The War on Moms: On Life in a Family Unfriendly Nation by Sharon Lerner is an incredibly good read on an incredibly important topic. Rather than focusing on "the war between moms," or "the mommy wars" -- the much-hyped comparisons between working and stay-at-home moms, or between moms of differing parenting philosophies, Lerner focuses on the war American society is waging on parents and children.
As I read Lerner's book (provided to me through the Amazon Vine reviewing program), I started out curious, became fascinated and ultimately, was furious. This is not a "mom-comedy" book with cute anecdotes about the choices we make as mothers. The War on Moms is a meticulously researched and referenced policy tract that belongs on the reading list of every American politician and public administrator. Lerner cuts through the rhetoric on whether or not women are making the right choices for themselves and their children to reveal how very few women in American society really have any choices at all.
A centerpiece of the book is an understanding of how linking health care with employment systematically harms women and children. This is especially harmful for special needs children, who may need a full-time parent the most, but whose medical care is tied to parents' job benefits. Some mothers, even in moderately well-paid positions may bring home little or no "profit" after paying for daycare for one or more children, deductions for health care and other work-related expenses. Such mothers essentially spend 40+ hours a week away from their children simply for the privilege of having health care for their kids. If women, married or unmarried, "choose" to stay home with their children, or lose their jobs (and therefore their healthcare), they can enter a spiral of debt from which is can become impossible to ever recover.
Lerner discusses how so much of what constitutes the common understanding of feminism in America focuses on upper-middle class women with advanced degrees and management jobs. When we talk about the "choice to work or not to work" we largely mean women who have waited later in life to have children, moved farther along in career and education, successfully delayed/timed having children and have access to quality childcare.
Instead, Lerner focuses on the much more common tale of women who only wish they were facing the agonizing choice of "opting-out" of a rewarding career path in order to stay home with their kids. The more realistic picture of the "average" mother in America is one that does not have the income or career fulfillment to make this choice based on anything besides basic economic vs. family needs, but are not *poor enough* to qualify for any sort of assistance to help.
But Lerner does more than simply whine about the problems women face. She describes pilot programs that have been applied in various states in the United States as well as explores parental leave, breastfeeding policy, childcare and family-friendly work strategies that enjoy success in other countries. She shows how access to education about fertility and access to family planning strategies can decrease poverty. She explores issues of domestic responsibilites in the home. She challenges all politicians to stop paying lip-service to "family values" and instead pass any of numerous types of legislation that actually value families.
Overall, Lerner shows how the notion that all Americans should be able to "make it on their own" or "lift themselves up by their bootstraps" simply ignores the needs or children and mothers in a way that no other similarly developed (or even significantly less developed!) nation in the world does. The American individualist mentality ignores the physical, much less the emotional, realities of motherhood, as though pregnancy and childbirth and the resulting children are merely personal problems rather than the very soul and future of our society.
Regardless of whether the right choice for children, parents and society are for women to stay home with children, or for women to work and children to receive high-quality, appropriate care (and dare we consider the possibility that there may not be a single, correct answer for every woman, child, family, career or societal situation), Lerner points a glaring spotlight at what a dismal job America is doing at supporting either side of this equation through public policy and workplace regulation and offers numerous alternatives and options to consider. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in this critical topic and encourage you to share it with others.