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.