Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety [Warner]

I'm just finished reading Judith Warner's "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety".

Excellent book. It's a well-researched feminist manifesto in the tradition of Backlash, I got through it quickly, I learned a lot.

She basically makes the case that the whole "you have this kid you raise it!" idea isn't always a great one, in the tradition of "Feminine Mystique" she interviews hundreds of middle-class mothers, some work outside the home and some don't, and finds that many of them aren't happy. The ones who stay at home often feel like it really wasn't a choice after all, they stayed home and gave up their careers because they couldn't afford decent childcare.

Motherhood is too isolating, she argues. We're too individualistic about it. Consequentially marriages are suffering, children are pushed into a million activites so we can play out our ambitions and anxieties, women are going crazy, men feel distant. And we're all being told, "women's equality is here, you have choice, if you're not happy it's your fault because you can change whatever you want." (Is it really a choice though, when childcare costs so much?)

Meanwhile in other industrialized nations, early childhood education and childcare is heavily subsidized. It's assumed that all adults need their adult "space" and have something important to contribute to the workforce. Parents send their kids off to preschool so they can play with all the big blocks and swingsets and work with the coolest art supplies, instead of feeling like they have to buy all that stuff themselves. They aren't hyper-competitive about their kids. A nanny is someone who's well-trained, educated and well-paid. Preschool and early childhood teaching jobs aren't given to the cheapest possible labor, it's something you can make a career out of.

At times I had trouble relating to this book because I can tell Warner's experiences mostly happened in Washington, DC, a highly competitive city where everything is incredibly expensive, there's so much competition to get into the best private schools, everyone's trying to be on top. I don't think there are any $3000 soccer camps in Wichita Kansas and if there was I wouldn't have the slightest inclination to get my child into one.

But I know there are helicopter parents everywhere. Warner compares it to an eating disorder... we know it's bad for us, we know it makes us feel crazy and hear the experts telling us it's too much, but we can't stop because we're obsessed with control. We're so worried about our child being a have-not in this society where no one cares about the family down the street. We overfill their schedules and cart them off to every activity and push them to be THE BEST, because America is a "winner take all" place these days.

Having a subsidized childcare program with some standards would cost a fraction of what the Bush tax cuts did to our budget... we just have to get it in our heads to ask for it. Stop acting like we're supposed to raise children on our own. For thousands of years it was not done this way, now that it is done we're driving ourselves and our kids crazy. It's time to rethink this.

If you have kids, a little more time to yourself can be the difference between sanity and something else. If you don't have kids, paying for someone else's quality early childcare means the doctors, politicians and CEOs who are around when you're 80 will be smart! And you'll have the added benefit of living in a society where parents around you add their potential... you won't lose teachers, nurses, writers, engineers whose jobs can't make the balance sheet of childcare.

It's not radical liberalism, it makes sense. This book totally changed my way of thinking and I'd highly recommend it.
Tags: books, books - best of, books - feminism, books - parenting, feminism, motherhood, parenting
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