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Books In The Mirror:

Author, Mommy WarsRandom HouseHeather HoffmanMirror Book CriticAs she complied the twenty-six essays that make up The Mommy Wars, Leslie Morgan Steiner envisioned the ideal reader reaction to her book. “My goal with the book,” she says, “was that it would make you laugh, it would make you cry and at some point it would make you throw the book across the room.”Leslie Steiner is an advertising director at The Washington Post. She has three children aged three, seven and nine. Her own experiences are typical of many working mothers. She struggled to find adequate daycare, struggled to find balance. She also sensed the incredible antagonism between herself and stay-at-home mothers, and so she decided to edit a series of personal essays written by twenty-six mothers who made very different choices. This meant approaching the enemy, and asking many stay-at-home mothers to contribute to The Mommy Wars.“I didn’t want to just have a bunch of ‘mini-me’s’ in the essays,” she explains. “I wanted women who I really disagreed with. I learned a lot from the people who made really different choices.”In choosing her contributors, Steiner was surprised by how many mothers were willing to talk so openly about their lives. “Everybody understood right away what I was trying to accomplish,” she enthuses, “it was as if they had been waiting for years for somebody to ask them to tell their story, because they just leapt at it and turned in work really quickly that was much better than I could have possibly imagined. “In addition to her Washington D.C. area writer friends and neighbors, Steiner also sought out contributors from the Midwest and California. Once the book was completed, however, Steiner realized that many voices were still missing. “I feel like I could have written ten books like this,” she admits. “In fact, I really seriously want to do a sequel, just because I feel like there’s so much more to be said. There could be hundreds of books like this, some representing very different ethnicities and demographics and cultures.”Not all the essays she received made the cut. Steiner rejected a dozen or so writers for various reasons. “I had a stay-at-home dad contact me, and say, you know, my voice belongs in there too. And he was right, but he was wrong too, and I thought, that’s a different book. Maybe in the sequel I’ll include a couple of stay-at-home dads or working dads.”Steiner also tried to stay away from the typical upbeat, over-positive tone that characterizes most parenting books. “There were three or four women who I knew had really great stories,” says Steiner, “but they only wanted to tell the happy half of the story, and I just feel like we have too much of that. ‘My husband’s great, my kids are great, my life is great, every once in the while I get upset because I break a glass.’ Somebody turned in an essay that was like that. And I just thought, you know, you just don’t get it, you need to tell the whole story.” Many of her contributors speculate on how to end the Mommy Wars, and Steiner has her own view. “I think that keeping an open mind and learning from each other is an important message to spread in terms of the so-called mommy wars,” she asserts. “I think when we get really insular, that’s when our thinking gets really crazy. It’s helped me so much to have friendships with moms from other countries because they don’t have the same issues that we do, and they parent and mother differently.”In looking at the similarities between stay-at-home and working mothers, Steiner observes, “Motherhood makes you grow up in ways you didn’t really expect and you didn’t necessarily want. Everybody is making their own reckoning, and their own judgment about themselves – you have to look in the mirror and say, okay, I’m going to do this, I’m going to grow up and meet my kids’ needs, and meet my own, too.”Since the book’s release, Steiner has launched a blog for women to find common ground – and to wage war – with each other. She encourages both working and stay-at-home mothers to weigh in with their own stories and opinions at blog.washingtonpost.com/onbalance.

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