Thursday, October 17, 2013

Book Review: Maxed Out-American Moms on the Brink

"We are devastatingly overworked and simultaneously lack the government, workplace, and familial supports that exist in most other developed countries. The American Dream tells us if we just work hard enough, we'll get what we want. But the research shows that for working moms, hard work isn't enough. The problem boils down to this: Most jobs do not accommodate people who have children."

Katrina Alcorn weaves a deeply personal and fraught tale of her maxed-out breakdown in her book Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink. She includes upsetting and frankly outrageous statistics and facts about working mothers in American today. We are a country that boasts family values, yet lack paid family leave, paid sick days, childcare that is sorely lacking both in cost and quality. We are a country where employees work longer hours than any other developed country and yet we are burnt out beyond recognition by the time we make home--if we make it home.

The personal stories, like Alcorn's, have permeated the current media landscape and have been shared aplenty over social media sites; with buzzwords like "having it all", "leaning in", "opting out", etc. But time and again, the onus is put on women to figure it out, to, be frank, how to shove ten pounds of stuff into a two pound bag. In many of the stories, the partner is briefly mentioned, but disappears again all too soon, without a word to how chores are shared, child-care is split, etc. The articles end usually tied neatly with either the woman "deciding" to stay at home with her children or some variation of part-time work or blogging. Avoiding any disparaging judgments, the articles appear to have been solicited and written to garner site traffic and completely side-step the real issues entirely.

The author reached her breaking point and for every story like hers that is told, thousands more are not because they do not fit into the trope (upper middle class, white) that is trotted out ad nauseam in the media. Alcorn herself repeatedly states how very grateful and lucky she is; to have a supportive partner, to have a supportive boss, a flexible work schedule, debt paid off and a savings account. Thousands of working mothers, or women who have elderly family to care for, can not count on such privileges in their lives.

The chapters, which span six years in the writer's life, are interspersed with vignettes on the topic at hand: part-time options or lack thereof, discussion of anxiety, depression and other mental illness that are on the rise, the so-called Mommy Wars (if ever a phrase could die a painful death, it would be that one), using hired help, a call for less hours worked, breast-feeding and Mommy Guilt. The resources and articles mentioned in the asides are great for seeking additional information, but at the end of each, I would have appreciated more information included. Alcorn does conclude with a solid list of ten ways to start changing the atmosphere surrounding our maxed-out, exhausted work force, including practice saying no, telling your partner or friends what you need, and flat out changing the conversation when the tired tropes of women simply not working hard enough to "have it all" emerge.

Alcorn does a great service, adding to the wealth of material for working mothers to help ease and even begin to change this current restrictive environment that Americans face today.

(Image: SealPress/I received a copy of this book for review.)


  1. I'm really wanting to read this now! I forgot what it was that I read a year or two ago, but it was by a woman who was a dean (or something similar) at Princeton I believe and also worked at the White House for a few years. I think it was just an article now, thinking back, but I thought it was really well done. And this sounds right up it's alley. I don't know how parents do both work and child-rearing in our culture, or at least how the parent (typically the mom) who gets the brunt of it makes it work. It's just so much to handle.

  2. It's so completely unfair. I saw it growing up, too. My dad would come home and tell my mother she had no right to be tired because she didn't work a full day (worked at a daycare) and then asked where dinner was. One of the many, many reasons they got divorced. :)