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"Maternal Desire: On Love, Children, and the Inner Life" by Daphne de Marneffe is one of the most moving and eloquent books I have ever read. It is based on a simple premise, namely that the desire to care for one's children is one of life's great pleasures and opportunities for fulfillment. In creating a relationship, and, by extension, a psychological life, suggests de Marneffe, women find particular and crucial meaning and authenticity. Grounded in psychoanalytic, attachment, and feminist theory as well as de Marneffe's own personal journey, Maternal Desire is a subtle rebuke to feminists' inherent derogation of motherhood and a far less subtle encouragement to women to open themselves to feelings that, in this day and age, may seem heretical. De Marneffe is never polemical or doctrinaire; indeed, one of her many strengths as a writer is her capacity to embrace and describe complexity, in particular, the complexity of managing competing desires, specifically work and the desire to mother.

Many women want to care for their children and want to work. These are not simply external expectations: They are real and compelling internal experiences. One of the great conundrums of modern life, she suggests, is that women, having worked so hard to achieve some measure of equality with men in their work lives, find themselves, once they are mothers, torn in ways that would never have anticipated: They want to nurture and take care of their children. Doing so is not, to be sure, unadulterated bliss, for de Marneffe keenly observes the tedium and repetition that are inherent in caring for children. This, too, is part of the fabric of parenthood.

De Marneffe, who is a clinical psychologist and mother of three, was powerfully affected by the experience of struggling to balance the demands of...