When I was first starting out in life, I worked for a time at a Quaker high school, founded by the Society of Friends in the 1800s. It was a socially conscious and committed environment. Often the school would host speakers who had written about the troubles of our times and who could educate the students in the whole truth of another people or country in crisis. It was on one such occasion that I think I first saw Ann Crittenden. I've never confirmed my strong impression that I saw her speak about a book she authored in 1988, Sanctuary: A Story of American Conscience and Law in Collision. I do possess an image of her sitting on stage in the school's auditorium, answering questions and carefully explaining the plight of Central American refugees and the role American churches were playing in sheltering them from our legal system.
Maybe that's why I felt an instant recognition for Ann's face on the book jacket when I received my copy of The Price of Motherhood. The first time I saw her up close, she was gliding down an escalator, surrounded by her old friends from Dallas, Texas, clad in a mini skirt, ready to deliver a speech on the economics of motherhood to a group of businesswomen. She appeared so hip, and ready to take on the world. I was with a group of mothers from the Dallas and Plano, Texas chapters of Mothers & More who met Ann at the bottom of the escalator.
In the late 1990s, I found a cause -- or the cause found me. I became a champion of mothers' rights, and the value of the all the work mothers do in our society. Ann's book helped me crystallize my thinking on motherhood issues; moreover, by talking to and connecting with thousands of mothers around the country, Ann spread and nourished the seeds for a social movement to sprout forth. My first contact with her started in my kitchen and lead to my meeting her in Dallas.
I can't remember how I got the word out. I wanted to talk with Ann Crittenden. A fellow Mothers & More member had mentioned The Price of Motherhood on our online discussion forum about motherhood and society -- the POWER loop -- and I was on a mission. I wanted to interview Ann for our 7,000 member publication, and I wanted to her to join us for a group discussion on our email loop.
I was chopping away at a cupful of red and yellow bell peppers and the phone rang. In that house we had an old wall phone. A voice said, "Debra, this is Ann Crittenden. I wrote The Price of Motherhood and I heard you wanted to talk to me." It was a good thing I hadn't started sautéing yet. Dinner would have to wait a few more minutes.
I grabbed a pen and some paper. I raced to the small spiral staircase in our front room and began peppering Ann with questions and taking notes. She asked me about our organization, our members. The connection was made, the interview was scheduled. We would work together to amplify her message.
How important was that first interview and subsequent member conversation? It helped women in our organization cement values that we already held as mothers, things we sensed but didn't have a name or language for, or had only just begun naming. By reaching out to Mothers & More members as a mentor and a mother -- as one of us -- Ann helped to move our work forward, as she has with others in countless ways. She explained things in a way that made sense and described what we recognized and wished for:
One of my values/goals… is to have the entire society reflect the caring, giving qualities that characterize a mother; the same concern for the well-being of children and a respect for non-self-interested behavior. But paradoxically, this can never be accomplished if mothers are sidelined or marginalized or expected to be the only ones in society that sacrifice their own interests. We are not there yet. One of the things that struck me while reporting and speaking about the book is how many mothers still do not quite believe that they are 'entitled' to greater support or accommodation. (Mothers & More Power Loop, July 2001).
In March of this year, I was again able to hear Ann speak at the 41st Annual Southern Methodist University Women's Symposium (SMU is her alma mater). Five years after The Price of Motherhood was published, Ann is still enlightening mothers. Around me as she spoke that day I could see wide eyes, and I could sense the desire to know more about how our society might do things differently, how to affect such an enormous change.
As mothers, we have to be open to hearing about our own vulnerability, and be willing to come together to talk about it. Recognizing that there is a price to motherhood is the first step. Sustaining the conversation and continuing the outreach is what I try to do every day as a result of my conversations with Ann, and the groundbreaking message of her book.
Of all the insights and 'ah-ha' moments I had while reading The Price of Motherhood, what remains with me is Ann's observation that resources in the hands of mothers create investment in children, and that raising children to thrive is an economically beneficial activity. I always think of this concept, this truth, in the form of an equation: as the necessity and worth of human capital rises, the importance of care also increases. Mothers are the greatest economic engine of the last and current century. Activities mothers engage in create wealth: both paid and unpaid labor is real work with social and economic value.
When this message is conveyed to a roomful of mothers, they get it. They also begin to see that our policies, the way we structure or workplaces and our beliefs do not reflect this reality.
We're never going to see mothers go out on strike to make the work we do more visible by withholding it. Mothers don't rally or call for a massive work stoppage -- we would have a hard time neglecting those we love; rather, we insist on contributing to the flourishing of others. We don't always think about our own well-being. This dedication makes us advocates for every cause but our own -- we often do not see the whole value of what we ourselves do, and as The Price of Motherhood discusses, this blind-spot makes us our own worst enemies.
We've had five years of awakening to the price, the cost, the value of what we do as mothers. We are still working on the means and the way to make our work visible and understood by our entire society; yet because of Ann Crittenden's remarkable book, the sleeping giant no longer slumbers. Mothers are moving forward to tell the world that the most important job in the world is the least valued -- and speaking our truth, the whole economic truth.
My copy of The Price of Motherhood is loose in its binding. It has annotations and dog ears. I am not a poster child for any library. I am an advocate because the book makes the case for the high price of motherhood and the need to do something about it.
MMO : may 2006