I was compelled to read Jessica Grose’s Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood (Mariner, 2022) based on the title alone. As an American mother who raised young children in the United Kingdom for four years, I couldn’t put my finger on the reasons why, as an expat, I had experienced a softer side of motherhood living abroad.
From the first chapter, I was enlightened by Grose’s theory about how American motherhood has evolved into the ill-supported, anxiety-producing job it is today. She explores the origins of our image of the “self-sacrificing, good mother” by delving deep into America’s history, religious foundations, and “work-at-all-costs” culture.
In a fascinating narrative that is part memoir, part research, Grose weaves together interviews with a diverse range of mothers. She uses the words these mothers say to illustrate her point about the burdens that American mothers carry, inspiring readers to fight for change.
Formerly a senior editor at Slate and an editor at Jezebel, Grose is a New York Times journalist who writes a popular newsletter on parenting. Her work has appeared in New York, the Washington Post, Businessweek, Elle, Cosmopolitan, and many other publications. She is also the author of two novels, Sad Desk Salad and Soulmates. Profiles Editor Holly Rizzuto Palker caught up with Grose over Zoom to discuss motherhood in America and parenting during the pandemic. This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Holly Rizzuto Palker: Wave your magic wand. Of the suggestions you explore in the book, what is the single most important government intervention that would benefit mothers in our country? Why?
Jessica Grose: I think universal healthcare and universal sick leave would be the best start. So many people, especially single moms, want to go for better [job] opportunities that could give them more flexible work. But they can’t because their employment is tied to their healthcare. It’s the original sin of the American workplace, and medical debt is the biggest reason for bankruptcy in America. Moms are more likely to be in difficult financial straits because of medical debt. It seems like that’s not something that affects moms directly, but it very deeply does. Everybody has a family member who will require care at some point, and who will need support because they can’t work. We have no wiggle room. That is unique to the United States.