325 of 347 people found the following review helpful
Judith Warner's work illuminates several key issues about modern motherhood. I felt a quiver of recognition when reading her discussions about the ways that women who grew up in the era of 1970's feminism are shocked to see how quickly the constraints of traditional gender roles re-emerge once we have kids. She also puts forth the admirable goal of of ending the so-called "Mommy Wars" that keep stay-at-home-Moms and employed Moms bickering with one another instead of working toward mutually beneficial social and political reforms. If Warner's work can inspire a renewed sense of activism in the newest generation of mothers, she will have provided a real service.
After reading the Newsweek cover story featuring an excerpt of "Perfect Madness," I thought I'd really connect with the book. But in expanding Warner's argument from a half-dozen pages into an intensive, repetitive analysis, several problems arose with "Perfect Madness."
1. Warner has been consumed by the "learned helplessness" that she sees in other women. In her view, the situation mothers find themselves in today is so awful, hopeless, and socially enforced that there is little that any one woman can do to improve her life, and it is just "settling" or rationalizing if we think we can improve things on our own.
Even though she covers the recent history of motherhood that shows us that every generation of women has faced similar struggles in one form or another, Warner makes it seem like our generation suffers from a unique and insurmountable challenge. I believe that it's our turn to take up the challenge, using our the gifts of our education and talents, to claim our place on the public stage.
2. Throughout "Perfect Madness," Warner continuously switches back and forth between discussions of serious economic and social pressures that affect women and their families, and the narcissistic, 24/7 "Total-reality Motherhood" that many well-off women have bought into, bringing untold stress into our lives. She intermingles stories of rich Moms stressing out about throwing the "perfect" birthday party with the justifiable panic of women who find that their earning power is not enough to pay for quality day-care, putting them in an economic double-bind.
I reject the connection Warner attempts to make between these two phenomena. Rich women are not going to fall into poverty because they refuse to throw an elaborate birthday party, and it is insulting to poor women to conflate these two "lacks of choice."
3. "Perfect Madness" leaves out all that is fun about motherhood. In my experience, motherhood has been a challenge in many of the ways that Warner describes, but I have also experienced tons of joy and a positive sense of self-reinvention, which are utterly missing from "Perfect Madness." A childless woman reading Warner's book would wonder why anyone would ever choose to ruin her life by having kids. Warner makes it all sound so depressing--a passionless, resentful relationship with your husband, no prospects of creating a satisfying career, and kids who are smothered until they don't even want you around.
On the very last pages of the book, Warner does profess that "I still believe in that dream of American womanhood: the sense of limitless possibility, that unique potential for unbounded self-creation." This glimmer of optimism is cold comfort after reading the pessimistic 281 pages that precede it.
I can see why the core concept of "Perfect Madness" has resonated with women and propelled the book to the top of the bestseller list, but I predict that when they sit down to read it, many busy Moms will lose patience with Warner's dim view of motherhood long before they reach her faint declaration of hope.
70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2005
As an older mom in a partially empty nest, I found this book interesting and important -- albeit, a very long and difficult read. Difficult, because it is painful to read and rehash how the current generation of mothers takes parenting to the painful point of obsession. Social critics suggest that feminist mothers of my own generation -- baby boomers -- invested more time and energy in building careers as opposed to nurturing our families....So perhaps it shouldn't surprise us to discover that our 'domestic neglect' inspired an over-parenting backlash?
I've often wondered whether competitive parenting, such as Warner described in her book, is an outgrowth of social or personal guilt. Whatever the cause, I am amazed at the sheer aggression with which today's younger parents approach soccer games, birthday parties, playgroups, and other things that are supposed be recreational. Are we having fun yet? Watching younger families in my neighborhood, I can't say that anyone's really thriving in such an over-booked and frantic climate. (A couple of these young moms are always out of breath. Seriously.) As another reviewer pointed out earlier, you have to wonder if any of the mothers Warner writers about are even remotely enjoying their children. At the risk of waxing sentimental, motherhood CAN have sweet, enjoyable moments. (Ironically, they are usually un-complicated, un-orchestrated moments.)
It will be very interesting to see how today's new mothers deal with the empty nest a few years down the road. Will they be competing for the most interesting midlife crisis while over-managing their kids' college careers? More importantly, what impact will all this over-managing and over-parenting have on the kids when they are out there in the world, on their own?
At this point, it's hard to pinpoint which is worse -- under-parenting or over-parenting. So, I think it's great that writers are tackling this topic and getting us to talk about it. Hopefully, books like "Perfect Madess" will force us all (women AND men), no matter what stage we are in our parenting lives, to take a long look at what we are doing or not doing for our kids -- and help us return to sanity and balance.
84 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2005
I am a French mom, I lived in France as a working mom and as an 'at home mom' and I really like it more being a mom in Colorado! Judith was very lucky to have all these advantages in France, I wasn't able to find a place in the over crowded government day cares for my son. I struggled to leave my job at 6:30pm every evening, to find the babysitter sleeping in the couch! I had to fight with the millions of people in the supermarket on Saturday morning, since all the stores are closed evenings and Sundays. I didn't have one minute for myself! And as an 'at home mom', in France, I felt very isolated, I didn't have the support group she is talking about, the pediatrician made me feel inapropriate, and I had a dreadull experience in giving birth in a French public hospital. Plus children are unwelcome wherever you go!
I delivered my second daughter in Salt Lake City, and my third daughter in Colorado and I had a great experience. Here I really have a support group of Moms, doctors and nurses. And I can have some time for myself! Plus I am waiting to have the work permit to start working again. In some ways, as Judith says I find that children have too many activities and I try to avoid this for my kids, but I don't want people to think that in Europe it is much better, and to be decieved if they go there. There are certainly some advantages, like long parental leaves, but it is not night and day!
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2008
This book took sort of a scatter-shot approach to why American mothers are going crazy. It seemed as if Judith Warner hit on a lot of themes that resonated with me, but she couldn't seem to find the exact problem, nor formulate likely to happen, workable solutions.
It seems to me that a combination of factors keeps today's mothers in a state of anxiety and isolation. One is simply the very separate nature of modern American life. Many of us live far from our parents and extended families. The mothers of young children who live near us face the same grueling schedules we do. Many women work part or full time and thus are not home in the middle of the day to get together with. We live our separate lives, coping with the pressure largely alone.
Another has to do with, I guess you would call it "expectations." After spending our lives earning advanced educational degrees, working at rewarding careers, and nurturing marriages, everything comes to an abrupt, grinding halt when babies and small children arrive on the scene. Suddenly, there are no people around, no goals to achieve, just endless rounds of diapers, food, cleaning up, and dealing with the demands of small children. Suddenly, women who up till now lived in the fast lane, are going through life with the emergency brake on.
Another factor involves the messages that society sends us, and here I have to break with other women's opinions here. I have found other women much, much more oppressive than men. A quick read on any mommy e-bulletin board yields flames telling women that if they don't breastfeed their child (competition here for how long to breastfeed), then they are engaging in child abuse. Ditto for making homemade baby food, using cloth diapers, buying only eco-friendly, educational toys, having no pain-killers during childbirth, spending as little time as possible in the hospital after childbirth...I could go on and on. If something spares a mother time, pain, convenience, or suffering, then it is denigrated by...mothers, many of them speaking in tones so arrogant and quelling that they smother any kind of debate or consensus on flexibility.
If men figure anywhere in this equation, it is in what warnings are sent to the public about pregnancy and raising small children. The warnings are dire, strident, and ultimately, produce great anxiety about outcomes with a low probability of happening. Pregnant women may not eat soft cheese or deli meat; they may not consume even a sip (a sip!) of alcohol without incurring public censure. When raising children, you may have the police on your hands if you leave your child unattended in the car for even a moment. The expectation on women is that will keep every potentially harmful substance from their children always, and likewise, that they will watch their children every single waking moment of every day without fail or be deemed defective, *bad* mothers. No wonder mothers of young children feel enormous pressure!
The issue of childcare seems like a red herring to me. Someone is still doing the work of caring for the children, and their work is the same as the mother's, except that they clock out after a few hours and get paid and go home guilt-free to their own lives, which may involve...raising small children.
As to solutions, I wish I had some... The one good thing is that the children do get bigger and wiser and require far less supervision.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2005
As a woman who put her spouse thru 8 years of grad. school, raised 3 children in an impoverished (but beautiful) region--not a "rich" stay-at-home Mom, but one who could really make a dollar stretch--while his career was slowly being built, my children are 16-21 and bright, creative, and enterprising. I truly wanted to raise my children; and although culturally I felt the taunts of the more mercenary and vocational callings of my gender, and was prey to the inevitable myriad parental frustrations, in retrospect I feel peaceful about the choice I made. Others have to make their own formulas for peace.
Judith Warner shares excellent perspectives on the costs working mothers pay in a society that lacks the infrastructure--culturally, philosophically, economically, and governmentally--to keep pace with womens' gains in working status. However, she infers that focus on parenting is either regressive and self-diminishing, or vicariously ambitiious. This reinforces the de-facto (i.e. just beyond the Mother's Day cards') devaluation that American society places on parenting, child-care, teaching and wider care-taking skills as reflected by economic penalties, typically low wages, chronically-shelved political priorities, etc. Proactive reform for mothers will not happen if the nurturing of children continues to be regarded as "lesser", unskilled, free or worthless endeavor.
Perhaps mothers should wear three-piece suits and fine shoes to the beach, the grocery store, the playground, the woods, just to emphasize that they are working and employing their "evolved" selves. At least on the Canadian census, "non-working" was changed (thanks to a stubborn census-taker) to "unpaid labor"...
As working women attain parity with men and buy into that previously male domain, the hyper-manic state of American workaholism, and even stay-at-home mothers feel challenged to compile the best "product" (versus engage in an evolving, ongoing, two-way "dialogue" of child-rearing), what is the next generation learning about the nature of relationships, about "being" versus "having", about healthy life-style choices? This is the "protestant ethic" in American overdrive...
Ms. Warner's solutions valiantly articulate some necessary practical changes to our archaic childcare network, inflexible work-schedule choices, and an employment environment that perceives accommodation to family obligation as laziness or liability. Yet, if mothers are truly maxed-out of time and energy and insecure among their peers, who will advocate for them as a whole? The caretakers, the grandparents, the religious institutions, child welfare agencies---all those who deal with the resultant broken pieces of relationally fractured lives, perhaps. And until these changes come to pass, as always, women need to make some very honest, agonizing personal assessments and walk that tattered tightrope of striving to balance their own needs with their childrens' (for whom they are STILL usually the primary influence), and perhaps a partner's needs, as well.
I am trying to begin my 2nd career at nearly 50, and with my husband seeking divorce, I am now faced with once again living on a shoe-string--and having to assess a "monetary value" for those years. One of the latest I read, from a study done in 2000 based on what one would have to pay to hire the work done by a Stay-at-Home partner for an 8-hr day, was about $58,000/mo. (Trust me, NOT in Maine!)
For more pieces of the picture, I recommend Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood (so those who cut back their careers to parent can have advance knoweledge of their future financial penalties); Elizabeth Warren's The Two-Income Trap(if you wonder why you are nearly bankrupt with 2 incomes and children); and for a blessed and sane approach to parenting, read Daphne de Marnier's Maternal Desire (for a non-judgmental, inner-motivational inventory for moms).
48 of 56 people found the following review helpful
If you're looking for the new millennium's sequel to Feminine Mystique or Backlash, keep looking. Warner spends almost 300 pages trying to figure out whether she's trying to evaluate the mothering cultures of France and the U.S. (when she was in France, she found it far inferior to the U.S.; now that she's back in the States, it's clear that France is superior), resolve the mommy wars (she deftly handles this by arguing that most money-earning moms don't work full time and most SAHMs have some kind of paid work, thereby eliminating the divide), determine the merits of nursery school vs an overly scheduled childhood vs just hanging out, or trace the ups and downs of mothering theory as compared and constrasted to the rise and fall of feminism. Whew, that's a lot! No wonder she encapsulates the above (and more) as "This Mess."
Because the general topic is near to my heart, and because I know so many women similar to Warner and her interviewees (heavily pedigreed mothers of the post baby boom generation, which Warner oddly defines as beginning in 1958), I picked up this book expecting to find some really good tidbits if not a wholly coherent structure that pulled all the pieces of motherhood together. Instead I found...a mess. My theory is that Warner started off with the best intentions, sure there was a book in all this material somewhere, and hoping that the thesis would shape itself if she collected enough data from enough women (she interviewed 150 moms). That didn't happen, and she didn't even get any good anecdotes out of the experience.
My own observation, as a mother of four who span the range from college to third grade, is that a lot of the sources she cites (the seminal treatises of each decade that redefined the role of mothers and the relationship of moms to paid work) didn't have nearly as much impact as she wants to believe. Being a mom has always entailed a significant amount of soul searching, juggling, angst, self-abnegation, and doubt. But everyone, mom or not, is affected by the increasing complexities of day-to-day life and the ongoing pressure to succeed, do more, spend more, experience more. We are all dealing with more stress, and Warner fails to factor that into her analysis. (She also somehow forgets to mention that there's a lot of joy to be derived from raising kids, and that there are plenty of parents and kids who are thoroughly enjoying the whole family thing, stresses notwithstanding.)
Warner's only hope of being extricated from This Mess, stated in her concluding sentence, is that society will "come together to make it a reality." That's not going to happen, and blaming the Mommy Mystique is ultimately a pretty pathetic excuse for not taking charge of your own life. No need to wallow in This Mess.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2005
Along with others, I kept wondering, where is the joy and magic of being a mother, and of children? Why are all the men depicted not helpful? I read an article quoting Judith Warner in which she stated that the men in her generation just were not going to help out enough to take this awful weight off of our shoulders. This assumption is not correct for many of us, thankfully. My husband does a little more in the house and with our children than I do, and we both have worked hard to achieve a good balance in our lives and we are in Warner's generation, and many of our peers do the same. The norm we see is parents sharing and mothers, whether they work or not, finding their own life after the first few years if not before, not the over-stressed Moms alphabetizing toys or lining up at 6 am to sign up for a pre-school or arts and crafts class. The best book on this subject and almost the only one that is not whiney or depressing is How To Avoid The Mommy Trap, by Julie Shields. Shields interviewed a different set of Washington parents, among others, including some in France. I'd much rather hang with them, and their children than in the amped up, unhappy world Warner presents.
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2005
My mother gave this book to my wife as a Christmas present. I'm still confused by the choice, as my wife is a senior manager at a corporation--not a frustrated stay at home mom. But being the curious type, I picked it up and read most of the book.
What I found particularly grating about Warner's book is the chapter on husbands. Apparently, Warner and her friends have "wonderful" husbands who love their wives and kids, but don't really do much to help out around the house. I beg to differ with this assessment.
I have a full time job/career and take full responsibility for childcare and domestic chores, such as cleaning,cooking, etc. Most of my male friends are in the same position and also contribute their fair share or more around the house, whether their wives work or not. We are not our father's generation, which was happy to mow the lawn and play golf on Saturday. Weekends are spent playing with kids, doing the shopping, and attending to chores.
It's too bad that Warner and her friends have such unsupportive husbands. Maybe they should have thought about what kind of support they would get before they married these country club gents.
Overall, the book comes off as a "woe is me" account. I wonder how Warner would feel if she faced serious economic hardships like most of the lower middle or lower class moms out there in the US. One would think they would find her exasperated tone a bit grating as they shuttle off to their second job to make ends meet.
35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2005
I'd like to add to the review of Author who said that "Perfect Madness" ripped off another book. I have read two books that not only diagnose the problems discussed in "Perfect Madness" (in which Warner comes across as elitist and whiney -- even though there is pressure to have a busy social life and stimulate your children, so what? A big girl and certainly a mother should be able to withstand peer pressure. How can mothers teach their children to ignore peer pressure when their lives are consumed by it?) but also give solutions about how not to get caught up in the traps that are out there. If you want to get annoyed, read "Perfect Madness". If you want to chart your own path and find a better life, instead try "How To Avoid The Mommy Trap" and "The Over-Scheduled Child" and also "The Hurried Child". And unbelievably, the New York Times book review article, though called "The Mommy Trap," did not mention "How To Avoid The Mommy Trap," or anything other than books describing all the problems associated with mothering these days. Sometimes I think the media helps foster the illusion that everybody is having problems because they focus on this type of global rant rather than providing a more nuanced or even positive story now and then.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2005
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is actually much more of a bombshell book than its quiet cover suggests. There was much I disagreed with - the attacks on attachment parenting, the anxiety about breastfeeding - both of which made my lfie more manageable as well as the children's - but overall I thought there was plenty to agree with as well, especially the central notion that a very small upper-middle class segment of mothers are now unfairly representing an entirely unrealistic norm to the rest of us, and - perhaps even more - that the key ages of 'family-centredness' were made possible by government support for families in the form of low-interest home loans and free college education for servicemen. Equally crucial is the notion that mothers micromanage - diet, exercise, decorating - food fads, pottery classes - becauuse they've utterly lost the plot, and that they try to control their children every minute because they can't control anything else. I found all this pretty illuminating (and yes, some of it is true of me, I see). I didn't find as much as I'd like, though, about alternatives - downsizing, letting kids roam free, refusing the spiral of 'activities' and vita-building... and how about voting for a government that subsidises low-cost heath- and childcare, America? (We (in the UK) have both). My advice is to read the book, then take your kids for a picnic... and worry a lot less.