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Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life Hardcover – March 22, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"A professional friend of mine," writes de Marneffe, "says that every time she sees a new book about mothers... she feels mingled dread and hope as a question instantly pops into her mind: 'Is it for me or against me?'-"i.e., will the book say that children benefit more from the consistent care given by stay-at-home mothers or from the financial prerogatives provided by working mothers? De Marneffe, a clinical psychologist who divides her time between work and caring for her three children, wants to reframe the question. What, she asks, does the mother want? What if a woman raises her children because she finds it fulfilling? Rarely, purports de Marneffe, does the "public discourse take account of the embodied, aching desire to be with their children that many mothers feel." De Marneffe studies, among other things, feminism (which, she says, fought for the right to have children but neglected the right to care for children), the feelings of ambivalence and pleasure in raising children and the role of other care providers (including fathers) as she strives to evaluate a woman's need to nurture her children. By examining both sides-the corporate woman who yearns to be home with her children, and the full-time mom who finds the boredom oppressive-de Marneffe avoids sounding judgmental. Her book, with its academic tone, isn't light reading, and many of her ideas taken individually are controversial (e.g., her view that "domestic work complements caring for children"). But she offers a fascinating analysis that's a welcome addition to the dialogues about motherhood.
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From Booklist

De Marneffe brings her experiences and perspectives as a psychologist, feminist, and mother to this absorbing look at the enormous personal pleasure that women derive from mothering. Citing the political, cultural, and social factors that have devalued motherhood, de Marneffe notes the reluctance to explore maternal desire--as common wisdom would have it, motherhood and desire don't belong in the same phrase. There is fear that discussing maternal desire will feed old notions about women's nature and justify restrictions of their rights. The price of that reluctance is a lost opportunity to understand women more deeply, de Marneffe asserts. She explores iconic images of motherhood, from the sacrificial mom to the supermom, and examines motherhood as an active and transforming experience. She offers insights into the cost of juggling the obligations of careers and day care and how women reconcile their deepest inner desires with economic and other necessities. This is a stirring book that celebrates women's love for their children and mothering while also supporting their interest in careers and other pursuits. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (March 22, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316059951
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316059954
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #291,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is the first book I have encountered that has intelligently given voice to the seemingly obvious yet currently obfuscated fact that many women desire to have children and to play a very active role in taking care of them rather than "outsourcing". While this was seen as the only route just a few generations ago, the choices available to my generation of now 30-somethings have actually made it a rather suspect choice among the upwardly mobile. Why would anyone stay at home with the kids given the choice not to?

de Marneffe turns this question on its head and begins from a place that acknowledges and respects maternal desire no matter what a woman's situation may be vis-?-vis working and mothering. She does not come up with any prescriptives that maternal desire means that all women should be doing one thing or the other. Instead, she simply gives voice to that desire in a way that I experienced to be extremely cathartic as a mother of two who has clocked two years as a working mother and one year at home with the kids.

This book creates the psychic space needed to consider the role we want to play as mothers while deftly avoiding getting caught in stale debates that either sentimentalize or devalue our choices. The way women think about and experience working and mothering has undergone a monumental shift from the now decades old idea that motherhood is a trap that women are pushed into. While this was once a revolutionary thought that played its role in helping to open up opportunities for women, it is overly ripe for refining. de Marneffe rightly puts her finger on the fact that our own desires, our own agency plays a driving role in our choice to mother and is therefore able to revisit old debates from a meaningful new perspective.
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Format: Hardcover
FINALLY- a book for someone who likes to be and wants to be a MOTHER! I found this book to be a refreshing change from the barrage of books available on how to be supermom, how to balance a career and a family and everything else, or how to not let your children get in the way of your life. This isn't a self-help book or a personal account, but more on the lines of a sociology book on the current aspects of motherhood. It addresses the modern-day feminist needs to "have it all". My favorite chapters were those dealing with women's desires to stay home with or be the primary figure in their children's lives, and how they have to contend with society telling them that they are unintelligent because they do not have careers or weak because they cannot or do not want to leave their children in daycare all day.

This book does NOT attack the non-traditional, modern-day mom. It DOES support the traditional family, letting women know there is nothing wrong with the desire to be a mom.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wow. I cannot thank De Marneffe enough for writing this book. I just started it, and I already feel like it has changed my life because it offers such a simple but revolutionary new perspective on motherhood. It is incredibly validating to me -- as a woman, as a mother, and as a feminist. But it certainly isn't "old-school" feminism. I think it represents the direction that feminism will take in the 21st century.
Ever since I became a mother, I feel like I'm living in Babel - everyone's speaking a different language, and no one's speaking mine. This book is like a revelation, a lucid translation of all the surprising new feeelings that have surfaced in me since I had a child, but that I have been afraid or ashamed to admit to. The book represents the first discourse that I've found to look at motherhood neither as a foolish and short-sighted sell-out of a woman's individuality, nor as a perfectly selfless act of Christian martyrdom pursued solely for the sake of the children. What if motherhood , even full-time motherhood, is a self-actualizing spiritual journey and a valid form of self-expression that enhances the mother herself? I've never been able to figure out WHY I want to have children so much. De Marneffe's view of motherhood helps me understand and give a voice to my desire to mother.
If you're looking for a book that covers the economic realities of dealing with work/life balance issues, this is not the book for you. But I don't think it's reasonable to think that we can tackle that much larger social issue until we've developed this individual discourse about the true meaning and value of motherhood (and of parenthood).
My only criticism of the book is that I would rather see a book written about "parenting desire," not just maternal desire, because I don't think it's just women struggling with this issue. I hope that De Marneffe's next book does for fathers and paternal desire what this book does for mothers.
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Format: Hardcover
If you are hoping for an ideological tribute to the women who leave the workplace to look after their young children, you should look elsewhere.This is an extremely compelling and forcefully written exploration of the nature and vicissitudes of maternal love. The author marshals her understanding, both clinical and personal, of feminist pyschoanalytic theory to argue that maternal desire has unique characteristics and that these are at best sentimentalized and at worst villified in social and economic institutions. She asks us to take maternal desire seriously, not as a basis for any particular "choice" in regard to parenting, but as an individual and collective good. The author's experiential engagement with the issues she raises serves to illustrate the progress of her reasoning without setting itself up as an exemplar for all women. The framework she develops creates new possibilities for reasoned discussion of social/economic justice and equality in relation to women's identity formation, children's needs and the "un-gendering" of maternal desire.
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