• The Daily Telegraph - Viv Groskop, 2 April 2011

    I approached this book with cynical reluctance. "Not another moaning mummy." Rachel Cusk, Naomi Wolf and, most recently, Fiona Millar (Alastair Campbell's other half) have all explored this territory, tearing their hair out as they went. Could there possibly be anything more to say about how difficult it is to be a modern mother?

    Yes, it turns out. Within pages, I was utterly gripped. This is powerful stuff. Rebecca Asher's take on the culture of parenting is radical, original and refreshingly spirited, a heartfelt call for change. She doesn't moan or rant. Instead she gets (usefully) angry and - hurrah! - actually tries to suggest some answers. It would be hard to overstate how important this book is.

    Asher diagnoses a society in crisis. Mothers and fathers are completely exhausted and confused about their roles. Despite tiny gains towards equality, women are still left holding the baby, in charge of childcare (whether they do it themselves or arrange for someone else to do it). Meanwhile, men are effectively forced to assume the role of breadwinner.

    This is not a women's issue, she argues, it's a social problem affecting anyone who becomes a parent. Our culture dictates that mothers - whether in work or not - be the "primary parent", so women end up living with an uncomfortable degree of "enforced domesticity" while men have to put up with what Asher calls "entrapment in the world of work".

    But this is the opposite of a tired polemic about the pitfalls of stay-at-home motherhood. Asher does not dictate the best way to raise children. Instead she asks uncomfortable questions. Why do we expect so much of mothers and so little of fathers? Why is it that after years of family-friendly legislation, mothers are still three times more likely to ask for flexible work than fathers?

    The most persuasive part of her argument is about men. Why do we treat them like second-class citizens? Why is it that fathers are not welcome at antenatal appointments, for example, where the only time the man's involvement is mentioned is when the midwife asks you f you're a victim of domestic violence? (A standard NHS question, one I've been asked too.) Why is the baby's father usually asked to leave the hospital straight after the birth, even if the mother is physically immobile and unable to look after her new baby? (Happened to us too.)

    Why do so many mothers, martyr-like, want it both ways? "Mothers resent childcare as a woman's domain," Asher writes, "and yet they want to keep it that way, viewing men's active involvement as a land grab... Mothers hoard the domestic power they are left with." Asher explores the dangers and the temptations with scores of case studies, sound bites and statistics. The argument sweeps you away.

    The solutions fall slightly at the last hurdle, however, thanks to recessionary economics. Can we really hope for any gains in the current conditions? Asher suggests we copy Sweden which spends five times as much as we do on parental leave. But one Swedish mother complains: "There just aren't stay-at-home parents here. Everyone has this amazing leave, but after that the kids just go into day care..."

    While admitting there is no easy answer, this book blows open the debate on parenting to make serious, practical suggestions for change. Let's not hold our breath for a revolution, but just be thrilled Asher wrote it.



  • Time Out - Rebecca Taylor, 31 March 2011

    This cogently argued 'call to arms' for a radical reappraisal of the way we raise our children should be required reading for policy makers and new parents alike. Rebecca Asher's thesis is that attitudes towards child rearing, after a brief blip of progress in the 1970s, have actually retreated, leaving women's prospects in work and relationships at an all-time nadir.

    Her study is a readable mix of anecdotes and statistics that is impressively far-reaching. In additon to the well-trodden discourse over employment rights and equal paternity and maternity leave, she tackles everything from the role of website Mumsnet to the lack of facilities for fathers on maternity wards. She also examines childcare practices in other countries, taking in the expected egalitarian Nordic models, but unexpected quarters too, such as the US. This is the academic counterpart to the roller coaster of emotional experience that forms the basis for books such as Rachel Cusks's 'A life's Work,' and read together any sane person would probably run a millon miles from the prospect of having children. But Asher presents plausible solutions too, arguing that even in the current economic climate equality between the sexes isn't something to aspire to in the distant future, but crucial to delivering a stable, healty economy now.



  • Advance Praise

    Professor Tanya Byron

    A brilliant and refreshingly honest contribution to the debate on how we raise our children. Rebecca Asher lifts the lid on contemporary parenthood and is unafraid to tackle difficult issues, not least how fathers continue to be excluded from much feminist debate on the reworking of gender roles. As a working mother, this book hit home for me on so many levels. Asher writes in a way that skilfully pursues a compelling argument and thoughtful solutions in an accessible manner. As such, the book deserves a wide audience.

    Chris Cleave

    This insightful, thrillingly honest, well-argued and often very funny book should be required reading for all thinking parents and prospective parents. It's the antidote to all the saccharine mom books that gurn at you from the shelves. On a societal level Asher's argument that childcare needs to be more evenly shared is urgently true, and she puts her case in terms that recognise how many men would like to get more involved. On a personal level, as someone who has spent a bit of time on the home front myself, I suspect that if my wife and I had read this book before we had kids, we might have arrived at our present happy equilibrium a little sooner. Nothing is as useful as a book that is both heartfelt and intellectually rigorous, and no subject is as important as the way we raise our children. What Asher has achieved here is superb.

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