Synopses & Reviews
From the acclaimed author of Like a Mother comes a reflection on the state of caregiving in America, and an exploration of mothering as a means of social change.
The Covid-19 pandemic shed fresh light on a long-overlooked truth: mothering is among the only essential work humans do. In response to the increasing weight placed on mothers and caregivers — and the lack of a social safety net to support them — writer Angela Garbes found herself pondering a vital question: How, under our current circumstances that leave us lonely, exhausted, and financially strained, might we demand more from American family life?
In Essential Labor, Garbes explores assumptions about care, work, and deservedness, offering a deeply personal and rigorously reported look at what mothering is, and can be. A first-generation Filipino-American, Garbes shares the perspective of her family's complicated relationship to care work, placing mothering in a global context — the invisible economic engine that has been historically demanded of women of color.
Garbes contends that while the labor of raising children is devalued in America, the act of mothering offers the radical potential to create a more equitable society. In Essential Labor, Garbes reframes the physically and mentally draining work of meeting a child's bodily and emotional needs as opportunities to find meaning, to nurture a deeper sense of self, pleasure, and belonging. This is highly skilled labor, work that impacts society at its most foundational level.
Part galvanizing manifesto, part poignant narrative, Essential Labor is a beautifully rendered reflection on care that reminds us of the irrefutable power and beauty of mothering.
“Garbes's call for care work to be more valued in American culture is persuasive and well rendered. This encomium to mothers and caregivers hits home.” Publishers Weekly
“Essential Labor is exactly the right book, written by exactly the right author. at exactly the right moment. Garbes's work will help us put ourselves, our families, and our communities back together in a way that is more compassionate, more embodied, and more alive than before.”
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., New York Times bestselling author of Come As You Are and Burnout
"Angela Garbes has given us the definitive explanation for something we all share: the sense that something is not right about our society's treatment of parenting. Essential Labor is a beautifully written, painstakingly researched, and courageously personal book. Garbes reveals the way systems exploit caregiving and shows us how the essential work of mothering can fix not just family life, but society. A timely and unforgettable book." Heather McGhee, New York Times bestselling author of The Sum of Us
“Mothering is an invisible form of labor that is too rarely given its due as skilled, multi-dimensional work. Through historical analysis, personal narrative, and expert storytelling, Garbes illuminates the ways in which this essential work is devalued, under compensated, and inequitably distributed, while also offering a vision for a better future. Essential Labor is a rigorous, heartfelt, and deeply hopeful book.” Eve Rodsky, New York Times bestselling author of Fair Play and Find Your Unicorn Space
About the Author
Angela Garbes is the author of Like a Mother, an NPR Best Book of the Year and finalist for the Washington State Book Award in Nonfiction. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Cut, New York, Bon Appétit, and featured on NPR's Fresh Air. She lives with her family in Seattle.