Book Review: Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink

Writer, mom, consultant Katrina Alcorn wrote _Maxed Out_ after her own struggles with trying to do it all and be it all led her to personal maxing out.  I really appreciated this book on many levels but not least of which is Alcorn's raw honesty about her struggles, her insecurities, her risks and her many failures.  It seems to me that we don't hear enough about the nitty gritty that each of us moms face on a daily basis and --really important here- that we aren't to blame.  Alcorn fills that gap with this much needed book.

In each chapter, Alcorn niftily intertwines her own story with related hard facts.  For example, in the chapter about her maternity leave from her former company, she concludes her story with the American reality of the challenge that she faced.  In this case, a lack of paid family leave.  She uses hard, current facts that are clearly and persuasively stated to make her case.  Over and over, Alcorn makes the case that moms aren't simply coming up short because of their own failings but because society at large has failed us.  And that's the most important, timeliest message that all moms need to internalize.  Right now. We aren't doing anything wrong.  We are doing the best that we can in a society that appears to value mothering but really when the rubber meets the road does next to nothing to support the mothers who do that mothering. 

It has always been important to me to help women support other women.  I offer free groups to new and expecting moms as one way to do this and I also volunteer locally in a different capacity.  Alcorn delivers here too. After "practice saying no" In the afterward, #2 is "Be An Ally To Other Woman".  #2 is just one more way to underscore the message of her book.  I think this is a crucial connection.  Yes, we all want paid leave (I think many people can agree on that) but less agreed upon is the need to band together, for women especially, to make these changes a reality.  That banding together involves supporting other women whose choices may not be your own i.e the decision to have a child or the decision not to have a child, for example.  A  conversation that should be focusing on how we can improve things for all of us becomes the sexy "Mommy Wars" crap instead.  Let's place the blame, not on ourselves or each other, but on the society that we live in for failing women and families at every turn.

One of my favorite parts of _Maxed Out_was the afterword.  Alcorn gives the reader ten tips that she can do right now.  So many of these grim look-at-the-desperate-state-of-the-world-we-live-in books don't offer any hope or ideas at the end for improvement.  Alcorn does.  Some of her tips take a bit more gumption than others ('practice saying no' and 'tell your partner what you need') but they are all smart, do-able and important for each mom to practice for a bit more sanity.  Alcorn also mentions Moms Rising, an advocacy organization that works on both grass roots and national levels to support moms.  Speaking of women supporting women! Alcorn encourages readers to sign up for Moms Rising and mentions that she is donating 10% of the proceeds of her book to the organization.  Wow, way to put your money with your mouth is.  

As I finished the book, I couldn't help think of Sheryl Sandberg and her take on what women need to get ahead.  _Lean In_ gets so many accolades for Sandberg's false message of the key to success being women working harder and smarter. Alcorn on the other hand places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the real problem: the society we live in, not our lack of hard work or personal dedication.  Mothers everywhere have those qualities in spades.  Alcorn does and so does Sandberg of course. What we don't have are systems that support families.  Women like Sandberg, however, are not only privileged enough to be able to buy the support that they need to raise a family: a nanny, housecleaner, personal assistants, daycare, etc. but are also more educated, higher up the corporate latter, etc. In short, they are very very fortunate. Women like Alcorn and I and perhaps you too, dear reader, cannot buy every success.  Not should we have to.

If you are a new mom or a soon-to-be mom, likely you will feel stuck in this place of no-win many, many times. I hope not of course.  But if you are, consider picking up _Maxed Out_ for a much needed reality check.  It's worth your time and your precious sanity too.

Outside The Mom Box rating: 5 stars out of 5

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