The Moms Are Not Alright
Inside America's New Parenting Crisis
by Anne Helen Petersen
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Pub Date 28 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 18 Jan 2023
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From the author of the bestselling cultural touchstones Out of Office and Can’t Even, an honest, intimate, and often shocking look at how the events of the past three years have pushed parents to the breaking point—and how many of them are emerging stronger and more resourceful than before.
Parenting is tough under the best of conditions. Thanks to the ongoing calamities of recent years, it’s more challenging than ever—for mothers in particular. Recent statistics show that more than 60 percent of women have taken on the majority of pandemic parenting and household duties, almost 50 percent are under regular stress, and 39 percent with children under five say they have either left the workforce or reduced their hours because of a lack of reliable and affordable childcare. In short, mothers are not okay.
Plenty of news stories have reported on the increased pressure mothers have been under in the face of Covid, gun violence, inflation, racial acrimony, and more, but we’ve heard little beyond sound bites from women themselves. In this powerful account, Anne Helen Petersen, one of today’s most astute and empathetic cultural observers, gives women voice. Drawing on responses she received from more than a thousand mothers, Petersen shares the first-person stories of thirty-three of them. We hear from moms from a wide range of races, backgrounds, income levels, cities, and towns. Some are single, some divorced, some in same-sex unions. All of them are ready to talk.
With cathartic, raw candor, these moms tell how they’re attempting to work through the anxiety, fatigue, and abject terror of the early 2020s. In stunning detail, they discuss how they’re grappling with the day-to-day emotional and economic fallout, and the deep demoralization that accompanies the sinking feeling that so few people in power are thinking about ways to help. During the shutdown and now, these mothers have felt alone and largely forgotten. For many, it’s increasingly impossible to do what feels like good parenting within the system as it is. Some of this is the fault of the pandemic, but some, too, is the ongoing unraveling of the social safety net and government failure to cultivate communities that support parents. As one mom says, “Most of my friends and their partners are barely hanging on.”
But these stories also show something else: the resilience and adaptability of families. Despite their hardships and worries, these mothers have crafted ways to survive—and thrive. In the absence of political solutions, they’re building their own support systems for themselves and their children. Yes, these moms are pissed off and worn out, but they’re also, ultimately, hopeful.
Not just a story for mothers, this is for friends, colleagues, employers, and even (perhaps especially) policymakers. The way we treat parents is the way we regard caregiving, labor, gender, family, and community at large. If we don’t figure out how to address these issues now, all of us will suffer. The Moms Are Not Alright will make parents feel seen, but it will also speak to the many who are eager to reconsider the way we think of community and care moving forward.
Anne Helen Petersen is the author of four books, including Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation and Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home. She is a former writer for BuzzFeed News and received a PhD in media studies at the University of Texas. You can find her newsletter, Culture Study, at annehelen.substack.com.