Posted by: michelle @ books my kids read | December 25, 2009

mommy insanity and a book review of perfect madness

There is a craziness to parenthood these days that is hard to escape. I started writing this post while sitting in my car escaping my house for a few stolen moments. Today is Christmas after all and I live in the South, so nothing is open and it’s raining. I needed thirty minutes of silence which isn’t possible to get in my house – her “down time” of quiet reading is done at a very loud volume. It’s amazing how rejuvenating a little bit of silence can be.

So, some timPerfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxietye ago I started reading Judith Warner’s book Perfect Madness. I found out about this book from reading an opinion piece she had written for the NY Times about Dr. Tiller’s murder. The bio on the right hand side read: “Judith Warner is the author of “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety,” a New York Times best-seller.” The book is about motherhood, parenting, our high pressured insane society, feminism, politics, self-image and internal wars. I finished reading it this afternoon.

This was one of those books that I felt the need to own because when I got a copy from the library certain passages truly jumped out at me and when that happens, I feel a need to write in the margins – big exclamation points, starts, underlined words. This makes it easier to write about the book later since I can flip through and find passages that stood out.

On one level, this book is about “mommy madness.” As Warner explains in her foreward, this is “the insane sort of perfectionistic and hyper-controlling behaviors that so many mothers engage in today.” But it is also about a crazy time in American history where the middle class is being reduced to nothingness. As Warner explains:

“It’s about the way that mothers’ (and fathers) behaviors have been perverted by social and economic forces that they feel they cannot control. It’s about how that feeling of being out of control drives them to parent in ways that are contrary to their better instincts, their deepest values, and the best interests of their children.”

When I first got the book it was minus the foreward and instead immediately began with tales from a group of mothers in Washington DC who all felt stressed and lost and generally in a mess. Warner brought an interesting perspective as an American who had only recently moved back to the states. She had her first child in Paris and moved to DC when her second was 6 months old. She had a unique viewpoint on how American working mothers carried a sense of guilt with them – something I’ve fought with and the reason the book called to me. Guilt from the media, parenting magazines, pressure about breast-feeding, attachment parenting craziness etc ad nauseum.

Why are moms these days suffering the way we do?

  1. We are a generation of control freaks – we feel the need to control our children, our bodies, our homes etc.
  2. The women’s liberation movement of the ’70s gave us many more choices but it didn’t change the underlying way that women and certain responsibilities are viewed.
  3. Today’s generation of moms saw what their mothers went through and didn’t want to see history repeat itself but don’t exactly know how to make changes that also make them happy.
  4. Our current economic and political realities that have squeezed out the middle class make it seem that much more pressing to be the “best” and increases the general sense of pressure parents feel to make sure their children achieve what they haven’t been able to.

This book was fascinating. The simple fact is “we can’t do it all because we can’t be it all.” Warner not only talks about all of the emotions behind all of this, but by the end she brings in a ton of politics. She says a great deal about how family friendly policies have been “stymied by the Holy War that rages between social conservatives and feminists.” That there is no middle ground between a vision of women’s equality and the Christian fundamentalist viewpoint of family values. There were definitely pieces that were dull and needed to be skimmed through, but on the whole, this was a fascinating read.



  1. You write so well! I enjoy reading your thoughts so, so much, and I’m so very proud of you!

  2. i want to read this…thank you for your book reviews and for sharing

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