Book Review: The Mother of All Jobs (by Christine Armstrong)

The Mother of All Jobs: how to have children and a career and stay sane(ish) by Christine Armstrong is either a hotchpotch of a book or a treasure trove, I’m still not sure which. It ranges from social campaigning to baby-planning to marital advice to childcare options with a single thread pulling it all together: how to combine children and a career with some semblance of sanity for all involved.

It’s easy to read and digest, and the breadth of topics kept me interested. Christine Armstrong’s dispassionate and unflinching honesty about the challenges in combining a career and motherhood quickly strips away all illusions about how easy it is to ‘have it all’. I imagine it would be a real wake-up call to anyone planning a baby or heading back to work after maternity leave. If you are struggling to combine work and parenting, this book will reassure you that you are not alone and not at fault.

Christine Armstrong pulls no punches. This is a very frank book which doesn’t worry about being politically correct on anything. But (as with most things), its strengths are also its weaknesses. The searing honesty means it lacks nuance. And some of the ‘truths’ outed by the book actually feel like stereotypes. The relentless focus on practical problems and solutions means it misses the emotional side of being a working mum, which, for many of us, is where our struggles lie. And by generalising lessons from real parents’ experiences, Armstrong somewhat erases the richness of those real experiences and veers occasionally towards caricature. 

I like the diversity of voices that feature in the book. Real parents talking about real lived events and dilemmas. But, despite the breadth of voices included, it does feel like the book is aimed primarily at a particular type of working mum: a woman who has a well-paid high-powered job who can afford to consider sending her children to private schools or being the solo breadwinner so her partner can stay at home. Personally, I found that quite narrowing.

Much of the advice that Armstrong gives is eminently practical. She is opinionated and no-nonsense. Which is great if you happen to agree with her. But the opinions are grounded in interviews and anecdotes which at times feels a slightly flimsy foundation on which to build such big assertions.

In the end, I longed for a bit more of Christine Armstrong the social campaigner who thinks that the world of work has been skewed against mothers, and bit less discussion on the relative advantages or disadvantages of private versus state schooling.

NB This is a personal review and very much my own opinion. I am sure there are lots of readers out there who will disagree, perhaps vehemently (and certainly the reviews on Amazon are great). Please do feel free to leave comments with your own thoughts (though anything too vitriolic will not be approved!).

 

This is not a sponsored post. I bought this book and read it because it interested me. However, this post contains affiliate links so if you do click through and buy the book from Amazon, I will receive a small fee (see Disclosure Notice for more details).

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