Katrina Alcorn, mum of 3 and author of Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, believes that many working mums are hanging on by a thread. Women have experienced huge work gains in the last few decades, but institutions have failed to keep up, leaving mums with more to do than they can possibly ever make time for. As she writes on her blog, “Working and raising kids pretty much sucks.” In this excerpt, she talks about the breakdown that led her to quit her job and start advocating for change.
I was driving down an empty frontage road, alone, in our dusty Subaru Outback. It was Saturday. I had just dropped off our junk electronics at the eco recycling place. The irony was not lost on me that my next stop was Target, to buy a jumbo box of very non-eco diapers. After that, the grocery store, to stock up on party supplies.
My husband, Brian, was home with our one-year-old, Jake, our six-year-old, Ruby, and our eight-year-old, Martha (my stepdaughter). We often divided up the weekends this way, with one parent hunting and gathering and the other being, well, the parent. Our family was part of a relatively new tribe, one that sociologists call “dual-earner, multiple-child, middle-class families.” In layperson’s terms, we had kids and we both worked. Like so many members of this massive and growing tribe (which now numbers a little under half of all households with children), our weekdays were devoted to work and basic kid care, while our weekends revolved around the time-honored ritual known as Getting Shit Done.
But on this particular weekend, we were planning to break out of that routine. We were going to host a big brunch on Sunday to celebrate my and Brian’s birthdays, which were only four days apart. Brian had just completed a particularly grueling design project, one that had required him to work so many nights and weekends that his rare appearance at the dinner table caused the kids to gasp and leap out of their chairs, as if a real-life SpongeBob SquarePants had just strolled into the kitchen.
Now that Brian’s project was over, we wanted to celebrate the return to normal life. There was only one problem. I didn’t actually feel normal. I didn’t want to see anyone, not even our friends. Years ago, I had been a person with lots of friends. The phone rang regularly with invitations to parties and dinners and plays. But little by little, work and family obligations had squeezed out just about any social event that didn’t exist primarily for our children. At some point I had silently come to the conclusion it was too much effort to have friends.
I passed one gray warehouse after another on my way to Target. The black leather steering wheel grew sticky under my sweaty grip. I rolled down the window to let in some air, and sounds of freeway traffic rushed into the car, like the roar of a waterfall.
Suddenly, I knew the whole thing was wrong. The party was wrong. My attitude was wrong. Everything was wrong. The last few months had been a carnival ride of constant motion that left me dizzy and sick to my stomach. I wanted off. I wanted someone to pull the brake. I wanted to make it stop, but I didn’t know how to make it stop. I didn’t even know what stopping meant.