I’m going to start this review with two important admissions:
1. I am not a mother.
2. I consciously decided not to finish the book.
Allow me to explain why you may think these two things are very important, and why I think you are wrong. 🙂
1. I am not a mother, so any time I don’t like a book (or anything, for that matter) about motherhood, I am told, “You just don’t understand yet. When you have kids, you’ll get it.” But here’s the thing: This book was about so much more than motherhood. It was about being a perfectionist (which I am), being a wife (which I am), keeping up domestic duties (which I do), and being a part of a family (which I am). I’m actually not sure if I want to be a mother, ever, and I was excited to read this book because I am almost afraid of having children because I value my career so much and am SUCH a perfectionist and this book promised to explain to me how I could have a career, a child, and not be miserable. So, although I am not a mother, I do feel this book applies to me in some way. However, I found myself disappointed in the portrayal of these issues in the book. Which is why…
2. I decided not to finish the book. I found myself becoming angry and disappointed at the portrayal of societal issues, mothers in general, and husbands/fathers (believe it or not, and more on these in a minute) and I wanted to stop now and write a thoughtful, intelligent half-review rather than an angry full-review.
Let me pause here before I go any further to say that I think the issues of motherhood that are brought up in this book are incredibly important. I have immense respect for Becky and Hollee for tackling the do-it-all mom phenomenon. There are so many mothers out there who feel the need to be perfect and do absolutely everything and who run themselves ragged trying only to end up feeling like failures. Heck, I’m so afraid of this that I don’t even want children, period! So these issues are important, and it is important as women of this generation to consider these issues and find ways to be what we want to be and not lose our sense of self.
That said, I took issue with the way these mom-issues were portrayed. First and foremost, this book absolutely reeked of privilege. To their credit, Becky and Hollee say this right away in the introduction: “We intentionally chose to examine only a slice of the maternal population – mothers who had the privilege of education and a certain amount of choice regarding work, including the ability to temporarily scale back hours, switch jobs, or take time off. Almost all the women we interviewed… were college-educated and relatively secure financially” (x). While I am glad that the authors admitted to the bias in their research, I’m still left knowing that this excludes SO MANY MOMS. I don’t know many women who have these options, and those are the moms who stress themselves out trying to do it all. Because they have to. Even as a teacher, for example, I can take maternity leave and negotiate longer, unpaid leaves, but when my toddler throws a temper tantrum in the morning before school, I don’t have the luxury of being a few minutes late because I had to deal with it. And I can’t go part-time unless a part-time position opens. Also, it seemed that so many of the women interviewed for this book had such financial luxury that they were able to hire nannies who could cook dinner or cleaning services to take some of the stress off of the domestic responsibilities. Again, this is an absolute luxury that many women cannot afford. I felt that it was unfair to say that there are ways to avoid doing it all and then only discuss the options that worked for the upper-class.
I also took issue with the language that was used to address these issues. There was quite a bit of ableist language going on. Do-it-all moms were described as being faced with crazy behavior or insane schedules. This, coupled with the overwhelming idea that contemporary moms are obsessed with the little things, gave the overwhelming vibe that women are hysterical and just need to calm down. It makes me wonder, then, just how far we’ve come from the 1950’s housewife mentality. Or “The Yellow Wallpaper” for that matter. If we’re just going to tell do-it-all moms that they are making themselves “crazy” and they need to calm down, how far away is that from the belief that women are, by nature, hysterical beings? It also sounds a bit like victim-blaming. You’re making yourself feel this way, so you need to figure it out or ask for help – don’t expect anyone to jump in and step up with the responsibilities.
There was also a section of the chapter titled “The Inheritance” that discussed this modern phenomenon of women feeling like they HAVE to work AND have babies. The argument here is that contemporary moms are, literally, the daughters of the women’s rights movement; their moms fought desperately for the right to work outside the home. Because of this, the argument is, women today feel they need to work outside the home or else they will let down their mothers. And not only that, according to Becky and Hollee, it’s their mothers who make them feel this way. The section ends by saying, “Guilt and inspiration. The proud legacy of any mother” (33). To top it off, the language that surrounds any discussion of letting go of responsibilities or making decisions is problematic. The decisions the moms make in this book are almost always referred to as “sacrifices” rather than “choices.” The language and arguments work together here to perpetuate the mom-as-martyr stereotype, which is troubling. Sure, moms have to make choices and prioritize, but so does everyone. Teaching your child the value of choice is certainly different than “sacrificing” something because you have too much to do.
So, at the point that I saw women set up as hysterical martyrs, then we get a description of the helper-husbands, or Disney-dads. These are guys who absolutely cannot do anything right, and their wives need to take over for them or nag them incessantly. Think Everybody Loves Raymond Or Sarah Haskins’ Target: Women episode. Now, don’t get me wrong. I know plenty of women who just don’t trust their husbands to do anything, and they make themselves run ragged trying to do the things their husband should be doing and the things they need to be doing. This is wrong. Women do need to let go and trust their husbands. However, there was a significant portion of this section devoted to the notion that men “don’t do it right” and women need to then lower their standards. You know, sometimes the guy will leave dishes in the sink or clean the fridge but leave streaks on it. “Let it go, ladies!” was the overwhelming message. However, I ask you this: When hubby calls and says he’s picking up his parents and bringing them over for dinner after work, who gets to run around doing dishes and re-cleaning the fridge? If you guessed the woman, you’d be correct. Here’s the thing: There’s no right or wrong way to clean, really, as long as the stuff is clean. But if you’re leaving streaks on the fridge or dishes in the sink when you said you’d do the dishes, the job has not been done correctly or done at all. The implication of saying that women need to “let it go” may be correct in some ways or some instances, but truly says, “Honey, men will never learn. Don’t even try to teach ’em.” Which is untrue! Let me give this example: We don’t have a full sized washer. Tim did the laundry the other day, having never done it before in our place because that is typically my chore, and added a full load worth of detergent. The clothes came out of the dryer all stiff because of the extra soap. Did I let it go? Did I sneak behind his back and redo the laundry? NEITHER OF THE ABOVE! I told him doing laundry in our place is like doing half of a load because of the size, and told him to use half the detergent. Why did I do that? Because I didn’t marry an idiot. He’s a smart man who knows lots of things and can learn how to do laundry in a half-washer. It wasn’t a put-down; it wasn’t something to just “let go.” It was a learning experience. To assume that women need to “let go” when their husbands do something around the house that isn’t “up to par” just perpetuates both ideas that women are crazy and men are idiots.
You may be wondering at this point why I gave this book 3 stars. As I said before, these issues need to be tackled, and I absolutely applaud them for trying. However, I wish they hadn’t spend so much time subconsciously perpetuating gender stereotypes in their breakdown of modern motherhood.