Mommy Track lives.Lives filled with knee pads and bake sales and dentist's appointments and car seats.
Lives somehow lesser than those of their full-time working husbands--men who managed, when the kids ran wild in the morning, spilling their Cheerios, and losing their shoes, to lose themselves in the newspaper, fading "into black and white" at the breakfast table, as one mom put it to me, "just like Father Knows Best."The moms' lives were punctuated by boxer shorts on the floor and quilt-making at school, carpooling and play dates and mother-daughter book clubs, and getting in to see the right dentist and worrying about whether they had the wrong pediatrician, and, and, and, layer after layer of trivia and absurdity that sometimes made them feel like they were going out of their heads.Sometimes, a rage seized them that was hard to control.
Sometimes, everything just seemed out of control.
"Living in past, present, and future all at one time," one mom said, "I get overwhelmed.
I get worried about things falling apart."Every three months, they would blow.
Every now and then, their husbands and children knew, they had to leave Mommy alone.
It was a standard part of their family lives.
The "Zen of the boxer shorts," as one mother called it, could only last for so long.And the real problem was--the worst of it all was--it wasn't altogether clear that what they were doing with their lives was actually worthwhile.
The choices and the compromises--when all was said and done, they didn't seem to add up to all that much.
Not to a great sense of achievement.
Not to a great sense of pride.
There was no gratitude from their families, certainly.
Their husbands had started taking a tone.
It sounded like: "This is what I want you to do…;" Their children simply wondered what they did with their time.Their children had almost all of them, and they just wanted more, more, more.
And after years of always trying to give more, give their all, they were coming to realize that more wasn't necessarily right.
But what to do, then?"The children are the center of the household and everything goes around them," said a woman who'd left a prestigious government job working on child-care policy because it allowed her no time with her kids.
"You want to do everything and be everything for them because this is your job now.
You take all the energy and enthusiasm you had in your career and you feel the need to be as successful raising your children as you were in the workplace.
And you can make your kids totally crazy in the process.""And," another stay-at-home mom put in, "the reality is: at the end of the day, you could put your heart in it and it could be all cocked up.
For nothing wrong that you did.
Your kids could wind up a mess, and there's your life's work."There was a problem floating in the room, a problem so big and so strange that the women couldn't quite name it.
It wasn't exactly guilt.
It wasn't exactly stress.
It wasn't exactly anger.
It was all of that and more."…;This mess."Those two simple words were like a code-breaker.
Everything became clear then, and suddenly, the sentences flew."It's like they keep a tally of the did-nots.""I am absolutely and scarily consumed by rage.""I want my kids to think of me not just as doing for them but also as fun.""I think we're making ourselves crazy.""Your kids can end up completely messed up.""Are we neurotic, insecure? What got us to here?"I couldn't answer those questions back then.
I didn't even try.
The fact is: I was put off that night by those smartest-of-the-smart, well-off, and powerful women, with their Washington insider lives.All women should have problems like yours, I found myself thinking.
We all should be so lucky.It was only later, when I stepped back, transcribed the conversation, and read--and read and read--more transcripts and articles and e-mails and books and policy papers, when I stepped back and listened to the cultural conversation on motherhood going on in my home and in theirs and, I believe, in all of ours, that I came to see that, indeed, most women did.
Have problems like theirs.
In varying forms.
And in varying degress, depending on how much money and how much luck and how many real choices they had.
I came to believe that all mothers in America, in differing ways and to different degrees, were caught up in The Mess.
And that's because the climate in which we now mother is, in many ways, just plain crazy.It's not the "fault" of the media.
Or the Christian Right.
Or George W.
Or Phyllis Schlafly.
Or Dr.
Laura Schlessinger.
Or Mrs.
It's us--this generation of mothers.
And it's the way our culture has groomed and greeted us.
Mixing promise with politics, feminism with "family values," science and sound bites and religion and, above all, fear into a combustible combination that is nothing less than perfect madness

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


Parenting & Relationships,Family Health,Politics & Social Sciences,Sociology,Marriage & Family,Family Relationships,Motherhood

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Comment List (Total:13)

  •     Hardcover since I like the weight of the book...and man it this book heavy! Content, that is. My head is spinning with the cultural implications of the history of motherhood in...
  •     as a new mom I was losing my sleep not only because of my baby but also because I felt the pressure to be the perfect mom. I live in Brazil but some things are very similar to the US, especially the pressure to breastfeed exclusively (no matter what), to commit to the attachment parenting theories etc. It seems there is a check list to be fullfiled and if you fail in one of the items, your child will suffer forever. In spite of not giving solutions, I believe she brings a good reflection and the need to avoid generalizations. It seems mothers will be judged no matter what they do: if they work and if they don't, if they breastfeed for more than 6 months and if they don't, if they let their children cry and if they don't.. and so on. Motherhood, especially for first-time moms is already a big change and sometimes exhausting. we don't need this kind of pressure, for sure.
  •     Judith Warner has also written/co-writtenYou Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America
  •     Very nice, thank you.
  •     Of course I don't agree with every word in this book, but it sure has given me pause on many of its pages. That's what a good book does ... it makes you think.
  •     I was hoping for some good anecdotes, science or SOMETHING, but really it was just a lot of whining.
  •     I really enjoyed this book, bought in conjunction with The Price of Privelege. A great read for any modern mother.
  •     Judith Warner has also written/co-writtenYou Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America,We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication,Hillary Clinton: The Inside Story: Revised and Updated, andNewt Gingrich: Speaker to America. [NOTE: page numbers below refer to the 333-page paperback edition.]She wrote in the Foreword to this 2005 book, “[This book] is about how middle-class families---and mothers in particular---are struggling to find their way through all the pressure and strain and stress and worry they must contend with, day in and day out. It’s about what happens to women (and men) when they feel entirely unsupported, about how they flounder and flail and go a little bit nuts when they try to take on a level of responsibility for their families that no person should or could ever be expected to shudder alone. It’s about the way that the mothers’ (and fathers’) behaviors have been perverted by social and economic forces that they feel they cannot control. It’s about how that feeling of being out of control drives them to parent in ways that are contrary to their better instincts, their deepest values, and the best interests of their children.” (Pg. xv)In the Preface, she adds, “This is a very personal book. It is a snapshot of motherhood---of parenthood, really---as I found it … from the fall of 2000 to the summer of 2004… It’s not a scholarly history… It is, rather, an exploration of a feeling. That caught-by-the-throat feeling so many mothers have today of ALWAYS doing something wrong. And it’s about a conviction I have that this feeling… is poisoning motherhood for American women today… And drowning out thoughts that might lead us, collectively, to formulate solutions. The feeling… doesn’t really have a name. It’s not depression. It’s not oppression. It’s … existential discomfort. A ‘mess,’ as one women I interviewed called it, for lack of a better word.” (Pg. 3-4)She observes, “the working moms I knew were stressed near the breaking point, looking tired and haggard and old. They shared the same high-level at-home parenting ambitions as the nonworking moms. But they held down out-of-home jobs, to---and if this wasn’t enough, they also had to shoulder the burden of Guilt, a media-fed drone that played in their ears every time they sat in traffic at dinnertime: Had they made the right choices?... Should they be working less, differently, not at all? Were they really good enough mothers?... It seemed to me that although they were to all appearances fully liberated from the ‘Feminine Mystique’ of [Betty] Friedan’s time, they, like the stay-at-home moms, were equally burdened by a new set of life-draining pressures, a new kind of soul-draining perfectionism. I came to think of this as the ‘MOMMY Mystique.’” (Pg. 13)She continues, “The Mommy Mystique tells us that we are the luckiest women in the world---the freest, with the most choices, the broadest horizons, the best luck, and the most wealth. It says we have the knowledge and know-how to make ‘informed decisions’ that will guarantee the successful course of our children’s lives. It tells us that if we choose badly our children will fall prey to countless dangers---from insecure attachment to drugs to kidnapping to a third-rate college. And if this happens… we have no one but ourselves to blame. Because to point fingers at society… is to shirk ‘personal responsibility.’ To admit that we cannot do everything ourselves… is tantamount to admitting personal failure. Comforted by the Mommy Mystique, we are convinced that every decision we make, every detail we control, is INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT… We are consumed with doing for our children in mind and soul and body---and the result is we are so depleted that we have little of ourselves left for ourselves. And whatever anger we might otherwise feel… is directed, also, just at ourselves. Or at the one permissible target: other mothers.” (Pg. 32-33)She argues, “American women tend to believe that what we’ve got is, for better or worse, as good as it can get. Whatever doesn’t work is OUR problem, and it’s up to us to find solutions. This, I think, is the key to the Mommy Mystique … It is the basic reason why our generation has turned all the energy that we might be directing outward---to, say, making the world a better place---inward instead, where it has been put to the questionable purpose of our own self-perfection.” (Pg. 54)She states, “The mess of the Mommy Mystique---the belief that we can and should control every aspect of our children’s lives, that our lives are the sum total of our personal choices, that our limitations stem from choosing poorly and that our problems are chiefly private, rather than public, in nature---is NOT an individual problem that individual women should have to scramble to deal with. It is a social malady---a perverse form of individualism, based on a self-defeating allegiance to a punitive notion of choice; a way of privatizing problems that are social in scope and rendering them, in the absence of real solutions, amenable to one’s private powers of control. It demands a collective coming-into-awareness, at the very least. And, I believe, once that awareness is reached, it cannot be cured without some collective, structural solutions.” (Pg. 56-57)She says, “When I talk about the Motherhood Religion, what I mean is all the ways that motherhood in America has been unmoored from reality and turned into theology. Or how, time and again, motherhood has been made into an overdetermined thing, invested with quasi-ecclesiastical notions of Good and Evil. And while the definitions of Good and Evil have sometimes changed, one thing has always remained the same: in times of trouble, making a religion of motherhood has provided people with a kind of refuge. It has offered a psychological fix, a collective salve for people weary of a soul-bruising world. The Motherhood Religion soothes anxiety.” (Pg. 134) She suggests, “a new cult of domesticity… helped soothe the stresses of living life in an increasingly rapacious age. There was the stress of raising superchildren to compete in an increasingly competitive world… The new cult of motherhood offered peace. A sense of greater safety. The promise of GETTING OUT.” (Pg. 141)She notes, “Something about the ideal of motherhood we carry in our heads is so compelling that even though we can’t fulfill it and know that we probably shouldn’t even try, we berate ourselves for falling short of succeeding. It is in service to that ‘something’ that we continue to pursue the goals of total-reality motherhood… For some women, I think, it is a longing for the world of their childhoods, when someone was there to take care of things. For other women, who did not feel sufficiently cared for by their mothers, it’s a desire to give their children the kind of comforting childhood they didn’t have---and to ‘reparent’ themselves in the process. Overall, I think, it’s a longing to GET THINGS UNDER CONTROL.” (Pg. 158)She explains, “I do not want to play into the religion of mommy-as-the-root-of-all-evil by saying that the way we mother today is destined, necessarily to set our children up for a whole slew of problems down the line. So I have tried to focus on the effects of our parenting style… that are visible right now. Some of our worst cultural tendencies are currently playing themselves out in our parenting practices, to the detriment of our children. They are stressed and anxious and, at the very least, often badly behaved.” (Pg. 238)She points out, “Our generation of husbands, for the most part, never wanted to play the role of traditional provider. But with our current culture of do-it-all motherhood and the frequent impossibility of reconciling work and family pushing some wives home, many postboomer men find themselves thrust into the traditional provider role. They can’t cut their hours or take paternity leave---not only because such options often don’t exist, but also because even when they do, they’re frowned upon… Many men, forced into provider roles they never hoped for, must end up feeling ripped-off. There isn’t much left of their financial compensation left over once the household expenses are paid. They don’t get much by way of wifely compensation either: their wives are too busy nursing their own resentments to be able to give much in the way of the ‘consoling and commiserating’ …” (Pg. 252-253)She suggests, “I often wonder if our ‘mommy frumps’---those awful jeans and spit-stained shirts and dreary haircuts we sport like a punitive uniform---aren’t a kind of protective shield. Looking crummy all the time, being ‘just a mom,’ may be a way to beat back the prospective demons of a sexuality we don’t want to deal with, with the sense of possibility it might awaken, reminding us of other times, broader horizons, bigger dreams---and happier marriages. In becoming sexless, we turn off our desires---globally. And we avoid a whole lot of disappointment and frustration. So we remain ‘schlubby,’ safe, untempted, and unchallenged… We don’t want to open up the Pandora’s box of our desires… We wouldn’t have the time or energy to deal with what we found there anyway. Our to-do list is already much too long.” (Pg. 257)She proposes, “what would families need? Simply put: institutions that help us take care of our children so that we don’t have to do everything on our own. We need institutions made accessible and affordable and of guaranteed high quality by government funding, oversight, and standards. We need a new set of profamily ENTITLEMENTS---standing programs that can outlast election-year campaign promises made by politicians … It’s time to admit that the idea that businesses will ‘do the right thing’ for American families is a lost hope. More than a decade into the era of ‘family-friendly policies,’ more than a third of all working parents in America have neither sick leave nor vacation leave… [And] a large number of parents reported not taking advantage of the leave they did have because the culture of their workplace pressured them so strongly against it.” (Pg. 268-269)She acknowledges, “It could be said that making an argument for a set of middle-class entitlements is obscene when the conditions of working-class and poor families in this country are so dire… But I believe that the kinds of quality-of-life measures I have outlined are potentially helpful for everyone. I also believe, given the ‘compassion fatigue’ that is, in the politest formulation, said to underlie Americans’ hostility toward programs for the poor, you cannot get Americans on board to provide MORE help for the needy until they feel that they are getting help too.” (Pg. 269)She concludes, “I think that the kinds of ‘choices’ women must now make, the kinds of compromises, adjustments, and adaptations they must accept in the name of ‘balance’ and Good Motherhood, the kinds of disappointments and even heartbreaks they must suck up for the sake of marital harmony, do them a kind of psychological violence… And this is not just a problem of individual women and their privately managed psychological pain. It is a problem of society. Women today mother the way they do in part because they are psychologically conditioned to do so. But they also do it because, to a large extent, THEY HAVE TO. Because they are unsupported, because their children are not taken care of, in any meaningful way, by society at large. Because there is right now no widespread feeling of social responsibility---for children, for families, for ANYONE, really---and so they must take everything onto themselves. And because they CAN’T, humanly taken everything onto themselves, they simply go nuts.” (Pg. 276)This is an interesting and thought-provoking commentary on the problems that modern mothers---and fathers---face in today’s society. It will probably interest most mothers and fathers concerned with these matters… even if they don’t necessarily accept Warner’s call for governmental solutions to many problems.
  •     Happy with my purchase
  •     I have spend the last year reading about the women condition. Why because I have found it so hard to understand my wife. I love her very much.
  •     Judith Warner has also written/co-writtenYou Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America
  •     I read Judith Warner's column in the New York Times for years and was sad when it ended. I liked her sharp intelligence. But I was still amazed by how good this book is. It says the unsayable: that women--especially mothers--are still oppressed, despite decades of lip service to feminism.Despite all our "choices," most of us have very little choice at all and little control over our lives.It has to be said that this book is mainly about married, educated, middle-class women in the D.C. area who are privileged in comparison with working class and poor women, especially poor women in the rural South where I live. Warner interviewed women like herself, suburban married women with young children, and her findings reflect that. These women don't fear homelessness or absolute poverty, and their struggles are less desperate than those of poor women. But I think her findings are relevant to American women generally, in kind if not in degree.Her main conclusion is that because Americans are so hostile toward any sort of "government" programs that help families, American families struggle alone to raise their children and to work, in a time of declining wages and job loss. (This book was written in about 2006, and things have only gotten worse in terms of inequality and its fallout for middle class people.) This lonely struggle, in a hyper-competitive economy, is enormously draining and stressful for a lot of parents and kids. Some of her interviewees seem quite unhappy. I have met parents who are equally stressed and unhappy. Parents seem to have little leisure and little time to spend just with each other, or with friends of their own age. Warner has some unique insights into how American feminism has evolved into something approaching obsessive-compulsive disorder: American women, having lost faith in their political power to actually change society as a whole, have retreated into a perfectionist effort to control their own bodies and micromanage their households and their children's lives. This is supposed to be some sort of consolation for the lack of real social progress such as affordable, high-quality day care, paid parental leave, and vacation time. Warner points out that such seemingly out of reach perks are taken for granted by Europeans. But our polarized political climate makes anything that supports a mother's desire to work even part-time into a huge conflict between feminists and the Religious Right, which sees such common-sense policies as attacks on the traditional family, not to mention as an expansion of the dreaded government. The result is that the normal and healthy desire to support one's children and also to spend time with them becomes impossible to achieve for most American women. And men.My one caveat with this book is that Warner seems to dismiss attachment theory without really saying why, other than that it creates too much work for mothers. But if the claims of attachment theory are true, then it is very important that every child have consistent and good quality care, especially very young infants and toddlers. It may be inconvenient that this is true, but it is not intellectually honest to dismiss inconvenient truths just because they create extra work. To me the claim that babies are wired for attachment to a primary caregiver makes sense. And usually that person is their mother. This is not to say that others--alloparents, as Sara Blaffer Hrdy terms them--are not essential parts of the "village" that it takes to raise a child: grandmothers, aunts, older children, fathers and even unrelated people. Theoretically, a day care worker could be a primary attachment "object" for a baby, but not at the rate of turn-over that most American day care centers have. Day care workers are some of the most underpaid people in America. We can't "fix" the child care problem without subsidizing day care and paying those people more, so that they can be stable, consistent, well-trained alloparents.This book made me sad. My child is a grown man now and may soon have children of his own. American parents deserve more support and respect for the necessary work that they do.But it also made me feel more compassionate toward myself and my own efforts to negotiate the treacherous path between motherhood and work. I was not a terribly ambitious person work-wise, but I did things that I thought were important to do and that gave me satisfaction and pleasure. I was a very good mother, and I'm glad I put the time in to do it right, while preserving some of my self FOR my self. I did not ever completely lose myself in being a mother, as some of Warner's interviewees have. My relationships with men were often full of conflict, as Warner describes, over child care and household tasks. But I never settled for a dull and tense cease-fire between the sexes, as she says many parents do now. I kept struggling for more fairness, more justice. I didn't always get it, but I'm proud that I didn't give up on it.Women of America, don't give up. You are important. Being a good mother is important and this work deserves the support of your country.
  •     Judith Warner has also written/co-writtenYou Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America

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