Viewed & Reviewed

Ann Crittenden: Required Reading for Working Moms.

In the rush of trying to keep up with the latest new book, it’s easy to overlook those that may not be hot-off-the press but that still have important things to say. Ann Crittenden, former New York Times reporter, financial writer for Newsweek, economics commentator for CBS News, author of two books, and a Pulitzer Prize nominee, left the demanding job she loved at The Times when her son was born. It didn’t take her long to realize that without her position, she had become a non-entity to those who used to find her fascinating and important. “Didn’t you used to be Ann Crittenden?” someone asked, at which point she decided to make motherhood her subject. The result was The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is the Least Valued, in 2001, and, in 2004, If You’ve Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything: Leadership Begins at Home.

In The Price of Motherhood, Crittenden argues that while women may have come a long way, mothers still have a lot farther to go. Why, we might ask, isn’t this old news? Crittenden’s research shows that “no generation of American women has yet been able to achieve what most college educated women have said they wanted for more than 100 years: a meaningful career and a chance to raise children of their own.” We used to blame women’s struggle on the glass ceiling – that’s what kept women from rising to the top of most professions. But in recent years it’s become apparent that the most well educated, talented, and highly competent women are leaving their professions on their own in order to spend more time with their families, often paying an enormous price to do so. Many of the women Crittenden cites express mixed feelings of satisfaction, frustration, and loss over what they see as “a totally unnecessary conflict between caring for their child and pursuing professional goals they had spent their lives, and a great deal of money, preparing for.” Mothers who stay at home are the most exploited and vulnerable of all, since their unpaid labor goes acknowledged and they are totally dependent on their partners’ earnings and good will and society’s all too porous safety net.


The strength of Crittenden’s book is its focus on the current economic exploitation of women’s unpaid labor and how it came to be. She traces its history back to the 18th century when money income came to be the only measure of productivity and work that produced it the only work of value. Once women’s family labor lost status as work, it became sentimentalized as “a labor of love,” morally elevated but economically devalued, as if unpaid work isn’t productive and doesn’t sustain the economy as a whole, an implicit assumption that remains to this day. The irony that women were the people designated to produce the kind of human capital the modern industrial society needed but were not paid for it, isn’t lost on Crittenden. She wants mothers to have full economic equality in the family. Nor should it be lost on us. As one woman quoted in the book astutely complains, “men get a standing ovation if they miss a meeting because of parenting, women miss whole careers.”


Crittenden’s prose is crisp and very readable, but this isn’t “light” reading. After all, the subject isn’t lightweight. This book will make you angry at times, but understanding how things are and how they came to be may just lead to action - because Crittenden doesn’t just complain. She offers solutions, a whole chapter full of them, the most important of these that we should follow the enlightened policies of many European countries and offer the subsidized childcare and universal preschool that would go a long way toward alleviating the struggles of both of stay-at-work and stay at home mothers.


Remember that mother rabbit who reached her career goal of becoming the Easter bunny because her experience as a mother made her a better candidate than all the others for the job? In Crittenden’s latest book, If You’ve Raised Kids You can Manage Anything: Leadership Begins at Home, she confirms that people who have been conscientious parents are superbly well equipped to wrestle with the complexities of business life. Through a series of interviews with high achieving mothers who have been their families’ primary caregivers – a Supreme Court justice, a governor, corporate executives, engineers, film producers, university presidents and deans, the former head of the EPA and a congresswoman who has since become Speaker of the House among them – Crittenden demonstrates thoroughly and often amusingly how, as one executive puts it, “business and families aren’t all that different.” Nor, says Crittenden after looking at a slew of them, are books on business leadership all that different from books on parenting. They all stress the same transferable skills that any mother has in spades, chief among them the ability to multi-task, to deal with crises, to listen and communicate clearly, to negotiate, and to manage relationships. As one AOL executive explains, “Dealing with 3 year olds is great training for dealing with execs. They all have short attention spans, short fuses, and are prone to pout.” Skillful parenting makes us more efficient, organized, productive, and creative. If this is the case, Crittenden wants to know why these qualities aren’t fully acknowledged when businesses make hiring and promotion decisions. She wants her book to counteract the idea that being a mother dims our minds and that caring for children has nothing to do with “real work.” This is a book to revive the spirit of moms everywhere, wherever they’re doing their job.


GrrrlfriendJess
09.05.07

I saw Ann Crittenden speak at a conference a year ago when this book was just released. She was brilliant and the book sounded amazing. Thanks for the thorough review. I can't wait to get to it so it stops collecting dust on my night stand!