A thoughtful book on motherhood – review and GIVEAWAY

If you’re looking for the sort of motherhood book that assures you that all good mothers stay home with their kids and being a SAHM is a fluffy lavender cloud of awesome, this is not the book for you.

If you’re looking for the sort of motherhood book that tells you that you owe it to womankind to bust through glass ceilings and make good on the hard work the suffragettes of yesteryear did on your behalf, because any old idiot can take care of your kids, this is not the book for you.

But if, like me, you are a reasonably smart, educated woman who really wanted to have kids and enjoys the challenges of raising them but who also feels conflicted about your other callings and gifts, and if your interests include but are not limited to parenting topics, you might find, as I did, that TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood really resonates with you.

I read about this book in my alumni magazine (the editor, Samantha Parent Walravens, is also a Princeton alum) and was, frankly, surprised. I often feel caught between my mental images of the perfect stay at home mom and the perfect working mom – like I’m a bad mom because I am Type A and have ambitions beyond cupcake making and diaper changing, and like I’m a has-been because I gave up the chance to have a big career in order to be home with my kids.  Of course this isn’t true, but it’s how things seemed to me.  This was the quote in the magazine article that grabbed me:

Walravens decided she couldn’t have both the promising career and the happy home.  She cut back to working part-time, then quit her job to freelance and rear four children.  She reached out to other women…on TigerNet [Princeton alumni message boards] she asked other women how they managed to do it all.  She was deluged with responses.  Women told her that “they were not doing it all.  They had not found any balance.  They were living day to day.”…Whether they were working full time, part time, or were full time stay at home moms, “they were overwhelmed.  They were overworked.  They felt unappreciated.”

I had no idea other Princeton women felt like that.  It made me feel really relieved.  It’s so hard to remember that people are not necessarily as put together and on top of things as they look.

Walravens collected and edited fifty essays written by mothers from all walks of life and all sorts of work and home situations and compiled them into a book of thoughtful, honest contemplations about being a woman and a mom. Seventeen of the essayists are Princeton women, and many of the others are from other top tier educational backgrounds, but what unites the essays is not some elitist ivory tower thing, but rather the willingness to think deeply about work and motherhood.

As I read I was tremendously encouraged by the fact that so many other women had thought and wondered about things I’ve contemplated.  Like the mother of six who stays home and when asked if this is why she went to Harvard, and she answers, “why should my home, which in some ways will last forever, be run with less ambition and seriousness than a financial venture that will be gone in a century or less?” Or the Type A doctor who is home with her kids and yet struggles with the fact that “before I had kids I was great at my job.  After having kids, I felt mediocre at everything: doctor, mother and wife.”  I understand the woman who says “giving up the money was hard.  Giving up the label and the prestige was harder.”

I also found encouragement in the essays by the women who continued to work, or work part time, or had to go back to work because of losing a spouse or their husband losing his job.  They talked about how elusive balance is, and how they enjoy their work yet have a hard time knowing that they are mommy tracked.  I appreciate the feelings of enjoying getting to be around adults and wear work clothes and feel accomplishment, because that’s how I feel when I work too.  I loved what one mother who had worked and not worked in various arrangements for over 30 years said: “I feel that I have been living life on a tightrope, suspended high above the ground, and, more often than not, way off balance.  If it appears that I have walked this tightrope with ease and tranquility, then it is an illusion.  Balancing the roles of wife, mother and professional has never been easy for me.  I have worked hard, tried to accept my failures with as much grace as possible, celebrated my successes as they have come, and all the while continued to learn – and accept – that I can’t do it all.

Torn is not a prescriptive parenting book, or one that offers easy answers.  Rather, it’s a good encouragement to be thoughtful about who you are and how you approach your life and your mothering, and a good way to challenge yourself to be more empathetic to women who make different choices than you have.


Please note that the giveaway is now closed. 

I contacted the author’s publicist and she sent me an extra copy of the book to give away on A Spirited Mind.  The giveaway will run from today through Tuesday June 21 at 5:30pm.

How to enter:

  • Leave a comment on this post about whatever you want.  It would be cool if it was related to the whole motherhood balance thing, because that makes for good conversation, but don’t feel compelled if you’re too busy balancing to come up with something deep.
  • Like or link this post on Facebook (you can link directly from the blog or from the A Spirited Mind page) so your friends can see it too, then leave another comment letting me know you did that.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  The publisher of this book sent me a review copy and a giveaway copy, but did not require a positive review or otherwise compensate me for this review.

40 thoughts on “A thoughtful book on motherhood – review and GIVEAWAY

  1. Sounds like a good book. Those kinds of thoughts about balance go through my mind everyday! It is hard to have so many ideas and dreams run through my mind and yet figure out how much time to spend working on them and how much to focus solely on the children/housework. We are in an Ecclesiastes Bible study right now and it is helping me immensely. I wish I could capture the study and put it down on my blog.

  2. Thanks for the book recommendation and giveaway. I don’t know which has been a harder adjustment to make: motherhood or being a pastor’s wife. Either way I have struggled with letting go of my once developing career. I may have not been from an ivy league, but I certainly miss academia and the challenge of teaching at a high level.

  3. I would be interested in this book! My heart struggle resonates with several of the excerpts you’ve posted — I was in a recent conversation about this very thing. For me, it’s not as much longing for a former life as the fresh dreams, new visions and ideas that pop into my head and are clearly not possible to pursue now. But when?

    Oh, and this quote – “why should my home, which in some ways will last forever, be run with less ambition and seriousness than a financial venture that will be gone in a century or less?” — I love that.

    Thanks for the opportunity to own a copy.

  4. I know I haven’t struggled with this quite like other women have….

    I actually love being a SAHM, partially because it allows me to pursue my interests. (Clearly I am not of the type that feels it is wrong to ever be on the computer when your kids are awake. 🙂 When working fulltime, I never had any energy left after work and keeping up with life outside of work, and in college it seemed like I was studying toward tests, not toward learning. Research/learning is very energizing to me, and being at home has thrown open that door. I don’t have any pieces of paper to prove what I’ve learned, but I’ve sure enjoyed the thinking process. Of course, as we add kids I have less time to do that, but it did often feel like I had zero time to just enjoy life when I was working.

    But I suppose that being a low-energy introvert, I was sort of bound to prefer SAHM life. 😉

  5. This book addresses where I am right now in life, as I just left teaching after 10 years due to a cross country move and am staying home with our 2 year old. There are no good fits as far as teaching jobs go where I am living right now. So far I have enjoyed getting together with other moms for play dates and going to the pool and starting some homeschooling at home, but I am finding myself longing for something more and trying to figure out what in the world I can do besides teach and train my son.

    1. Bethany, I have found a lot of fulfillment in homeschooling along the way, although I realize that at times I’ve put way too much Executive Mommy into it. For me it has been helpful to sit down and really think about what I was missing. Because sometimes what you’re missing is not the job so much, but one or two components of it, which you might be able to find somewhere else, or in another way, if teaching isn’t working out right now. Just a thought, I know there are no easy answers.

  6. I would love to win this book! I went back to work full time when my son was 9 months old and I am so torn! I had to go back because we had no money, but I am so sad about and wish so badly I did not have to work full time.

  7. Hi! Just had a a great conversation with my sister in law this morning about the balance between staying sane while being home full time and yet it being hard to be sane when working outside and inside the home! Would love a copy of this to share with her.


  8. Torn–the title of the book itself just about summarizes my daily struggle of not only being SAHM, but also one who has taken up the challenge of homeschooling my eldest two daughters and the challenge of maintaining a home-based design business.

  9. I am always intrigued by the books you review on this site, and this one is no different. I would love to read this.

  10. I sometimes feel “torn” just reading emails b/c I know I have so many other things I need to be doing. I have been struggling with motherhood and my career as I work full-time while my 2.5 yr old is in daycare all day. I find my work rewarding but have recently been struggling with what regrets I will face in the upcoming years as most of my time is spent working and at times it just consumes me even at home… Sign me up for a chance to win this book.

    1. Jennifer, I know what you mean about being torn about even reading emails – it’s hard to find mental space to just sit and think about what things out of the zillion we could do are the ones we’re supposed to do. I hope you get some clarity and peace on your work/home balance.

  11. I’d really like to read this book, and this discussion is so complex. Even the comments on this post show what a difficult issue this is for so many of us.

  12. This resonates with me. I have often felt like I didn’t fit into the typical “labels” (I hate the labels). I’m not a typical “working mom” or “SAHM” or homeschooler or nurse or whatever. I never thought I’d have much ambition once I had kids, but surprisingly, I do. In many different areas. But it’s that pesky balance thing. It’s nice to hear that I’m not alone (especially in Christian circles.) On the other hand, it’s hard for non-Christians to understand why I have 5 kids (and mostly on purpose.) 🙂
    Rachel recently posted..It’s Birth Week here on the blog

    1. The book is not written from a religious perspective, although several of the essay writers are clear that their faith plays a part in their decisions, but yes, it has been nice to see that other Christian moms struggle with these things (and I like your comment about the 5 kids mostly on purpose!).

  13. Great post Catherine! The choices we make between calling inside the home and pursuits outside of the home are so difficult. When we define ourselves by our work (wrong) and then proceed to work in so many different spheres (maybe wrong, maybe not), it’s no wonder we often feel as though we’ve lost our very selves in the midst of it all. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who didn’t struggle with balance. We need to think deeply on this topic, for ourselves, but also for the next generation of women who are watching us walk the tightrope (and wondering if they could walk the tightrope while still wearing dress-up shoes and tutus).

    I’d love to have a copy of the book! Blessings to you in all of your pursuits.

    1. That’s a great point, Lisa. We shouldn’t define ourselves by our work, whether it’s outside the home or inside the home. I think a lot of people make a little idol of being a SAHM, or having a particular career, etc. Your comment was challenging to me because I did hit a point over the past several months where I realized I had lost myself. I’m not entirely sure what caused that, but it’s worth thinking about so I don’t go and replicate the problem with a different set of circumstances overlaid.

      I also love your point about our girls watching us walk the tightrope. Well said.

  14. I did go back to work and enjoy my job, but miss all of the things at home that go on each day. I go back and forth about trying to figure out how to stay home (home based work, work part time, etc), but have never come up with the right answer for us.

    1. It seems like sometimes you have to try a lot of things before you find something that works, and even then it all changes when circumstances change and you’re back to square one. I think it’s especially hard if you think, deep down, that you’re supposed to be able to do it all. One of the themes in many of the essays in the book is how women in our generation were told we could do it all, have it all, and so forth, but we can’t, and that is hard to wrap our minds around.

  15. I appreciate your blog and point of view. I can relate. I work part time and actually enjoy it, much to the horror of some people I know who stay at home full time. That said, I think I probably would be at home full time if I didn’t have family around to help with babysitting.

  16. I would love to win this book! I left a longer comment on your FB post, but this is definitely something I struggle with lately. After just having our third child and dealing with behavior issues (heart issues) with the older two on a regular basis, I can’t tell you how many times I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to go back to work. Is that horrible to admit?

    1. I don’t think that’s horrible to admit. I think it’s much more horrible to think something and feel like you can’t admit it. The key is what you do with it, not that you thought it! Anyway, I’ve had that same thought. Objectively speaking, even if you went back to work you’d still have to deal with the same issues, but you’d have less time. That said, I don’t think it’s wrong to go back to work, just that it’s not necessarily an escape hatch. 🙂 Thanks for leaving the longer comment on FB, I’ll get back to you there too.

  17. I find the task of mentally balancing who I am with what I do incredibly hard and I have rather lost myself at times. I have a tendency to try to define myself by what I do and then to try and fit my personality and tastes into that box. I then have to remind myself that I’m not only a wife and a mother…I have interests outside those realms and that’s ok. It’s an ongoing struggle though!

  18. This book looks really good and so applicable with things that most women struggle with. I’m not even a mother yet (hopefully will be one day) but the book looks like it would strike a lot of chords with me anyway as I wonder how I’ll be able to balance being a mother with a career and what all that will look like. I see woman in my life struggle with with this consistently. I’d love to be able to share this book with them for encouragement that they aren’t alone.

    Thanks for your blog it’s so interesting to read!

  19. Perfect timing!
    I was thinking about that today, wile I was driving back from my friend b-day party. Most of the girls there were SAHM and, I struggle with envy, and I the same time felt good and ( little prideful ) that I have something that they don’t have; uhm very confusing.

  20. I would love a copy of this book. Some of my favorite mom-friends are those with interests and passions outside of the home, but who still understand home life. It’s a very difficult situation to balance both and yet it seems that women who are actively involved in both realms are well-rounded and thoughtful.

  21. I would love to win this book as I’m thinking about shaking things up in my (what I like to this is balanced but it’s probably just an illusion) world.

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