Saturday, January 02, 2010

Mojo Mom's thoughts on the 2000's--learning that we're all in this together.

Right now I am consumed by the whirlwind that always accompanies the final stages of editing of a new book. I can't wait to share the new anthology Courageous Parenting with you, but the one temporary downside is that during this final push I don't have a lot of time for blogging. But I did want to share a few end-of-decade thoughts about what I learned in the 2000s.

Amy as a proud, tired, happy new Mom with her cute little schmoo in fall 1999.

It's interesting to see my personal journey as a mother develop together with my professional development. When I became a new Mom in late 1999 I looked at the world through a thoroughly individualistic perspective. I really thought that I needed to show how I could "do it all" myself. Even as I learned to embrace the participation of family and friends, I still thought that motherhood was mostly about me and my personal life choices as one woman. I felt that I chose to leave my teaching career, and without even realizing it, I was constructing a life story that put me firmly in the driver's seat. This was actually a pretty functional way of thinking that worked for me in the short term, but as I lived through all of the challenges of motherhood, and thought about what other women faced, I realized that I was missing the big picture.

When the original "Opt-Out Revolution" narrative first came along, saying that educated mothers were choosing to leave the workforce, it made sense to me, if I looked at my life as a rugged individualist. My teaching career just "didn't work" any more so I chose to leave. My personal situation was complicated by a cross-country move, that made it seem even more natural that I didn't return to my job, and I was fortunate that my family could afford to live on my husband's salary.

But even as I started to write Mojo Mom all on my own way back in 2003, not really knowing any other writers, and without the benefit of blogging, which had not exploded yet, I started to see that motherhood wasn't just all about me as one person.

I started to think about what it meant that work "didn't work" for me as a mother of a young child. How much of this was my individual choice, versus larger social structures that ranged from my family, to employers' attitudes and policies, to public policy, most notably the fact that American women don't even have paid maternity leave?

My husband's job was all-encompassing at the time, which did not leave a lot of room for me to work any kind of traditional schedule. And the idea of truly-flexible, valuable part time jobs didn't seem plausible. I craved a new professional, creative outlet, and I had a renewed interest in writing, so I reinvented myself as an author.

I was fortunate to be able to do so, but even though this worked for me, the dangers and fallacies of the Opt-Out storyline started to come to into focus for me. First of all, most women and mothers need to work for basic financial reasons. So the idea that motherhood = not employed is a worrisome one, because the workforce truly needs to figure out how to retain us and stop punishing us for being parents--specifically, mothers, because fathers are more respected in the workforce and are often assumed to have a wife who can do the majority of the caregiving. As Opting Out? author and sociologist Pamela Stone has pointed out, too often, parenthood means that fathers step on the accelerator of their careers and mothers step on the brakes. For women of Gen X and Y this can create a major fork in the road that has lifelong consequences.

Also, taking an off-ramp from paid work can leave women in career limbo and financial jeopardy. I hope that in the 2010s we'll find better solutions for building more on-ramps. Life is long, and women in particular should expect to have several careers interwoven with seasons of caregiving.

So as these challenges accumulated it became incredibly clear to me that no one is truly a "rugged individualist," and we are all in this together. As I was completing the first edition of Mojo Mom I started to think, "What we need is a social movement. Damn, am I going to have to try to start one?" Fortunately for all of us, burst onto the scene. I could instantly see that founders Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner were well positioned to launch an activist revolution, and I've done my best to support their work because it is spot-on, working to end job discrimination against mothers, to get health care coverage for all children, and other key advocacy goals.

Joan and Kristin also started their work together by writing a book, The Motherhood Manifesto, which I highly recommend.

So from being one aspiring writer, working in near-secret on my own, to getting the updated 2009 edition of Mojo Mom published, working with other writers, and participating in MomsRising's grassroots movement with a million members, I have come a long way in the 2000s.

And as my appreciation of cooperation of mothers has grown, my next book is, voila, an anthology, with chapters written by fourteen talented experts! I had spent years getting to know other writers, reading their books, appreciating their work, and doing Mojo Mom Podcast interviews--now the circle of experts who I have come to think of as a special group in my mind are really collaborating on the new book, Courageous Parenting, which will be a comprehensive guide exploring how to end overparenting, and carve out a new, healthier path to independence for our kids and ourselves.

The power of collaboration is truly amazing. I have spent several years cultivating these connections, but once I had the idea for the anthology and recruited my contributors, we decided to launch the book in a fast and timely matter. The anthology will be current as of January 2010 and will launch in early spring. To me this is the best combination that takes advantage of the immediacy of blogging while preserving the substance of book writing.

As my blog readers you've been an important part of my entire journey as well. Books take a long time to writer, and my life as a writer improved greatly after blogging enabled me to connect with my readers. So to say thanks to you, I will be offering a free digital download of the new anthology "Courageous Parenting" to anyone who signs up on before the book is published.

I hope you will sign up now, so that I can send you a free complete electronic copy of the new book when it's released this spring.

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Anonymous Anita said...

Thank you so much for mentioning us in your post Amy. This is such a personal story but one shared by so many of us, including me!


4:42 AM  
Anonymous Natalie at Mommy on FIre said...

Thanks for great points, Amy! I am also a former teacher and me working was not working for our family, either. I am just starting out to reinvent myself as a writer as well - our paths are very similar. I am going to check out Mojo Mom. Sounds like a great read and I look forward to Courageous Parenting!

3:26 PM  

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