As July 12 is my birthday, I’m turning the keyboard aboard over to our latest MOTHERS member, Laura LaMonica of Stella, North Carolina. She’s a freshly minted Ed.D. and recently just happened to be reading The Price of Motherhood by our very own Ann Crittenden. You’ll find below her fresh take on this book which fired us up and set us on the path we follow today, with as much passion and purpose as ever. Welcome, Laura!
In The Price of Motherhood, Ann Crittenden writes about a subject near and dear to my heart: mothers and work. This May, I graduated with a Doctor of Education degree from North Carolina State University. In my dissertation, I examined the experiences of mothers as they transitioned away from and back to the paid workforce around the birth of a first child. A mother of young children, I felt isolated and alone in my own struggles to balance paid work and family and remain relevant and effective in either sphere. I wanted to find out if my experiences were unique or reflective of the struggles of other mothers in the paid workforce. I found that I am not as alone as I feel.
Reading Crittenden’s book felt like a further validation of my feelings and of my work. But more than that, she provides insights and a new way of looking at the experience of motherhood that has expanded my own thinking. Crittenden reminded me that the phrase “working mother”—or “worker-mother” as I called my study participants—is redundant. Her brilliant analysis of the economic contributions—and oversight—of mothers’ unpaid labor blew me away. I am all too familiar with the model of “economic man” that drives organizations and the human resource development function within them. Crittenden’s articulate and insightful portrait of “economic woman” adds an entirely new dimension to my understanding of the workplace and the social structure within which we all live and work.
In my own work, I examined the experiences of the mothers in my study through a radical feminist lens. This viewpoint allowed me to focus on the patriarchal social structure that creates the struggles experienced by mothers in the paid workforce. Crittenden’s work helped me understand more deeply how this social structure is sustained and fed by the unpaid work mothers do. The Price of Motherhood’s Chapter 3, which traces the development of this social structure and the economic marginalization of mothers, was nothing short of revolutionary for me. Crittenden’s description of the women’s movement and the growth of our economy is readable, interesting, and written in a way that someone like me, with little knowledge of economics, could grasp.
This ability to provide understandable and accessible explanations of social phenomena is so important and needed and is one of Crittenden’s greatest contributions. I have read and referenced many of the pre-eminent feminist scholars she cites in her work: Joan Williams, Heidi Hartmann, Heather Joshi, Deborah Swiss, Jane Waldfogel, to name just a few. Crittenden is able to take the sometimes dense, scholarly work of these brilliant academics and join and translate it into a highly accessible, thoroughly readable piece of literature. By making the issues facing mothers known, and in a way that anyone can understand, Crittenden opens the topic for discussion in the mainstream – something she rightly points out is sadly missing in our society.
Another aspect of Crittenden’s work that I appreciated on a personal level was that she placed the blame for mothers’ plight where it belongs: off of mothers and onto the social structure in which we mother. I was pointed to The Price of Motherhood by a reviewer of another book on the same topic. I was struggling to get through that book because the author blamed mothers (specifically stay-at-home mothers) for their plight. Even though as a mother in the paid workforce, I was not the target of this author’s wrath, I felt insulted, offended, and off put on behalf of all women who mother. I wondered if others felt the same and ventured online to find out. Reviewer Laura Farrell noted, “For more serious books on this topic, check out Unbending Gender (by Joan Williams, a law professor) and The Price of Motherhood (by Ann Crittenden, a financial journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee). Neither delivers a harangue against working or at-home mothers; they just deal with the issues.” I knew the blame and guilt that I was feeling as I read somehow wasn’t right – it felt good to know that others felt similarly and that writers like Crittenden are out there, focusing on what’s important, denouncing “choice rhetoric” and “mommy wars,” and doing so without additional detriment to the women they are trying to serve.
This even handedness demonstrated by Crittenden is another characteristic that made the book valuable to me and, I believe, to many others. She addresses the issues without making any of them political; she avoids soap boxing, relying instead of data, facts, and irrefutable economic truths. She advocates only for mothers, working and stay-at-home, young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican. Works like Crittenden’s go a long way toward healing the in-fighting so frightfully common among our own.
The Price of Motherhood evoked a litany of emotions from me. I felt irate, betrayed, unappreciated, incented, helpless. I read the book while my family was on “staycation”; I didn’t get to participate in the rest because I work part time and therefore have no access to paid leave. I couldn’t afford to take time off. Of course, I was also responsible for the extra child care responsibilities, meals, and housework that occurred that week as my family took their leisure, as well. Crittenden suggests plausible, reasonable suggestions for making changes big and small to our social structure and to our workplaces that can alleviate much of the inequality mothers face. I cheered quietly to myself as I read them, but was almost immediately overcome with a feeling of utter hopelessness as I imagined the resistance that such change will undoubtedly face. It seemed too big a mountain to climb.
Still, I ventured to Ms. Crittenden’s web site, interested in what she’s doing since writing the book. Happily, I found MOTHERS and once again, I feel inspired. Equality for all women—including mothers—is an uphill battle, but it is one worth fighting. When I consider the barriers faced and overcome by women like Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Margaret Sanger, Betty Friedan, and Mary McLeod Bethune, or other civil rights activists like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, I must acknowledge that there is hope, and there must be—must be—action. This is The Price of Motherhood’s most important impact on me—the courage to hope and a will to act. For that, Ms. Crittenden, I am most grateful.
‘Til next time,
Your Woman in Washington