Blum (Sociology/Northeastern Univ.; At the Breast: Ideologies of Breastfeeding and Motherhood in the Contemporary United States, 1999 etc.) addresses how demands on women have escalated and increasing numbers of maladjusted children are diagnosed with mental disabilities.
Though gender roles are changing, mothers, writes the author, are still assigned “primary responsibility for child-care and the major share of blame when things go wrong.” This often places mothers in the position of navigating between educational and medical authorities as they seek help for their children. Overcrowded, underfunded schools have little tolerance for disruptive behavior, and insurers are unwilling to approve payments for counseling when medications are available at lower cost. Diagnoses of brain malfunction are frequently made after the fact. If taking a prescription drug such as Ritalin improves a child's behavior, the thinking goes, then he has ADD; if not, perhaps he is bipolar, and new prescriptions become available. The author interviewed a few dozen mothers who were faced with trying to get help for their disturbed children while navigating medical and educational bureaucracies. The social and economic backgrounds of the author’s interviewees range from upper-class stay-at-home moms to lower-class single mothers who serve as the sole support for their families and struggle to make ends meet. Despite their differences, their worries about overmedicating their children or seeing them fail in school are similar. Blum provides a wider social context, placing blame on “the neoliberal ideology…[that] values individual over public responsibility.” The growing number of children who are “medicalized” is a reflection “of anxieties about an uncertain world in which boundaries of privilege within and outside the United States are being redrawn," raising the bar for success to include only the children with the highest levels of emotional and intellectual functioning.
A valuable contribution to the national dialogue on health care and education, told through the voices of the mothers whose children’s futures should be of concern to all of us.