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Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  1,164 Ratings  ·  199 Reviews
A lively and provocative look at the modern culture of motherhood and at the social, economic, and political forces that shaped current ideas about parenting

What is wrong with this picture? That's the question Judith Warner asks in this national bestseller after taking a good, hard look at the world of modern parenting--at anxious women at work and at home and in bed with
Paperback, 352 pages
Published February 7th 2006 by Riverhead Books (first published February 17th 2005)
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Chris McKenzie
Jun 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: moms who are sick of stress
There was a time when working moms were vogue and stay-at home moms (today known as SAHMs) were regarded as pathetic and unfulfilled. These days, the pendulum seems to have swung back, at least in my experience as Bad Working Mommy. At a birthday party for my nephew not long ago, I was asked by a homeschool mom, "So, do you homeschool your children?" When I said no, that I taught in a Christian school where my children also attend, I got what I have come to recognze as The Look: smug, superior, ...more
i did not care for this book. warner maintained such a smug tone throughout, it was nearly impossible to read. supposedly she was inspired to investigate the uniquely dysfunctional approach to parenting that america mothers have adopted over the last thirty years, inspired by the culture shock she experienced when she moved back to the states after having her babies in france. france offers socialized health care & government-subsidized child care called creches. obviously there's nothing li ...more
Apr 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Although I find this book a bit depressing, it really resonates with me. In a grossly simplified nutshell, Judith Warner describes how we, generation X women, are living out hollow societal promises from our childhood. Feminism of the 70s and the "you can have it all" mantra taught to us in the 80s have failed to pan out. We are not equal members of society, and we can not have it all. As mothers we have limited choices and a lack of support and we must make sacrifices (professional and personal ...more
Nov 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all crazy women
Recommended to Jeannette by: Michelle LaRose
IF you are a mother or even thinking about becoming a mother, you need to read this book. I was totally awakened to the complete insanity in which we (as women, with procreative powers and professional aspirations) are expected to function. Ok, I guess I have been living it first hand, but I have never slowed down enough to really think about, and reflect on, how absolutely asinine and competitive modern motherhood has become. I was talking to my friend Andrea about some of my epiphanies while r ...more
May 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
I was initially skeptical, as the author began by talking about her experiences with her young child in France, but it turned out to be a really interesting book. It deals with the larger social reasons why so many middle-class mothers are so hypervigilant about the tiniest details of their children's lives. It gives mothers who work outside the home equal weight to mothers who stay home, which is nice, and examines whether or not we really have a choice when it comes to staying home or not, reg ...more
Feb 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
There were times when I loved this book and times when I hated this book. It was an amazing look at motherhood today. The one thing that I will take away from this book the most is that it has helped me look at different mothering decisions with a more open mind. There was a page in the book where it talked about a particular tribal society where women had to keep working even after the birth of a baby, or she risked starving. It made me think about genetic diversity and how it is important for ...more
Dec 21, 2009 rated it liked it
I was going through a phase where I just happened to be reading books by many urban East Coasters, and I was amazed at how neurotic they seem to be. This covers the specific pressures of motherhood, and yes, if everyone else is going in that direction, it would be hard not to pick up on the neurosis, even if your natural tendency was towards sanity.

Warner was able to provide an alternate perspective, having also spent time in Europe, where mothers receive more support, and face less pressure. Sh
Jan 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Parents. All women.
Shelves: non-fiction
Moms, don't miss this. My caveat: I don't know enough about how one writes a non-fiction book to know whether she has ample sources or citations for her opinions, but I do know that her anecdotes and observations ring very true for me and what I see. We are really getting mixed up about motherhood and what it takes to be a good mother/good woman. It's shocking to see where these messages are coming from and how they got to be in our brains. It's seriously time for women to start talking to each ...more
Aug 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Another political parenting book to chew through! I feel I am really learning a lot about family policies in the U.S. through all this reading. Here are some things I want to remember.

"Listen, you don't just have this child for a couple of months. You'll have her for the rest of your life. You have to have a life of your own. Because if you are happy, she'll be happy. If you're fine, she'll be fine."- Makes me think that in this age of over-parenting we HAVE to take time for ourselves, cultivate
Aug 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Before becoming a mother I knew I'd be entering a different world of paranoia and mommy insanity. After becoming a mother I had to learn how to navigate within it to find the few mothers who thought as I did about the germaphobe mothers that swarmed around us. This book set out to explain it all and it did.

I liked the timeline through history to modern times of how we, as American culture, got so fanatical. One man, John Bowlby, became the founder of the attachment theory which is known as "bon
Jun 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009-books
On one level, this book is about "mommy madness." As Warner explains in her foreward, this is "the insane sort of perfectionistic and hyper-controlling behaviors that so many mothers engage in today." But it is also about a crazy time in American history where the middle class is being reduced to nothingness. As Warner explains:

"It's about the way that mothers' (and fathers) behaviors have been perverted by social and economic forces that they feel they cannot control. It's about how that feelin
Apr 23, 2015 rated it liked it
In the first place I found her many anecdotes of absolutely out-of-control overparenting to be fascinating in a voyeuristic kind of way. As other reviewers have noticed she either had a very, very skewed sample set of parents, or completely went out of her way to pick the absolute worst examples of neurotic, miserable parents to show case. I have been a mother for fifteen year, although I myself am a stay-at-home mom, I have friends who work part time and friends who work full time, but I have N ...more
Donna Lyn
May 25, 2011 rated it did not like it
i finished the book! it was compelling enough (the history of feminism was interesting) but overall negative and depressing. A complete 'worldly' view of mothering and this book just affirmed to me even more how my Faith gives me a sense of who I am, whose I am, and gives me a purpose and joy in living. There is no joy in this book. the author opens the book with how wonderful and different parenting in France is, spends the middle of the book complaining about how much our American life sucks, ...more
Aug 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly well-researched and insightful commentary on modern motherhood. Our generation of women has been raised on the feminist message that we can "have it all" and for many of us (given good educational opportunities, sufficient finances, and general class privilege) that has proven true right up to the point of motherhood where we hit a wall. Sadly, rather than looking outwards to enact societal change (paid family leave for both genders; government standards for universal, high-quality ...more
Jan 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Reading this book was a schizophrenic experience - I wavered between complete agreement with the author and total irritation at her inconsistencies and inaccuracies. She nails the feeling of free-floating anxiety that surrounds the contemporary practice of parenting, and correctly points a finger at U.S. society's failure to find collective childcare solutions. But a lot of undeserving targets, from natural birth to comfortable mom clothes, get tarnished by her broad brush, and her need to susta ...more
Jan 10, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Melody by: Antonia (Gift)
Parts of this book are interesting, like the feminist and social history sections. Unfortunately the author really annoyed me with her over the top generalizations of different types of parenting approaches. She uses what I would characterize as "extreme" examples to make a point, when in reality the issues she talks about are much more complex and nuanced. I had to force myself to get 3/4 of the way through the book. Just couldn't finish it. Maybe her book describes a certain niche of parenting ...more
Feb 05, 2012 added it
I love this book so far! Judith makes so many valid points about how in out strive to become perfect Mothers, we miss out on the joys of being a Mom! Stressed out parents aren't necessarily the ideal parents. American Moms have much to learn from European Moms about not feeling guilty when Dad picks up the kids or does the dishes! I am sure I will be able to pick up many useful tips from this book. So far one of the lines that made me chuckle was (paraphrasing) "Is a Girlscout Bakesale at 8pm fu ...more
Aug 29, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Meredith
Recommended to Ryan by: Library display
This is an interesting book that I would recommend to certain others. Although I imagine this book has considerably fewer male readers than female ones, I think that is unfortunate. This book is especially useful for any male that wants to understand why modern motherhood is characterized by so much anxiety. Warner does a good job of communicating the exasperating aspects of American cultural expectations on motherhood, but I found the historical path of feminism she traces from the 1950's throu ...more
Jun 18, 2009 rated it did not like it
This was a bookclub selection for us and our general consensus was that there was no conclusion. She started off by letting us know how much better childcare and support for mothers is in France and then proceeded to hop all around American history trying to explain the seesaw of support here in the states. You get the idea that she believes mothers need to be happy in order for their children to be so, (and you cheer for this) and yet, there is no solution and no real structure. It just ends up ...more
Apr 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the discussion of motherhood and the needs of modern day mothers in the beginning and end of this book as well as the comparison of the child-care systems in different countries. It was thoughtful, pertinent and a call to action. The books speaks to the fears of parents who want the best for the kids and how difficult it is to achieve balance for our lives and that of our children in what can be a crazy, mean and competitive world. There is also a history of the feminist movement and o ...more
Louisa Morris
May 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Loved this book. It's the perfect antidote to Sears' attachment parenting drones, or is that drivel? Okay, I admit it, Sears was my bible until I realized I was losing it, and that I was more than just a mommy sacrificing everything for my child! Judith Warner has her head on straight and has been there. I am glad she took the time to write down her thoughts and offer some sanity in the attachment parenting perfectionism so many seem to aspire to in my little town in northern CA.
May 14, 2008 rated it liked it
Just when I started congratulating myself on being a fairly relaxed parent compared to some of the mothers interviewed for this book, the author began a discussion of how the American economy and educational system make it extremely difficult for middle-class parents to afford quality daycare and schooling for their children. Cue sweaty palms and racing pulse. On the whole, an honest, mostly unpatronizing glimpse into contemporary middle-class motherhood.
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-reads
I'm fairly sure I agreed with almost everything in this book (why, just the other day I wished aloud that I could let my child run the streets, trusting my neighbors to march her back home by the ear if she so much as drops the f-bomb in public) but I may be wrong because the writing was so self-righteously dull that it's possible I was just narrating my own thoughts in my head.
Angie Libert
Feb 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I laughed and cried while reading this book because it so perfectly pinpointed modern motherhood and all its intricacies. It has certainly given my motherhood journey a better perceptive and helped me to laugh at all I do and see others do. The cycles of history, even in motherhood, are so real.
Krista Sheetz
I read this years ago, but I pick it up again every once in awhile. I wish I could mail this anonymously to some of my friends that stress themselves out trying to be the perfect mom. Ain't no such thing.
Sep 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book was an interesting look at the history of cultural shifts in motherhood. While figuring out how we got here is great, I was hoping for more analysis on how to overcome the negative cultural aspects. This book had none.
Jan 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
WOW. Fascinating info and insight into mothering in this day and age. Reading it was amazing company and therapy to my worries and concerns as a mother of 2.
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: children, nonfiction
A litany of examples of how Gen-X mothers are up to their eyeballs in stress and anxiety. Published in 2005, Warner's glimpse of modern motherhood doesn't sound all that different from how I hear mothers I know talk about their lives now (drowning in guilt, exhausted, filled with a sense of malaise and inadequacy). Modern moms are particularly unhappy creatures. I didn't need to read this book to be persuaded of that reality. At the very end of Perfect Madness, after 300 pages of examples of how ...more
Aug 31, 2008 rated it liked it
I read this book in an attempt to connect with my mommy audience, the readers of the magazine and website that I work for that I often realize I have nothing in common with. This book made me realize we have many similarities. You know, we're laaaaaadiesssss. I found a lot applicable to my life. I almost read it as a second Feminine Mystique, because after the first one, the real one, I was left sort of thinking "okay, Betty. It's been like 30 years since you said these things what am I supposed ...more
Jun 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: motherhood-women
Thank you, Judith Warner.

I cannot say that I agreed with every argument; However, it isn't necessary that I do. The point, whether you agree with the nuances or not, is that mothers are killing themselves trying to be perfect. They are guilt ridden and anxious. I know I am. And the very people that we should be turning to for support, the very people that need our support, other mothers , are the very ones that we consistently judge and criticize. There are too many examples to count so I'll us
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“For too many women in America are becoming sick with exhaustion and stress as they try to do things that can't be -- shouldn't be -- done. Too many are eaten up by resentment toward their husbands, who are not subject to the same heartless pressures. Too many are becoming anxious and depressed because they are overwhelmed and disappointed. Too many are letting their lives be poisoned by guilt because their expectations can't be met, and because there is an enormous cognitive dissonance between what they know to be right for themselves and what they're told is right for their children. Too many feel out of control.” 5 likes
“I found that when women were able to act in line with their natural inclinations and ambitions -- whether to work or stay at home -- they were generally happy, and generally felt that their children were happy too. Whereas those whose natural inclinations and ambitions had been thwarted -- whether they were working or stay-at-home moms -- were sure that they and their kids would be better off if they changed course, and either went to work or went home. The morality of the situation-- whether they felt it was good or bad for their chidlren-- derived, not from some external sense of the morality of their "choices," but from the amount of happiness generated by any given arrangement.” 3 likes
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