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Why are American mothers mad while French mothers have fun?

| Articles | April 26, 2014

Every once in a while, you’ll find a book that really stands out from the rest. No, it isn’t the latest Harry Potter bestseller. This book entitled, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, is about the musings of a newspaper columnist who finds a striking difference between the lives of French and American mothers. The book was written by Judith Warner, a syndicated columnist and radio show host who has spent time living in Paris and Washington, D.C. She is also the author of other non-fiction works like You Have the Power and a biography of former First Lady and now Senator Hillary Clinton.

As a mother of two, the author authoritatively narrates the travails of American mothers who are somehow plagued by guilt, self-doubt, and frustration about being a parent. She writes that most American mothers face the daily challenge of having to succeed at the office while being a “model” parent, and not to mention, a good wife at home. Her book also cites the growing anxiety among career women who have children since these working mothers have little time to spend at home with their kids. Written like a mix of biographical narratives and short stories, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, explains how the social, cultural, economic and even political forces come into play in shaping how children are raised in America. The book tells how American mothers are frantically monitoring the progress of their children, always marking if their kids have learned the expected skill sets per each child developmental stage.

In addition, one very striking detail mentioned in the book is the author’s impression that very many American mothers are unhappy about how their lives are unfolding. She wrote that she found a lot of these mothers to be in constant anxiety about not having the “perfect child.” The book also narrates how Americans today are somehow divided into winners and losers. The winners have the high-paying jobs, fancy cars and suburban, middle-class homes. On the other hand, the author writes that the so-called losers are those people who just seem to get by, struggling each day to survive in the 21st century “rat race.”

Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety also highlights how the media helps create the image or icon of what an American mother should be. There are several mother-types presented in the pages of the book. One is the high-achiever mother who is able to maintain her edge in the corporate world while still being able to play “super-mom.” The high-achiever mom can balance being the star of the boardroom meeting and playing the lead role as the “domestic engineer” who can orchestrate everything from the child’s lunch, PTA meetings, Saturday baseball games, and the weekly trip to the mall. Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety also paints the bleak scenario of mothers who are struggling financially and remain in constant fear that they will also raise children that may also be looked at by society as “losers.”

But the book also takes a comparative look at how French mothers take care of their children. Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety details how French mothers are able to lead relatively normal lives through institutional support and a different parenting culture. In France, mothers have the choice of getting state-subsidized caregivers. It is also perfectly acceptable for a French mother to go out regularly with her friends and have dates with their husband.

Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety is a worthwhile reading material not only for mothers but also for fathers who also play a major role in shaping the lives of their children. While the author is an American and a mother of two, she was able to capture the idea that mothers and women in general must get more support not only from their spouses but also from society at large. She argued convincingly that being a mother is also a full-time job that deserves great respect and tangible support — whether it be through subsidized day care, tax incentives for working moms, or the transformation of the social and cultural identity of mothers.

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