THE MOMMY BRAIN by Katherine Ellison


How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter
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Moms may say they have no time to read—but they’ll make time for this discussion of brainy motherhood.

Women talk all the time about “Mommy Brain.” (In the UK, they call it “porridge brain.”) After you have a baby, you just feel stupider. You suspect your brain cells leak out with your breast milk. Pulitzer-winning Ellison (The New Economy of Nature, 2002, etc.) is determined to show that such loss is a myth. She admits that critical reasoning skills may take a few hits from sleep deprivation in early motherhood. But, she says, scientists at universities all over the country are doing studies to uncover what exactly happens to women’s brains during and after pregnancy, and many indicate that motherhood actually makes women smarter. Ellison devotes the heart of her argument to detailing “Five Attributes of a Baby-Boosted Brain,” showing that mothers’ perception, efficiency, resiliency, motivation, and emotional intelligence may all be the better for pregnancy and motherhood. After arguing for Mom smarts, Ellison turns practical, exploring how women can apply their new savvy. She encourages mothers to translate what they’ve learned through mothering back into the workplace. (You give your children the illusion of control, asking them if they want a peanut butter sandwich or a cheese sandwich, but not asking them the more open-ended “What do you want for lunch?” The same tactic works wonders for managers at the office.) The importance of socializing—seeing friends actually makes your brain work better, and being part of a community can help stave off post-partum depression—is a welcome theme that Ellison sounds throughout. Occasionally, however, she succumbs to the hackneyed and obvious: moms should feel free to sneak off and see a movie or have an espresso in peace. She’s also limited by certain class assumptions. Her suggestions for navigating the “mommy track,” for example, presume a white-collar readership.

Sure to be controversial, as well as encouraging to many, many women.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-465-01905-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2005


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