Gabrielle Union left us speechless in 2017 with her debut memoir, We’re Going to Need More Wine. Now she’s back with a follow-up book called You Got Anything Stronger? that’s just as touching, thoughtful, and vulnerable.
Since the release of her first memoir, the Bring it On actress welcomed 2-year-old daughter Kaavia James via surrogacy with former NBA star Dwyane Wade. Union is also a step-parent to Wade’s children from previous relationships: Zaya, Zaire, and Xavier. She also helps care for Wade’s nephew Dahveon Morris.
In her latest book (published Sept. 14), Union explores her surrogacy journey and gets very real about working mom life — the joy, the tears, the frustrations, and the lies — and man, she gets it so right.
Union admits that women in the public eye, moms or not, are encouraged to promote the idea of perfect balance, regardless of whether or not the concept exists. “Whether you’re a senator or CEO, an actress or athlete, you need to have a practiced answer for the question every single interviewer will ask you: ‘How do you find balance?’ It doesn’t matter how absurd the answer is—’I get up at four a.m. to work out so I can be present as I make breakfast for the kids before work.’ You just need to have one,” she wrote. “Nobody really cares about the answer, mind you, because it doesn’t mean a damn thing. It’s just about promoting the idea that some equilibrium exists as a possibility. A reach. And that if you work hard enough, sacrifice even more of your time or self, you will achieve this feeling. So, go ahead! Overextend yourself. Hustle more, complain less. If you and your friends are not greeting each other with ‘I’m so tired’ then you are doing it wrong.”
Women of every stripe buy into the myth of balance, says Union, describing the phenomenon with a uniquely apt metaphor: multi-level marketing. You know, the LuLaRoes, the essential oils, the cookware, and kids books.
“‘Balance’ is actually a multilevel marketing program—what we used to call a pyramid scheme,” she explained in her book. “You know those things. They target your high school friend or cousin, usually a woman who has kids, and tell them to invest their money in a product and then sell it to their friends and family. Worse, these women are told to recruit their friends to become ‘consultants’ so they can access their network. I guarantee you, check your old Facebook inbox—there’s a message lurking in there that begins ‘Hey girl!’ as a preamble to tell you about an exciting opportunity involving nonessential oils or tie-dye leggings.”
The promise of profit, riches, and independence from MLMs, says Union, is the same falsehood that’s often pushed on working mothers — that there’s balance out there somewhere if we work hard enough to find it. It’s the idea that we need to be successful at work, successful at parenting, successful at socializing and maintaining relationships outside of our families — while not breaking a sweat or feeling any emotions other than gratitude.
“Deep down, you have known that this is a lie,” Union wrote. “That nagging suspicion you’re being conned is what’s leading to that feeling of rage inside you. The current of anger runs under all the emotions that demand your attention: isolation, resentment, self-doubt. But it’s the rage that surprises you. There’s some tipping point you never see coming that makes your whole day unravel.”
On those days, small frustrations mount and anger can bubble up, finally breaking the surface. “You race for an elevator with a bag and a baby, and you just need someone to hold the door. And they don’t,” she wrote. “You are managing your family’s schedule and ask your husband the most basic question. He sighs, having to think for a moment about what you have to think about all the time. You have engineered your workday to the minute in order to be off at 5:00, so you can pick up the kids from practice, but your boss tells you at 4:50 that they need you to stay longer to salvage the work some mediocre coworker did a half-ass job on. Those tipping points put you on the verge of tears and rage. When your anger pops out like that, it feels foreign, it feels powerful, and yet so essentially you that it makes everything else about you seem false.”
Union frames these observations in a way that feels familiar to many mothers and it’s refreshing. As if we didn’t already love her enough, now she’s out there pinpointing our anger and frustration and we are so here for it.