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What Mothers Do Especially When It Looks Like Nothing

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  331 ratings  ·  64 reviews
Instead of preaching what mothers ought to do, psychotherapist Naomi Stadlen explains what mothers "already" do in the course of any exhausting day's work. Drawing from countless conversations with hundreds of mothers spanning more than a decade, What Mothers Do provides lucid insight into the true experience of motherhood and answers the perennial question common to mothe ...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published September 6th 2007 by Tarcher (first published August 25th 2005)
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Books Ring Mah Bell
May 29, 2008 Books Ring Mah Bell rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who wonder what exactly you do all day
Shelves: mom-stuff
I didn't learn a lot from this book... I'm in the trenches, so I "get it". Props to the author for spelling it out for those who think parenting means watching soaps and eating bon-bons while Jr plays quietly in the background.
Here's a summary of a day in the life, read this, and save yourself from reading the book.

It begins with the sacrifice of your body. The little miracle grows inside of you, swelling your boobs, butt and belly to epic proportions. Some jerk will ask if you are expecting tw
Molly Westerman
This book sets out with two admirable goals: 1) to articulate and make visible the really complex activities and processes of what's generally called "mothering" and 2) to honor those activities and processes as far more than 'doing nothing' (as in, 'I've been home with my baby, I'm exhausted, and yet I've feel like I've done nothing all day'). I absolutely agree that we need to pay far more nuanced attention to parents' (and specifically mothers') experiences, which are extremely interesting an ...more
Feb 21, 2008 Elizabeth rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
this is the best "parenting" book i have ever read. it is unique in that the author doesn't tell you what you should do. instead the book is all about the things mothers do that frequently do not even have an adequate vocabulary to describe them. it is more: you are probably already doing this to some degree and i am just writing it down.

this book not only hit upon many thoughts i had been having, it hit on upon thoughts i hadn't even begun to think. it was like she looked inside me and wrote a
As a new mother, this book saved my mental health in the early days of my baby's life.

It is not a parenting guide or how-to book. The author doesn't ascribe to or recommend any philosophy of parenting. This book very elegantly describes the shock and frustrating experiences of mothers, and delineates through snippets of interviews with mothers, all the various types of work that mothers do 24 hours a day.

Her definitions of a mother's work include learning about, listening to her baby; the abilit
I found the goal of this book--to articulate what mothers do when it may appear to outsiders that they do little to nothing--very admirable and largely well-done. I think that this is an important book for vocalizing what mothers, particularly mothers of infants and young children (for this book does not deal with mothering over a lifetime), do, for it offers reassurance to mothers who feel as though they "get nothing done all day" that they are doing a great deal of mothering without taking it ...more
This book does a beautiful job of allowing us to examine what it is mothers--especially stay-at-home mothers--do all day, and, more than that, to name and honor those things. It can be very easy to feel like you're "not getting anything done," when, in fact, you are working hard all day at arguably the most important job there is! Stadlen shows how the typical ways we measure success and efficiency and accomplishment cannot be applied to the work of the stay-at-home parent and offers other ways ...more
I liked this a lot. There is the "mothering is the most important work" platitude, and then there is the "you should really be using your degree/you are just a SAHM/you must not be a feminist" that you get from people. And sometimes you get them from the same person. It could give one whiplash. This book is a great way to center yourself and realize what you are doing, that it is transient and necessary, and that it has value beyond the platitudes.

This book is slanted toward the Attachment Pare
Dec 08, 2008 Jamie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: new mothers
Shelves: parenting
This was a good book to read piecemeal when I was rocking Max. It helped me reflect on my experience of motherhood and I liked looking at my current mindset from a larger cultural perspective. What is it that mothers do? It's hard to explain, but there's a lot to it and mothers are not given enough credit. I appreciated the way Stadlen explored the shifting of relationships and personal identity of new moms; she helped me to see that all of the "little" things I do with Max are way more importan ...more
Far be it from me to act like I'm possessed of near-goddess like magnificence for spawning, but sometimes in the face of endless no-sleep and hormonal chasms of depression, you need something to make you feel special. And to know that there are hordes of women who feel just as good/bad as you do about the whole thing.

For anyone who's spent a magical afternoon gazing in awe at their beautiful sleeping progeny, then ten minutes later found themselves raging about how said vision of loveliness has
This should be a book that all mothers read.
It gives so much validation that when we "sit around" with our babies and young children we are actually doing very exhausting work. I can't say enough good about it. It shows gentleness and respect for all mothers, regardless of how they choose to parent. It also addresses how we communicate with each other and which ways are helpful and which ways are counter-productive. I think I'll try to get several copies and then give to mothers when a baby is
Fascinating to see my thoughts that's so difficult to put into words being outlined in here. Also some that I thought would make me be categorized as weird... turns out to be pretty normal. Not all applicable or happening to me, but these non-applicable things are still good to know.
Would definitely recommend it to all new mums, or perhaps even mum to be's or those wanting to become mums themselves.
Jenni Pertuset
I read this when my daughter was a newborn. I have a strong drive toward feeling productive, and at a time when just leaving the house sometimes took hours this reassured me that I was still accomplishing a great deal. I felt encouraged by that and by its normalizing (is that a word?) some of the things I'd imagined, but thought no sane mother ever had.
Jan 13, 2010 Karen is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
So far, one of the best books I've read about mothering - all the stuff the other "parenting" books don't have. It's not a how-to book at all, but an observation of what we're already doing, much of which doesn't have language associated with it yet.
I expected to like this book more than I actually did. The first few chapters were pretty good, but then it became repetitive and kind of slow. So it was just okay.
This would have been very helpful during the first few months after having a baby. I could have found out how to talk about the important work I was doing that felt like doing nothing because I didn't have anything tangible to point to at the end of the day. One of the parts I found most interesting was the discussion of motherly love. Naomi builds a case that mothers who see their babies as separate individuals right from birth have less frustration and more straightforward love. Mothers who se ...more
Carolyn Wray
When I started reading this book, I was so excited. I thought I would be able to recommend it to every mom I happened to meet. A lot of the material did resonate with me, but I can see how some mothers would feel left out. It is very affirming to the more traditional forms of motherhood- sahm, breast-feeding, quickly attending to your children school. Before I became a mother, I had some pretty good ideas of what I and my baby would be like. My baby would sleep well, and I would be cheerful and ...more
Christo Fogelberg
My wife is pregnant, so we've been looking around for things to read and other ways to learn about parenting. This book was suggested by a friend of mine who is also a father, though he strongly warned me that I "might find it very sexist".

I understand what he means now, but it is also much worse. While there are some wonderful quotes from new mothers - more on those shortly - this book is mostly a minefield for any new mother's confidence. Stadlen slyly but constantly pushes the agenda that the
Not bad, more useful for me as an expectant father than I had expected, considering that it is almost entirely directed at the mother, and directly quotes from mothers only. I would probably have preferred it as a long essay than a whole book though, there's probably a bit much there.

Chapter 9, "What is Motherly Love?", is not great. Though I side with the author's position against a too-feminist position in which the child is set up almost as an enemy, where hatred towards the child is not only
"Mothers are all around us. We can walk past a mother and child in the street, seeing- and not seeing. How much of a relationship can we see? If the child appears to be "good," people sometimes call the mother "lucky" to have an "easy child." But having a child is not easy. Mothers who say their babies are easy mean this in a relative sense." -pg. 17

"Has the time simply "gone?" Even now, as we look at her, you and I can clearly see that she is being present for her baby. She has given up her sho
Christine Bula
I liked parts of this book and some parts were too weird and psychoanalytic for me. Good to keep in mind that it comes out of the UK where maternity leave is much longer than here in the US and it's a little bit "anti-going back to work". If you take the parts that resonate with you and leave the parts that don't, it's affirming and reassuring to hear from other moms. Actually that was my favorite part was the small quotes throughout the book from moms at different stages. I feel like it made me ...more
Dec 08, 2008 Cynthia rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: new moms or dads
I would like to give this book 2.5 stars. I realize it's value, however, and wish I would have read it when my daughter was a newborn. Heck! I might have given it 5 stars back then for saving my life! That said, even at this comparatively late date (my daughter is 3 1/2 and that is a world of difference from a newborn)I got some good stuff out of the book.

I would have liked to have read more about stay-at-home-parent-guilt re: not bringing any money in. My issue.

The Closer To My Mother chapter
Most of these topic are not new to me, since I became a mother for the first time 16 years ago, and spent over a decade counseling new moms through "breastfeeding bootcamp." ;)

But the one chapter that articulated my biggest challenge was "instantly interruptible." *sigh* When we become mothers, suddenly, our daily agendas, our intentions, even our thoughts become instantly interruptible, and not entirely our own. Rare is the opportunity to finish something, anything, including the dishes, a sent
This book was recommended to me by a fellow mother at a baby group when I mentioned my fear I wasn't doing my best as a mother and felt overwhelmed. It took me a couple years to finally get around to getting and reading this book and my only regret is that I didn't do so earlier!

What an excellent book for mothers-to-be and even those experienced mothers out there, if only to reassure you that all the time you took over trying to get things right for your babies and young children was worth the
This book had a really wonderful message, and was very well researched, but unfortunately, it was a little dry, and almost read more like a text-book in most parts. That being said, I read the whole thing, and definitely felt like the mother's stories, and the author's emphatic praise of all things mothering, was a great boost for me to continue doing "what I do best", even when the going gets tough. One of the things I didn't love about this book was that the author spent so much time reassurin ...more
Put aside. Negative, negative, negative. Patronising. I learnt nothing. I got to chapter 5 and thought I'm wasting my time. It's a neverending rant on how mothers put themselves down. So I put the book down. Not a good read and not useful in any shape or form.
A lovely book. A bit dry and expository, as it is a sociological study at its base, but a piece of work that underscored the fact that I AM NOT ALONE. Definitely something missing from the mothering lit and instruction books. And made me wonder, with a fair amount of passion, why in the world folks who are not parents, who have nonetheless written books on the subject (?!) have ever been listened to with such dogmatic enthusiasm. Ruined zillions of relationships. She lets us know which methods s ...more
Angela Alcorn
This is one of those great resources for anyone who is beginning to doubt themselves as a parent. As Bruce put it, it's a support group in a book.

The reader is taken through a number of interesting ideas about what it is mothers actually do, all the while reassuring them that it's not "nothing" and actually it's really important.

It also goes through the different things that might cause emotional strain during early motherhood and how all of these things are perfectly normal.

Throughout the bo
I loved parts of this book and so wish I had had it read when I had my first born a few years ago. I flew through the first part as I enjoyed it so much and there was lots of head nodding and agreeing with what she says. Some parts however I really did not like and despite her saying several times that she was not taking sides in the issues of how a mother parents it was so clear she was pro SAHM, attachment parenting etc. I am as well but it annoyed me that she didn't just come out an declare i ...more
Liss Capello
Splendid in the sense that it takes the difficult-to-describe, often never articulated tasks of motherhood and attempts to shine a light on them, and frame them in language that can be understood. I completely agree with the premise that mothering consists of many undervalued activities that are essential to babies (and by extension to society at large), and I appreciate the effort made by the author to avoid giving parenting advice, even if she didn't completely succeed in carving out her biase ...more
Nov 23, 2008 Julie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: new mothers
This would have been so helpful the first year with Elena, I had the hardest time adjusting to my "new" life. I finally came to terms that my "old" life was gone, and I had been grieving for its loss. None of the books I read about babies was helpful in that respect. This book hits the nail on the head about how I felt, I loved being a mother, but didn't realize beforehand all that came with it - "about a whole way of life before the birth of their babies. It can feel like a bereavement. Nothing ...more
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“Psychology researchers now claim that it is important for babies to learn how to stop crying by themselves. Fortunately, many parents still prefer to comfort their babies. If they didn't, we might find ourselves living in a society of very solitary people, who had learned to control thier distress rather than to find strength through sharing it.” 14 likes
“Babies of around one year old are often active by day and wake frequently at night, for no obvious reason. Then a mother can feel desparate for sleep yet equally desparate to comfort her baby when he needs her at night. I have spoken to many mothers who have sacrificed their own sleep, waking up numerous times every night because their babies cried for them. It seems terrible that these hardworking women think of themselves as failures as a result. Surely a mother who has chosen to sacrifice her sleep deserves respect and admiration for her generous mothering.” 14 likes
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