Listening to Myself

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Judith Warner and "Mommy Madness"

We received our copy of Newsweek last night, with Judith Warner's article about "Mommy Madness" on the cover. I eagerly read the article last night because I'm always interested in this sort of thing, and I've been trying to digest it ever since. Really, I'm not sure what to say -- the world she describes is largely foreign to me. I just don't seem to travel in the same circles she does, and I don't see the same sort of behaviors. I don't know if it is a California thing, or the fact that I'm a bit younger than the moms she's targeting (she's looking at moms born from 1958 to 1970), or if I'm just oblivious.

I do get out -- I belong to a local mom's club and I participate in playgroups occasionally (about once a month) and I'm part of a bookgroup with a bunch of other moms. The moms I know just aren't like what Warner describes, I don't really see that hyper-competitiveness, obsessiveness, and unhappiness. Around here, we tend to practice something I've heard described as "benign neglect". The moms I know read a lot to their kids, but they don't play with them. The kids play by themselves or with their siblings, with minimal parental intervention (mainly for really out of bounds behavior). Even at the park, minor infractions are left for the kids to deal with, and the moms stay on the sidelines, ready to jump in if things get out of control, but willing to let the kids sort it out. Some people do preschool, some don't, and it isn't really particularly competitive to get into preschools. People don't seem that into all the various lessons and such, but kids do take one or two things if they're really interested in it. Sure, people are busy and occasionally stressed, but it just doesn't seem like the mania that Warner describes really exists here, at least among the people I know.

Ok, I admit it, there is a strong possibility that I'm just completely oblivious. Personally, I just refuse to buy into the whole competitive thing and perhaps that makes me not really notice it. We don't do the big birthday parties, playdates, lessons, preschool, etc, etc, etc, and I rely on my parents for the occasional night out babysitting and sanity breaks so we don't have to deal with the whole finding a good babysitter scenario.

Here's some other interesting takes on Warner's premise, as well as another article Warner wrote recently.
Geeky Mom
Half Changed World
Raising WEG (probably my favorite take on this article)
Warner's article in Elle (a better article than the one in Newsweek, I think)

And another thing I've been thinking a lot about... her suggestions for solutions seem rather useless. I think the most important step is for women and families to just decide to step out of the flow, and refuse to compete and participate in the world Warner describes. The women who's blogs I linked to above have some really interesting things to say about all this, (and they say it a lot better than I am managing) so I highly recommend taking a look.

UPDATE: I also particularly like James Lileks' take on this article. I was trying to pick out a couple quotes to put on my blog, but there's just too many good ones.


  • I enjoyed your take on this irritating article. I found Judith Whiner and her demographic to be narcissistic and elitist. Life isn't perfect for anyone -- including fathers and the children of women who have such ambivalent feelings about raising them. see my take at

    By Blogger barbara curtis, at 7:31 PM  

  • What's your impression of the economic status of the parents that you're looking at? I'm reading Annette Lareau's Unequal Childhoods, and she very strongly make the point that the hyper-involved parenting is a very middle-class phenomenon, and doesn't affect working-class and poor families nearly as much. I'm wondering if that's part of the explanation.

    By Blogger Elizabeth, at 9:55 AM  

  • Hmm... well, I find it hard to figure out where to put people in the whole middle-class, working-class, poor groupings. I would say that these people are middle-class, but in the more realistic definition of it - not upper-class masquerading as "upper middle-class". These are mostly stay-at-home moms (like myself) who's husbands are police officers, teachers, lower to middle level techies (generally not managers) and the like. In the ultra expensive Bay Area, they are people who only own houses (and fairly modest ones, at that) if they managed to buy at least 3-5 years ago before this particular suburb was discovered and the prices more than doubled.

    I don't know if that helps or not... the people I do see stressing about getting their child into Montessori schools or whatever and doing all the activities and languages and such would consider themselves middle class too, but they're the ones who live in recently built 3000+ sq ft houses. I belong to a local mom's club and it is very interesting to see the variations in people's homes and the differences in the activities/preschools/etc. that the children do.

    Another thing that may have some bearing on this other than income levels is the age of the parents - I feel like the younger parents (who also tend to be the poorer parents) are the ones who don't stress as much. The parents who waited until their mid to late 30's to start having a family seem like they are the ones who stress a lot more about children's activities and such.

    By Blogger Amber, at 11:03 AM  

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