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A Mother's Place : Taking the Debate About Working Mothers Beyond Guilt and Blame Hardcover – April 15, 1998

4.0 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Who makes the best kind of mother--a stay-at-home mom or a working mom? Susan Chira, deputy foreign editor for the New York Times, has joined the debate with the excellent, insightful, and forward-thinking A Mother's Place. Chira cites "the cultural and political forces pounding away at mothers" as the source of her inspiration, and indeed, the last decade has seen a spate of books, studies, and talk-show spectacles claiming that working mothers are the root of many societal ills.

What stay-at-home-mom zealots have neglected to consider is the personhood of the mothers themselves. Chira points out that a mother's intellectual and emotional satisfaction will undeniably affect her children. So if Mom feels forced into staying at home with the kids, her resentment is not likely to result in star-quality mothering. Chira does not mean to say that all stay-at-home mothers are bitter and bored; instead, she makes a plea that a mother's choice in this matter be accepted and celebrated, regardless of her decision.

A Mother's Place is extremely well-researched, using both the latest empirical studies and interviews with over 40 mothers and a dozen fathers, augmented by her own personal experiences. The result is an intimate, accessible study that while firmly rooted in science successfully avoids a dry academic tone. The good news is that Chira offers a thorough, well-crafted, and compelling argument that "working mother" does not equal "evil mother." The bad news is that in our supposedly enlightened times there are still people in need of convincing. --Brangien Davis

From Publishers Weekly

Chira, deputy foreign editor for the New York Times, here confronts the cultural image of the Good Mother, the archetypical American homemaker of the 1950s and 1960s who, in the 1990s, when more than half of all mothers with children under the age of one work outside the home, is hard to find. Chira, the mother of two school-age children, notes that she works outside the home by choice, and she attacks the "mother blaming" for children's maladjustments that can be found in contemporary writings about child-rearing. Penelope Leach, T. Berry Brazelton, family court judges and the religious right receive the back of Chira's hand for ignoring evidence that working outside the home has little effect on children if mothers are sensitive to their offspring's needs, provide proper care and supervision and, importantly, are themselves content. Some research suggests that children in quality daycare score higher academically, socially and behaviorally than those who spend their early years at home, stresses the author. Among her proposals to aid working mothers are better training for daycare teachers (France, for example, requires five years), more participation by fathers in child rearing, a year's parental leave at a lower salary after childbirth or adoption and job options such as flextime and part-time hours. Chira's forcefully argued, well-documented book provides an important perspective to the debate. First serial to Glamour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (April 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060173270
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060173272
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,496,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Searching to better understand and resolve my own inner struggle to determine whether I can succeed at parenting and working I bought Susan's book. When I was finished reading the book I found I had no new insights and much frustration with the unrealistic world the author lives in. I find that most of us working moms struggle to balance our work and home lives. Susan readily admits in the author's note that her husband is more than a 50% parent - something most women would love to have (just read any of the other books on balancing work and family as a woman). But because her life is so far flung from most of ours - (taking time off to write a book, having a husband work at home),the book lacked the practical elements that I was looking for. It is nonetheless a good sociological study. It just lacks the dose of realilty that the rest of us are struggling to deal with. Don't expect to find any answers if you're struggling like I am to figure out how you can manage.
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Format: Hardcover
As a SAHM struggling with the decision of whether to resume employment, I read Chira's book eagerly. I was somewhat disappointed to find that many of the statistics she fairly presented still seemed to favor the traditional at-home parent model. Particularly worrisome to me was her assertion that many child care providers disapprove of working mothers. I also found that Chira defended all 'degrees' of working, including days where a bedtime kiss was the sole contact with the child. Many working mothers are not necessarily away for ten to twelve hours daily, and I'd be interested to see those lesser situations addressed. Her models also seem geared almost entirely to upper middle-class women, although she mentions those who must work for financial reasons. I thought Chira fairly affirmed a mother's choice to remain home, although some of her comments regarding these mothers' rationale may be offensive. Overall, I found the book interesting, but was disappointed that it didn't necessarily persuade me that working was a wholly desirable option.
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Format: Hardcover
Susan Chira is assistant managing editor for news of The New York Times. She wrote in the Prologue to this 1998 book, “My resentment at the cultural and political forces pounding away at mothers prompted me to write this book. I fear that the societal message convinces many women, both mothers and those who want to be, to lose hope that anyone can combine work and motherhood. Women are encouraged to give up instead of fighting to change the conditions that make working and child reading so wrenching… In writing this book, I sometimes felt as if I was laying out my motherhood, my uncertainties and my missteps, to be judged by a stern public. My children are still young. There are times when I worry about having them shake this book in my face when they are older… During my first maternity leave, I proposed an article for the Times… Cradling my nursing baby in one arm and the phone in my ear… I could hardly contain my happiness… it was the first time I felt both my selves fit together with an audible click. Our culture does not acknowledge such moments of joy and power---and I am writing this book to celebrate them.” (Pg. xvi-xviii)

She observes, “As the children of the first post-World War II baby boom began having children en masse, they brought to parenting the same level of intensity, scrutiny, and narcissism that many had previously devoted to protest, relationships, and careers. The result was a fascination with babies that borders on the obsessive. Just as we had supermom, that flawed and impossible standard, we now have superbaby, the optimally stimulated, optimally nurtured child who requires a full-time mother at his side.” (Pg. 53)

She continues, “The cult of the baby threatens to eviscerate the baby as well as the mother.
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Format: Hardcover
The book itself is very well done: thoroughly researched, and careful to consider all sides of the issue. But obviously it's a Rorschach test for most readers: the reviewers so far have seen it as a mirror of their own biases rather than trying to read it objectively (or read it at all -- witness Cody, Wyoming, who provides a refreshing counter-argument to the "homeschooling is best" books on the market today).
What all these people miss is the author's main point: instead of arguing endlessly about whether it's "better" to have a stay-at-home vs. a working mother, let's accept the facts -- a majority of women with children work -- and apply all that energy to ensuring that this situation isn't harmful to children. (I had a mother who gave up a job she enjoyed in order to have children -- and made managing her children her "career." I wish to goodness that she'd kept her old job!!)
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Format: Hardcover
I find it sadly ironic that so much of the data Chira uses to justify her rather utilitarian approach to child-rearing actually undermines her premise that 40-60 hour work weeks are not harmful to kids. As a matter of fact, from what I have thus far read of Ms. Chira's tome, my overwhelming emotion is one of sadness---for her children. I think what put me over the top was the part about work being her escape from dealing with her child's potentially fatal illness. As for her assertions that she is there "in spirit" for her children, that must be a major source of comfort to them. From what I have read, I believe many readers will ask the question: "Why did this women have kids in the first place?."
Frankly, I am tired of the protestations from those who say that their personal "happiness," "fulfillment," etc., is of the most profound importance to their child's well-being. What nonsense. Doing what is right by your kids is w! ! hat is important to their development as secure, happy individuals. Sorry, but there is a little more to this "Mom stuff" than 30 minutes of chit-chit before bedtime, and being there "in spirit."
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