Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Mommy Brain by Katherine Ellison

How Motherhood Makes us Smarter

I usually save my book posts for my reading blog, but since this one relates to my blog title, I thought I would post on it here also.  The main premise of the book is summarized in the subtitle, obviously.  I always assumed that motherhood was a learning experience, and thus would make you smarter, even if not in a PhD sort of way, but apparently a lot of women feel that being a mom is a mental liability.  Ellison is not a scientist, but presents much interesting research from real scientists to refute this misconception.  One bit I liked,
Women . . .  gather more data from their environment and construct more intricate relationships between the information.  By contrast, men tend to compartmentalize – to get rid of ancillary data and focus only on what they regard as important.  Mark George, the Medical University of Southern Carolina brain-scanner, suspects that, in practical terms, the difference may help account for how a guy can stay glued to the television through the ninth inning while his progeny are loudly murdering each other in the next room. (p. 75)
However, there is a lot more to this book than sometimes obvious observations about motherhood.  The author is a journalist, and writes from the point of view of a very career-oriented working mother.  This is not really a book designed for the stay-at-home mom, or even the lower-income working mom.  The book is jammed packed with mothers who have prestigious careers as editors, professors, scientists, etc.  
. . . Mayer, the Colorado Permanente doctor, who fits parenting in between working forty hours a week away from home and ten to twenty hours more in her home office. (p. 72)
Fits parenting in?  Those poor children.  
There are a few token references to grocery store clerks, but that’s it.  Only one stay-at-home mom that I can recall.  Ellison clearly cannot identify with this rather large group of American women.  She calls the working versus stay-at-home debate “passé”.  To those women who have not decided yet what to do, it is hardly passé.
However, most annoying, was that halfway through the book, her focus switched from brain research to the socialist propaganda that the government needs to provide top-notch child care for everyone, along with much longer maternity leaves.  Basically, we should be like the liberal Shangri-La, Sweden.  She also threw in a bit of environmentalism, and anti-Republican political commentary.  Off-topic!
So I can give you two reasons to read this book.  One, if you want to learn a smattering of science about what happens to your brain when you become a mother, read the first half.  Two, if you have a serious career, you can read this book to reassure yourself that having kids will not ruin your career, and can even help you a little (there is little discussion on how this affects the children).

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