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You said it, sister!

Readers respond to Ann Crittenden's "The Price of Motherhood"

I can't remember what put me on to Ann's book. All I know is that I read it on a family trip from Maryland to Georgia and drove my husband crazy by saying every two minutes or so, "Wait! Listen to this!"

What Ann did was put things in perspective for me. I'd been asking the right questions from the beginning -- I ended my first "mommy wars" piece for the Washington Post Magazine in February 1998 by conjuring up this vision of all us mommies driving around in bumper cars with kiddie seats in back, a prisoner of the apparatus we were forced to inhabit, and asked, "What does it take to start a bumper-car revolt?" -- but I had no idea of where to look for answers -- or, indeed, what the questions were. It helped that Ann and I had similar backgrounds in newspaper work before dropping out of that hypercompetitive world when motherhood came along. Reading her book gave me concrete reasons for the feeling of dislocation and diminishment I'd felt once I'd left the so-called "workforce." It gave me a rough price tag on what I'd given up, as well as a theoretical price tag to put on the new work I was doing. I started looking around and seeing concrete examples of the blatant unfairness of our current system, starting with the nanny I employed for my second child -- a woman in her 80s who had spent much of her life doing caregiving work, but who was now living below the poverty line on Social Security payments which did nothing to reflect the economic value of her caregiving work. I got mad. I started inciting other women to get mad, too.

Also -- and this is no small thing -- I called Ann up and said, "We must meet." And, being Ann, she saw to it that we did, and I saw in her a model of what I wanted to do in my post-motherhood writing career. I thought, if she can quit the newspaper world and become a "nobody" in their eyes and come back with a helluva book, maybe I can too. So now I've written a book. The jury's out on the merits of mine, but at least I know motherhood has not ended my writing career. In fact, it's expanded it -- and I'm immensely grateful for that, and for Ann's showing me that it was possible -- great, even -- to be a mom and a serious writer too, outside that narrow box of corporate journalism.

-- Tracy Thompson, author of The Ghost In the House:
Motherhood, Raising Children, and Struggling with Depression

(HarperCollins, August 2006)

I really, really, really liked Ann Crittenden's book.

I am 36 years old, and I have one son, who is 8 months old. I am married and I do not work for pay myself, but my situation is even weirder than that. I retired (lucky dot commer) when I was 29. For most of my life, I was uncertain whether I ever wanted to have children. I knew if I did have children, I did not want to spend all of my time at work away from them. I also knew that no way in hell did I ever want to be economically dependent on someone else while raising a child. So I got real lucky, which is why I am a mother.

I also have friends whose situations are much more typical. Both parents (not always a man and a woman) must work in many cases, and when one parent does stay home, it is not always a woman doing so. And some of my friends have worked out very flexible work-from-home and/or bring-baby-to-work arrangements so they could breastfeed at the breast at least part of the time. But while my friends have been both intelligent, assertive and lucky, it is still insanely difficult to juggle an adult relationship, jobs and babies. Virtually everything else must be sacrificed for years (friends, hobbies, sleep).

I love to read, and I dove into being pregnant and having a new baby with as much enthusiasm as I have ever had. I've read a lot of books, and am writing about what I am reading. Crittenden's book stood out head and shoulders above the typical my-gosh-the-transition-to-new-parenthood-is-hard book. She did amazing research; through her I found Nancy Folbre [The Invisible Heart, Who Pays for the Kids?] and others. I also enjoyed Julie Shields' unfortunately titled book How to Avoid the Mommy Trap and Coleman's only slightly better titled book The Lazy Husband, which focus more on what individuals can do, and less on the society-wide issues. The Two Income Trap [by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi] indirectly addresses many of the society-wide issues as well.

It's quite clear from these books, the experience of my friends, and from history that forcing new parents to juggle a couple full time jobs along with their new responsibilities and commitments is a terrible idea. Parents need more support. They need a safety net (and not just for medical care, either). They need practical assistance with child care, meal preparation, housework and juggling other adult responsibilities. Better parental leave laws would help, as would subsidized child care with better quality control. But we need to be a lot more imaginative than that. While Crittenden points out the need, the solutions will need to be much more adaptable; I would expect a broad-based, grassroots movement to be the best way to find, articulate, and press for better solutions. The solutions cannot just be pay someone else to raise our babies for us; that is unacceptable.

I would hope that such a movement would rally those who are not currently parents of babies and young children. Those who once had children, and those who have not yet had children and those who may never have their own biological children of their own (or adopt or foster or whatever) have the time and energy which new parents lack. And many of those people would like to be of assistance; they just don't know how, and the new parents don't have the time, energy or ability to educate them. Caring for children was once a society-wide activity -- it takes a village is more than just a slogan. We need to find a way to recreate that broad-based effort, and not just by raising property taxes and extending the hours and years of public schooling.

Mainstream, "second-wave" feminism really dropped the ball on parenting. I hope we are looking at a new chance to support the most important work in the world: raising children to be caring, contributing, supportive adults.

-- Rebecca Allen

I first heard Ann Crittenden in a radio interview two or three years ago, discussing The Price of Motherhood. Although almost everything I read comes from the library, I had to own that book. I read it and then got my book group to read and discuss it as well. It has profoundly influenced my way of looking at what I do: I love, care for, and nurture full-time three boys who I hope will continue to become healthy, educated, and sane members of society as they grow up.

I very much resent the fact that American society turns its back on at home parents. Those of us who choose to raise our own children in the hope of producing happy and well-balanced members of society (and to experience the accompanying fulfillment) are cheated of all financial security.  We do society a huge favor, and get nothing in return. Fulfillment in one's profession in any other field is obviously not enough. It is blatantly unfair to expect at home parents to accept no remuneration and growing financial instability when they are aiming to provide strong individuals (i.e. productive citizens) for the next generation of humanity.

As an American in Germany in the 70s and 80s I was perplexed by the "Kindergeld" (literally "children's money") that families received for each child until they reached adulthood. I am no longer perplexed by that concept and feel ashamed of the unenlightened state of social consciousness that the United States exhibits in many areas. The models for a proper social response to motherhood are on display all over the world. I am prepared to help turn around this country's criminal attitude towards mothers and fathers who leave gainful employment for the "best job in the world," only to face financial ruin in the process.

-- Kate Foley-Beining, PhD

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