The Atlantic

Why American Moms Can’t Get Enough Expert Parenting Advice

Women are struggling to balance work and family, and they're hoping that the latest podcast, book, magazine article, or class is going to offer them an answer.
Source: David W Cerny / Reuters

Studying up. Researching. Seeking advice from others. This is Kristine’s approach to any new challenge. “If I’m doing something,” she told me, “I read a book about it. If I was going to tile my kitchen, I’d get a book about how to tile a kitchen. It’s my personality.”

This was especially true for parenting. Before becoming a mother, Kristine—a white, married professional—pored over parenting books late into the night. “I started off reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” she said when we met in her sparse office in downtown Washington, D.C. “I was educating myself. I felt this obligation to deliver a child safely, to do healthy things.”

Kristine is one of 135 working, middle-class moms I interviewed in the United States, Italy, Germany, and Sweden from 2011. (Like other mothers I talked with, Kristine was granted anonymity as a condition of participation in my research, as is common practice in sociology.) When I asked what they thought being a good mother means, many of the American women replied with some version of “I read this really interesting article about this,” volunteering its explanation as a proxy for theirs. They routinely recited the views of experts they had gleaned from books, articles, podcasts, classes, listservs, blogs, and message boards—but a personal definition rarely followed.

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