Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change, by Angela Garbes
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.