Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink
This book should be required reading for all mothers, especially for ones who work outside the home. It is the story of a working mom going mad trying to juggle work and family. Her story is also my story and many others. Details may vary person to person but the overall theme is - you can't do both in America. Even with shortened work weeks, ability to work virtually, a very understanding boss, unlimited resources for home help (cleaning lady, babysitter, daycare, attentive husband, etc), it is impossible to mentally carry both workloads. As a result, many working moms burn out, have depression or anxiety, and feel like they're overall just trying to keep their heads above water both at home and work. We're not talking being able to give 100% of yourself both at home and work - just going day by day with the acceptance of not being fully present at any time is a struggle when one small sickness or train delay can collapse your whole schedule. Even for the moms who feel they found balance and carefully made choices to avoid this trap - the cultural expectations still cast shadows of doubt if they're doing the "right" thing. Want to get ahead at work and outsource all home and childcare duties? You live with the sacrifice of missing out on most of your children's lives and have the headache of orchestrating all this outside help. Want to stay at home with the kids? You feel like you're losing yourself and sacrificing all you've worked for by "just" being a stay at home mom. Any intermediate combination of work and children and you're most likely on the "mommy track", passed over for raises and promotions at work, still missing out on some of your children's life.
What is the right balance will vary greatly from person to person but without supporting or acknowledging moms or families at all in the US, we are setting women up for a crisis. They must choose between family and work with work being the culturally implied "correct" option. Family in any capacity is seen as a burden. Being a mom is hard enough but dealing with not only lack of support but the overwhelming pressure that your choices are a burden or wrong is literally making women go crazy and get sick from stress like never before.
This book came to me at just the right time - I was starting to feel like I adjusted to my new life as a mom of 2 and even considered going back to work at an office job. You get breaks, you have a commute all to yourself, you use your brain for things other than toddler negotiations, your computer doesn't arbitrarily scream at you, and you still have the kids before and after you work at your paying job. Then I read this book. The author also felt like she could handle work again after she got on her feet after baby #2. She found a great supportive job, advanced well in her career, and still got crushed surviving day to day. Her story resonated so much with me, I could see myself going crazy after a while too, even in a job I loved. She helped solidify my choice. Still not an easy one but the right one for me.