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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book Review: "Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink"

Writing this book review while prepping pasta for dinner.
Disclosure: None needed. I bought this book on my own. But the opinions here would be all mine anyway.

I was really excited to read Katrina Alcorn's book, "Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink" after reading this handy list of "just the facts," as she called them. The headline? "Working and raising kids pretty much sucks in America." It wasn't the least blunt assessment I'd ever heard, but this line was the one that spoke to me most:

FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they’re expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don’t are often barred from the fast track. - See more at: http://www.workingmomsbreak.com/just-the-facts/#sthash.dIhqqZvb.dpuf
FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they're expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don't are often barred from the fast track.

I order the book on the spot. Plus, I've often said I'm "Max'd out" after a long period of time with my five year old, so I couldn't help but relate.

And I did relate for the vast majority of the book. Though Alcorn writes of her career and life in the Bay Area of California, it wasn't all that different from the challenges of juggling it all that I've faced in the past ten years. The sleep deprivation of the newborn years, driving cars past their prime and too long commutes by train, endless series of colds and fevers, navigating coworkers' big personalities, trying to remain ambitious while also fitting in time for Mommy and Me. Each chapter tackles a different topic while moving through the story of Alcorn's life, and ends with a couple of pages of resources, tips, or other stories of commiseration.

But I spent the entire book waiting for it: the moment when Alcorn would break down, "max out." It didn't come until Chapter 22 on page 293 (out of 362). She doesn't go out in a burst of flames, but rather, just doesn't go to work anymore. She gets help, gets medication, and her husband, family and friends rally around her. She takes a year to recover, and then goes back to work on her own terms freelancing (and apparently, book writing).

I was disappointed to see so little of the book devoted to that time in her life. After all the vivid descriptions of late nights in the office and weekends running errands, I wanted to know what it's really like to just stop all of it. To go from two full-time salaries to one, from two parents to only one capable of handling it. These are things that have motivated me to keep working all this time--the fear of those unknowns. When I was out of commission with my back a few years ago, so much fell to Marc, and I felt terrible about it all. I still feel bad that missed Hannah's kindergarten parent-teacher conference. Maybe that part of the book was too hard to write, because she really wasn't herself then, and it's hard to remember it as clearly, but I would have loved to read it.

I really appreciated reading the story of someone so relatable, but not all books can be all things. I think there's value in exposing ourselves this way, so that others know they're not alone as they struggle to manage all the aspects of their lives (thus why I created the Having It All Project). Is there another book out there that discusses how hard it might be to have to walk away from everything, or how to keep going when walking away just isn't an option? I'd love for you to share any of your book suggestions in the comments.
FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they’re expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don’t are often barred from the fast track. - See more at: http://www.workingmomsbreak.com/just-the-facts/#sthash.dIhqqZvb.dpuf

FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they’re expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don’t are often barred from the fast track. - See more at: http://www.workingmomsbreak.com/just-the-facts/#sthash.dIhqqZvb.dpuf
FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they’re expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don’t are often barred from the fast track. - See more at: http://www.workingmomsbreak.com/just-the-facts/#sthash.dIhqqZvb.dpuf
FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they’re expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don’t are often barred from the fast track. - See more at: http://www.workingmomsbreak.com/just-the-facts/#sthash.dIhqqZvb.dpuf

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