rating: 4 of 5 stars
When I first started reading this book I hated Ms. Bennetts and thought she was a smug self-righteous person (I just edited myself). I stopped reading and cursed her for hating stay at home mothers so much (full disclosure, I am a stay-at-home mother). But then I thought about it. Why had I reacted so strongly to this book and her ideas? Because on some level I knew she was right, or at least her points applied to me.
The basic thrust of the book is that women give up too much when they "choose" to give up employment for full-time child care. They give up financial independence, self-fulfillment, self-determination, the respect of others (sometimes including their partners and children), retirement savings, freedom, the opportunity to live up to their full potential, and intellectual challenge. She doesn't argue that motherhood and caring for children is unimportant, but just that it can be done by others, including the children's father, child care providers, etc.
Women who choose to "opt out" often don't think about the vulnerability they assume once they give up the paycheck. Women who rely on their husbands (or partners) for their financial security can be surprised when they are left to fend for themselves (by their partner's death, divorce, etc.). Often they have been out of the work force for a decade or more and cannot re-enter their chosen field, or at least not at the level they had held when they left. Women returning to work face sexism and ageism.
Our culture tells women that they can't "have it all", meaning they can't have a happy and healthy family, a job and a strong relationship with their partners. Something has to give, and for a lot of women, they give up their jobs/careers. How many stories do you hear about a mother being successful in a career and being an active and involved parent? No, they are usually about the stresses and strains of combining work and motherhood.
Mothers are held up to some absurd standards to be Martha Stewart, Mary Poppins, and Jenna Jamison (the porn star, in case you don't know) all while volunteering at church and school every week. But what about the dads? If they give a kid a bath or do a load of laundry they are Father of the Year. Men are not asked to make the same sacrifices as their female partners. Why?
Maybe because we women don't demand it. Maybe because we just assume that it's our job to take care of kids, house and everyone else. Maybe because we don't think (or want to think) that anyone can do it as good as we can. Maybe because we are afraid of the hassle, challenges, stress, etc. that the full life of work and home and children brings.
But let's remember that kids grow up. They go to school. They get their own lives. They don't want or need us around. What happens to all the at-home moms then? They get bored. They feel insecure and useless. They try to get back into the work world and are re-buffed at every turn. They get divorced.
So what are we to do as women? We are to live full lives with all the challenges, and with help from our partners. Men in Gen X and Y don't expect to have their partners to be June Cleaver and don't want to miss out on being fathers like their own may have. So let's ask them, demand them, to help us out so we can all be happy and fulfilled. And then let's demand that our society institutes policies that support families and mothers. We are legion, let's get to it.
As one of my favorite saying goes, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
After finishing the whole book, I have to say this book changed my thinking and probably will change my life. I have taken steps to add work and other activities to my life to give it more depth and breadth. My son and partner will benefit from these changes, as well as myself and society as a whole. I feel like I have sacrificed a lot for my child (and gladly). Now I need to show him what a healthy full life looks like, at least mine.
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