Friday, September 7, 2007

Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety

Last week I finished reading Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. I have lots and lots and lots to say about this book and started to write a post about it, but it got to be almost 1:30 a.m. and I went to bed instead. Now, this week I posted about the books I read since then and so again it goes unremarked. I need to get better about succinct summaries, because my pile of things to be blogged about is growing larger and larger and is starting to make me feel stressed instead of having fun! I will definitely edit this later to add my real comments about this book.

Okay, now it is 10/6 and this is still in my unblogged pile and I think I'm going to have to let go of writing about it. I'm mostly caught up otherwise and this is kind of hanging over my head, which is just plain silly! I will say that reading this book makes me feel like a "double agent" between the AP and non-AP worlds--while my heart lies in AP, my brain actually identifies with the author's criticisms and sometimes outright mockery of that style. I think my personality style and my tendency to be driven and ambitious might actually make me better suited to a work-out-of-the-home life, but my heart and biological connection compels me to be with my babies. The author articulates what I've felt, but haven't really been able to express--the need for something in between staying at home and working full time (basically, that working and mothering simultaneously is the most natural and fulfilling approach, but our society does not make that combination often feasible or comfortable):

"Which means that 'natural' motherhood today should know no conflict between providing for our children (i.e. 'working') and nurturing them (i.e. 'being a mom'). Both are part of our evolutionary heritage; both are equally 'child-centered' imperatives. What's 'unnatural' about motherhood today, if you follow Hrdy's line of thinking, is not that mothers work but rather that their 'striving for status' and their 'maternal emotions' have been compartmentalized. By putting the two in conflict--by insisting on the incompatibility of work and motherhood--our culture does violence to mothers, splitting them, unnaturally, within themselves...For they show that the so-called 'choices' most of us face in America--between more-than-full-time work or 24/7 on-duty motherhood--are, quite simply, unnatural. They amount to a kind of psychological castration: excessive work severs a mother from her need to be physically present in caring for her child, and excessive 'full-time' motherhood of the total-reality variety severs a mother not only from her ability to financially provide for her family but also from her adult sense of agency, as it sucks her so deeply down the infantile realm of her children."

This is what I'm talking about. There needs to be a third, realistic option (and not just for women. For men too. For families!). I have often expressed the desire to find a balance between mothering and "personing." I'm seeking a seamless integration of work and family life for both Mark and myself. An integration that makes true co-parenting possible, while still meeting the potent biological need of a baby for his mother and a mother's biological compulsion to be present with her baby. Why is the work world designed to ignore the existence of families?

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