There seems to be one universal truth about becoming a parent in America: It's expensive. Between health-care costs, child care, and keeping up with the Joneses pressure for fancy baby gear or expensive kid's activities, mothers especially can go into survival autopilot to get through the personal and financial pressures of having kids.
Current estimates put the cost of raising a child in the U.S. at around $233,000 per kid, and that's before paying for college. And beyond the costs, the financial penalties of motherhood are real. Anti-mom bias in the workplace is real and rampant. If a woman has a baby between the ages of 25-35, her earnings are likely to never recover relative to her husband's. Women lose an average of 4% in earnings for every child she has, while men's earnings increase an average of 6% per child.
As a journalist who covers the social and economic issues facing working mothers, I read a lot of books about motherhood. I find that many of these books focus on the idea that mom's need to "improve" in some way, rather than attempt to unpack and navigate what's broken about how society treats and views mothers.
Lately, though, there's been a new crop of books that are better suited for a more modern and feminist outlook on the experience and identity of motherhood, and what's a more perfect gift than a whole new perspective?
Select one of these books for a deserving mom in your life, throw in a few hours of volunteer babysitting, and you've got yourself an A+ gift plan.
"The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom's Guide to Style, Sanity, and Success After Baby" by Lauren Smith Brody
Most American women have maternity leaves that are much shorter than our counterparts around the world, and that's if U.S. moms get leave at all.
Experts have found that a minimum of six months of fully paid leave is an ideal time from a maternal and child health perspective, and that it can help secure greater economic participation for women over time. Most mothers in the U.S. get nowhere close to this, despite the fact that economists have found that paid leave makes it more likely that women will return to the workforce, work more hours, and earn more money in the future.
In the context of this reality, this book is the bible for mothers getting ready to return to work after having a baby. It's written in the smart and accessible tone of your best friend giving you the true, full download on going back to work — but with the benefit of that best friend having also done extensive and rigorous research.
Brody doesn't sugarcoat the difficulties of working motherhood in America. Instead she focuses on plenty of practical advice. She encourages readers to not just accept how hard it is to go back to work, but how to advocate for better policies for ourselves and others that come after us.
Many books about pregnancy often emphasize an "it's better to be safe than sorry" perspective, that often fills moms-to-be anxiety and endless lists of restrictions. Not Angela Garbes' book, which delves into fascinating and under-covered pregnancy science — like the fact that we've only begun to study vital organs like the placenta in earnest in recent years. Funding for this research only get a fraction of the money (like $50 million over a few years) than say, heart disease, which gets $2 billion a year.
Garbes weaves what we know about the scientific process of pregnancy with her and weaves in her own memoir that's touching and powerful.
"Forget 'Having It All': How America Messed Up Motherhood — and How to Fix It," by Amy Westervelt
Author Amy Westervelt, who took a single afternoon off from her work as a freelancer after giving birth to her second child. Throughout her book, she provides excellent historical research from the colonial era on and cultural context for many of the situations American mothers find themselves in, including how much of how our economy and society is creates intense pressures on mothers and families.
Westvelt offers concrete cultural and policy solutions to address some of our biggest modern woes, with ideas like parent pensions and stronger employment protections to give care taking the value it deserves.
Video by Mariam Abdallah and Neha Dharkar
This New York Times bestseller has taken the world by storm with its message of rebalancing family responsibilities and includes an accessible "game" to play with one's partner to create more equity. While its tone and ideas are highly accessible, Rodsky also researches and presents many much-needed, status quo-challenging ideas about the value of women's time.
Rodsky persuasively argues that the time of the breadwinner in a relationship is not inherently more valuable than then that of a partner who earns less or nothing for their work, which helps to challenge conventional wisdom about fairness in the home. Rodsky also elaborates on the importance of personal identity and fulfillment for mothers, which too often gets dismissed in our society as just one more thing on the to-do list.
"Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less" by Tiffany Dufu
The compelling personal stories in this book give the reader permission to prioritize in a world that's obsessed with accomplishment, efficiency, and output.
Mothers in particular are often judged harshly on our abilities to manage every last detail of family life, and Dufu has great examples of how anyone can own tasks in a relationship, including how she created domestic equity with her husband while he was living in Dubai. She also highlights the importance of community beyond the nuclear family in making our lives work, including relying on neighbors, sharing how she invited a close friend to live with her while her husband was abroad. She also tells a story of a group of single mothers who decided to cohabitate to make their lives easier and more affordable.
All of these examples show how we can all benefit from not tackling what's tough about motherhood alone.
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