Book Review: The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 05:12PM
Dr. Harriet Fraad

Sharon Lerner Hoboken NJ: John Wley & Sons 2010. Reviewed by Harriet Fraad - first publish in The Journal of Psychohistory Fall 2010.

Sharon Lerner’s The War on Mom’s is required reading for psychohistorians. It describes and documents the high stress misery endured by the majority of US families. As psychohistorians, we fear for America’s future when our families are in trouble. Lerner revels 1,000 reasons why family values are the furthest thing from our national social or economic or political agenda. How come? Why the discrepancy between our rhetoric as a family friendly, child oriented society and the reality of family suffering? The first ingredient in the foul stew is poverty. The second toxic ingredient addresses us as a “free country “in which choices are cruelly limited. The third ingredient is the lack of social, economic and political family support. Lerner points out that we are alone in not providing the family supports that all other Western nations take for granted. The three are, of course, intimately linked. However, I like Lerner, will address them separately for the purpose of clarity.


The birth of a baby is one of the leading causes of poverty in the US (p. 13 & 197). That is hardly surprising in the one Western Industrialized nation without universal healthcare insurance. Out of the 21 wealthiest nations in the world the United States was last, 21st out of 21 in health care for women and children. ([PDF] THE STATE OF THE WORLD'S CHILDREN 2007 Women and Children).  Medical bills are a prime reason for bankruptcy (Tyagi and Warren 2003). Naturally most US families would be jeopardized by the birth of a child combined with any complication in the birth or any other illness. Illness and infancy combine to create poverty (p. 13 &197). Other prime causes of poverty are the absence of paid maternity and or paternity leave, the necessity for women to work outside of the home, and the failure to provide subsidized or free daycare. We are one of 5 nations rich or poor not to provide paid time off for new mothers (P. 98 & 202). We now have 12 weeks of unpaid leave. A minority of poor mothers are covered by the law and millions more cannot afford to take unpaid leave (p. 98-99 & 2005). Child care, even the inadequate child care to which the majority of our children are subjected, is terribly expensive (p.133-135). Thus, between health expenses and childcare expenses parents are forced closer to or deep within poverty with the birth of a child.


American women who need to work, which is about 75% of women, are free to choose between either poverty and hardship or having a family. The US has more women working full time than any other nation in the world (p.149). With their “free” choices it is no wonder that one out of five US women, even women who are between 40 and 44 years old, have no children or plans to have them. It is also no wonder that parents are more depressed, sad, lonely, afraid and angry than their childless peers (p.168 & 208).

Lack of Social, Economic, and Political Support. For Families

Sadly, we lack supports for parenting across the board.  France and Belgium have free universal child-care plans that enroll 99% of their 3, 4, and 5 year olds (166 & 2080. These are programs with masters degree level head teacher and experienced associate degree assistant teachers. They are paid well. Their centers include full pediatric medical care, rooms for sick children etc. They are behind Sweden with its superb childcare at all levels. Although every other of the 21 wealthiest nations is ahead of us, Sweden is most outstanding. In addition to their superb daycare centers, the vast majority of mothers have 18 months off with partial pay. Both parents, can take 60 paid days for the care of a sick child, and subsidized leisure time care which parents can enjoy before or after school until their children are 12 years old. Then there is a “daddy leave” of 4 weeks for fathers to take with their children (166). Quality subsidized or free childcare arrangements combine with the health care benefits in all other wealthy nations to vastly improve parent’s freedom to relax and enjoy their lives and their children. They can both be parents and enjoy the pursuit of family happiness. Sweden spends about double what America does on social programs per citizen. The book The War On Mom’s points us to the way untaken, the way we need to go.

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