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Perfect Madness : Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety Paperback – Bargain Price, February 7, 2006

3.1 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The old adage is especially true for Perfect Madness: don't judge this eminently readable book by its stern and academic-looking cover. Judith Warner's missive on the "Mommy Mystique" can be read in a weekend, if readers have the time. Of course--according to the book--many would-be readers will have to carve out the hours in between an endless sea of child-enriching activities, a soul-sucking swirl that leads many mothers into a well of despair. Warner's book seeks to answer the question, "Why are today's young mothers so stressed out?" Whether shuttling kids to "enriching" after-school activities or worrying about the quality of available child care, the women of Perfect Madness describe a life far out of balance. Warner spends most of the book explaining how things got to this point, and what can be done to restore some sanity to the parenting process.

Warner draws her research from a group of 20- to 40-year-old, upper-middle-class, college-educated women living in the East Coast corridor. In other words, mirror images of Warner herself. Her limited scope has caused controversy and criticism, as have some of her more sweeping statements. (For example, Warner blames second-wave feminism--rather than corporate culture--for the many limitations women still experience as they try to balance the work-family dynamic.) Other favorite targets include the mainstream media, detached fathers, and controlling, "hyperactive" mothers who create impossible standards for themselves, their children, and the community of other parents around them. Warner begins and ends the book with a compelling argument for the need for more societal support of mothers--quality-of-life government "entitlements" such as those found in France. It's these big-picture issues that will provide the solution, she says, even if most mothers don't want to discuss them because they consider the topic "tacky, strident-sounding, not the point." In these sections on governmental policy, and also when she steps back, encouraging women to be kinder to each other, the author's warmth comes across easily on the page. Pilloried by some readers and supported by others, Warner should at least be applauded for opening up the Pandora's Box of American motherhood for a new generation. And if readers are of two minds about the issues raised Perfect Madness, as Warner sometimes seems to be herself, it's a fitting reaction to a topic with few easy answers. --Jennifer Buckendorff END --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

In this polemic about contemporary motherhood, Warner argues that the gains of feminism are no match for the frenzied perfectionism of American parenting. In the absence of any meaningful health, child-care, or educational provisions, martyrdom appears to be the only feasible model for successful maternity—with destructive consequences for both mothers and children. Comparing this situation with her experiences of child-rearing in France, Warner finds American "hyper-parenting"—pre-school violin and Ritalin on demand—"just plain crazy." The trouble is a culture that, though it places enormous private value on children, neglects them in the arena of public policy. She is concerned less with sexual politics than with the more pervasive effects of the "winner takes all" mentality, and makes an urgent case for more socially integrated parenthood.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (February 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0641803273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0641803277
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,774,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Amy Tiemann VINE VOICE on February 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.

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Format: Hardcover
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?
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Format: Hardcover
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!
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Format: Paperback
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.
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