The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued (Ann Crittenden)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Though well-written and thought provoking, The Price of Motherhood is going to be a divisive book for many people – in it, Crittenden effectively argues that the “mother” (defined as the primary nurturer/caregiver within the household) is often asked, consciously and unconsciously,  to give up a large portion of her professional identity, her future income, and even her sense of self-respect.  The book is a well-organized mixture of surveys, journalistic-style reporting and interviews, as well as an analysis of how other countries have handled the issues of parenting,  including paid time off, etc.  Though there wasn’t much that I hadn’t heard of tangentially, it’s presented here with a blend of anecdotes and data that is engrossing and articulate and addresses an issue that should be generating more conversation and debate.

Greater Detail:
Though Crittenden’s book talks about mothers who are educated or uneducated, single, married or divorced, most of her hardest-hitting arguments focus on the identity shift that happens for women who grew up believing they could have it all – by which she means both a family and a career.  Crittenden was inspired to write the book because she was once a highly acclaimed, well-paid journalist whose career stalled when she had children; I think the audience that would be most appreciative of this work would be women (or primary caretakers) who either have made or are about to make a similar transition.

Crittenden argues that in a nation driven by supply and demand,  economic and social worth are intricately linked together.  Though we say we value mothers and motherhood, and talk about how invaluable mothers who stay at home are, in reality, we offer mothers very little in the way of monetary compensation, protection, or the opportunity to have an independent identity.

While women have fought to have equal rights and opportunities in the job market, there are still a myriad of obstacles women face.  Crittenden references several studies to illustrate the idea that married men still convey the idea of stability, while married women are at a disadvantage… with employers and at home.  She argues that working mothers often still bear more of the daycare and household responsibilities, and that our workplace is designed to be unforgiving to caretakers who would like to work part time, have a more flexible schedule, or even have a guaranteed position if they take a longer maternity leave.

One particular survey revealed that both men and women felt that having two parents working full time while their children were young was the least ideal situation, yet because this remains such a common model, Crittenden urges that it would be better for all of us if we took a harder look at universal preschool and better paternity and maternity leave options.

She also showcases the ways in which women are heavily divided on this issue, discriminating against one another in the workplace, and even in arguing semantics of sacrifice versus joy, monetary versus personal compensation.  The argument here is that there would be more effective protections if only women in the U.S. could be more unified in defining and, to a certain degree, like the “strong women” of Sweden, demanding fair and equitable treatment.

Ultimately, though I enjoyed this book, I do wish there was more in the chapter about actual solutions Because of the nature of the arguments being made, it really isn’t a book everyone will enjoy.  Many of the choices we make to get to the point in our lives where we work full or part time, have or don’t have children, delay children for careers or vice versa, are so personal and emotional that reading an argument, even a very well-formed one, challenging the fairness and equity of those decisions can be tough.  I enjoyed it, and recommend it, but know that it’s not the type of nonfiction that is purely factual or informative.  There is a very purposeful drive to this read, which will be off-putting for many people.

Comparisons to Other Authors:

The closest other book that I’ve read is probably Halving it All, by Francine Deutsch, which talks a little more about how to separate out the parenting duties so that life can be more fair.

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Posted in Nonfiction

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