While I was writing my book, Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, I had three nagging fears.
- It wouldn’t get published.
- It would get published but no one would read it.
- People would read it…and say really mean things about me.
I’ve crossed #1 off the list. The book was published at the beginning of this month with a fabulous publisher (Seal Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group).
I think it’s safe to say I can stop worrying about #2. The book has been a category bestseller (in motherhood) on Amazon pretty consistently over the last three weeks. Reviews and interview requests are steadily rolling in from The Washington Post, Parade, NBC’s TODAY.com, TIME, and others. People are definitely reading the book.
Which brings me to #3…
In the last three weeks I’ve been called “lazy,” “entitled,” and “childish.” I’ve been called a “whiner” and a “socialist.” It’s been said that I write about first world problems and for that reason they don’t count. (If you’re curious to know what the self-styled “Christian anti-feminist wives” think of me, Google my name plus ‘sunshine’ plus ‘Mary.’) Here’s a sampler platter of comments that made my hair stand on end:
From “Lydia Kennerly”
I am sick of hearing these women whine and complain that it’s just too hard. It’s life. Suck it up…The last 15-20 years have bred the biggest generation of sniviling whiners of any generation…It’s TOO HARD (sniff, sniff). Women complain about equal pay, but this is what they bring to the party. If it’s too hard, shut up and go back to the kitchen.
Another breeder making things hard on herself.  Hey, why not have five more kids, or even more? If she can hit twenty I bet she can have her own TV show!
From “David from VA Beach”
What a whiner she is. Typical of those now a days who want to have it all. How about this: you’re husbad works (or if you make more money, he stays home)? Oh, she/he can’t as they wants a $500K house, an SUV and a BMW or two in the driveway.  She made her own bed. And three kids? Is she running a farm? The only thing dumber than having a litter of kids is having one at 41 years old?!  She will be 61 when the kid is 21. Sounds wonderful.
We all know you can’t have it all – but some of us are so determined!
Since we can’t have it all, now some expect EVERYBODY ELSE to make it possible for them to have it all. Can you say, ‘SELF-ABSORBED!’
There are plenty more where those came from.
My husband (a man who brims with common sense) warned me months ago that I’d need to toughen up before this book came out. But you know what? I’m just not that person. I’m not thick-skinned. The mean snipes induce in me an overwhelming urge to draw the shades, flop on the couch, and eat a pint of ice cream.
What keeps me from inhaling an entire freezer full of Ben & Jerry’s is the growing number of emails and messages like this one:
I just finished your book (on audio) – literally just finished it, about a minute ago. I’m in tears. Thank you for articulating what has been running through my head and heart since my son was born 14 years ago and my daughter 12 years ago. Thank you for putting your loving words out there… they made me feel less alone and way less freakish…Every mom I know who is bravely pretending not to feel exactly like I do is getting this book for Christmas. I’ll also be placing a copy in the magazine rack in our lunch room in hopes that one or more of our C level leaders will pick it up and read it.
Every single day for the past three weeks, I’ve received messages from people who say that they’re grateful that someone is telling this story.
One woman told me she was having seizures from stress before she quit her job. Another told me she hid under her desk at work because she was crying uncontrollably and didn’t want anyone to see her. (She waited until everyone went home before she came out.) I’ve heard from architects, academics, designers, teachers, financial analysts, attorneys, paralegals, researchers, corporate managers, Wall St. brokers, social workers, C-level execs, engineers, childcare workers, and women with roles in high-tech, marketing, non-profit, and communications. What they all have in common is they’re mothers, and they have a story about maxing out trying to work and take care of their families. (Even a few of the journalists who’ve interviewed me have made confessions like these.) Over and over, people say they’re relieved to know that they’re not crazy, and it’s not all their fault that they aren’t managing well.
I wrote this book to start a conversation. I’m sharing this information with you because I want you to be part of that conversation. But I want to warn you: when you talk about how it sucks to be a working parent in America, (or when you voice any opinion loudly enough that threatens the status quo), you, too, will be criticized and ridiculed. Maybe the criticism will be more subtle: an eye roll or at an abrupt change of subject. When given the opportunity, people will joyously, anonymously point out that it was your “lifestyle choice” to raise children and work, so no matter how preposterously difficult other people make it, it’s all your fault.
I want you to know that I don’t think you’re a whiner. I hope you will talk about this stuff anyway. It’s important. How can we possibly change a broken system until we truly understand how broken that system is? It is not a coincidence that so many of us are maxing out. It’s easy to forget the facts, such as…
- Women are now breadwinners in two-thirds of families with children—our families need us to work.
- Women are still doing more of the work of raising their families, even when both parents work.
- Women are more at risk for the health effects of job stress.
- The U.S. ranks 9th from the bottom in work-family policies.
- This is not only an individual problem; it is a collective problem, which means it will take more than some simple time-management tips to solve it.
- It doesn’t have to be this way—here’s what you can do now.
Keep talking. Don’t worry about what other people think of you. Meanwhile, I will try to stop checking comments on stories like this one.
Photo credit: Tristan Schmurr
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 For the record, I only “bred” two children (the third is my stepdaughter who lives with us two days a week), which would make my fertility statistically average.
 Actually, I drive a 7-year-old minivan. It is missing two hubcaps and has a dent in the passenger door from the time my infant son was crying from fever and in my distress I hit a parked car while trying to parallel park near the doctor’s office.
 Please let the record show that I had my last child at age 35, not 41. I’m not sure why this matters, but if one’s personal choices are to be criticized, let’s get the facts straight.