Harper Wave Books: Unexpected Perspectives on Mind, Body, and Soul

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Essential Labor

Mothering as Social Change

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About the Book

From the acclaimed author of Like a Mother comes an investigation into the current state of caregiving in America and an exploration of motherhood as a means of social change.

The Covid-19 pandemic reminded us of an 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—Garbes penned a piece for New York Magazine, “The Numbers Don’t Tell the Whole Story,” which quickly went viral.

Since then, Garbes has found herself pondering a vital question: How, under our current circumstances that leave us exhausted and depleted, might we demand more from American family life? The answer, she believes, is by doubling down on the value of mothering and its radical potential.

In Essential Labor, Garbes builds on the ideas she presented in her viral essay, exploring our assumptions about care, deservedness, and equity. Care and Leading is a deep dive into what mothering in America is, and can be, amidst all the fear and possibility of the moment. Using her family's journey as care workers from the Philippines as a lens, she places mothering in a global context of care—the invisible economic engine that has been historically devalued and demanded of women of color.

Garbes contends that the labor of raising thriving children offers us the ability to create a more equitable society. In Essential Labor Garbes reframes the everyday tasks that feel laborious as opportunities to teach children progressive and inclusive ways of valuing themselves and others. Social change begins in our homes. Just as Like a Mother provided a new context for understanding pregnancy, Essential Labor will give readers a thought-provoking, hopeful, and urgent consideration of the work of mothering.

About the Author

Angela Garbes

Photo of Angela Garbes

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 also cohosts The Double Shift, an acclaimed podcast challenging the status quo of motherhood in America. She lives with her family in Seattle.