This book is loaded with both controversy and solutions

First shift begins in early morning.

You hit work then, and run all day for that weekly paycheck. Second shift starts the minute you pick up the kids and arrive home to run all evening until you fall into bed. Is this the way you wanted things to be or, after reading the new book “Forget ‘Having It All’” by Amy Westervelt, do you actually have too much?

With two young children and a solid journalism career, Amy Westervelt is busy. She’s sometimes overloaded, which makes her think about motherhood in America versus motherhood elsewhere. Overseas, mothers get more support; here, not always so much. But to understand “Why… motherhood in America kinda suck(s)” we first must know its history.

Says Westervelt , America “was colonized by people who believed… in the power of self,” and that “led to both greatness and depravity.” It also led to a patriarchal society in which women “were seen as responsible for the moral character of their children” but men controlled white women’s lives, inheritances, childbirth, birth control, and most childcare decisions. Conversely, Black and Native American women generally reared their children communally — which, as it happens, is an ancient method and the way many societies raise their kids today.

Modern mothers may enjoy more help from their spouses than their foremothers got but motherhood is still rather complicated. Women are criticized for “helicopter” mothering, and for giving their kids more freedom. They’re made to feel guilt for working, and for missing work when needed. They may be denied birth control, but are given little-to-no governmental or societal support when they have children. Mothers of color, single mothers, and lesbian parents have these issues, and more.

Says Westervelt, solutions start with demands for improved maternity leave, and for government-supported daycare. We should encourage boys to be nurturing. Passing the ERA would help, as would allowing better access to birth control. Finally, we need to stop shaming the choices women make, and “expand our notions of family to… go beyond the nuclear family.”

While it’s true that a minute of browsing may tempt you to dismiss this book as just another feminist rant, hold up. Yes, author Amy Westervelt admits to both ranting and feminism and yes, there’s anger here. Still, “Forget ‘Having It All’” deserves a really good second look.

If nothing but for the history, this book will open eyes. You may think you know how your foremothers tried to raise families without losing identities, but Westervelt lays it bare again. You may think we’ve transcended old issues, but she shows how we’ve only re-arranged them. And you might think the grass is greener elsewhere, but she’s inclusive here: childless women and same-sex mothers don’t get off easy in today’s “messed up motherhood.”

No doubt, this book is loaded with controversy, but it’s equally loaded with solutions. It’s one of those kinds of books that will make you want to take copious notes. If you’re so inclined, “Forget ‘Having It All’” may also be a book that shifts your thinking.


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