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Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace [NOOK Book]

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In our mothers’ day there were good mothers, indifferent mothers, and occasionally, great mothers. Today we have only Bad Mothers: If you work, you’re neglectful; if you stay home, you’re smothering. If you discipline, you’re buying them a spot on the shrink’s couch; if you let them run wild, they will be into drugs by seventh grade. Is it any wonder so many women refer to themselves at one time or another as a “bad mother”?
 
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Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace

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Overview

In our mothers’ day there were good mothers, indifferent mothers, and occasionally, great mothers. Today we have only Bad Mothers: If you work, you’re neglectful; if you stay home, you’re smothering. If you discipline, you’re buying them a spot on the shrink’s couch; if you let them run wild, they will be into drugs by seventh grade. Is it any wonder so many women refer to themselves at one time or another as a “bad mother”?
 
Writing with remarkable candor, and dispensing much hilarious and helpful advice along the way—Is breast best? What should you do when your daughter dresses up as a “ho” for Halloween?—Ayelet Waldman says it's time for women to get over it and get on with it in this wry, unflinchingly honest, and always insightful memoir on modern motherhood.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
If you're a mom, you're almost certainly a bad mom. Contradictory demands make any choice controversial: If you work, you're neglecting your kids. If you don't, you're probably smothering them or sending them mixed messages. If you discipline, you're twisting them for life. If you don't, you're being irresponsible. Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother grapples in hilarious ways with questions that most of our grandparents never pondered: Will Megan's play group help propel her toward the Ivies? How do I wean the kids from fast food to organic? What is the proper homework/organized activity ratio? Remedial humor.
Susan Dominus
… it's the…uncensored rawness that made me reluctant to speed through any of Waldman's essays, for fear I'd miss some of the more jolting zingers…Waldman, hotheaded and opinionated, digs herself into ditches, and with Bad Mother, sends candid shots from the pit…[she] doesn't always tie her essays up in a neat bow, which seems appropriately messy given the subject matter. They say that a good mother is one who doesn't need her kids to like her all the time. Of writers and their readers, Waldman's book leaves me thinking, the same might be true.
—The New York Times
Annys Shin
Waldman hates to hold back, and that trait serves her well in Bad Mother, a collection of 18 essays, many of which have been published previously. She covers a lot of the terrain of modern motherhood as experienced by a privileged subset of women…After reading these stories, plenty of parents will fault Waldman for something or other. Plenty more will be able to relate.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Having aroused the ire of righteous mothers with her confession to loving her husband more than her children, Waldman (Love and Other Impossible Pursuits) offers similar boldface opinions in 18 rather defensive essays. The mother of four, living in Berkeley and married for 15 years to an ideal partner who told her on their first date that he wanted to be a stay-at-home husband and father (he also happens to be novelist Michael Chabon), Waldman was a Jewish girl who grew up in 1970s suburban New Jersey, where her mother introduced her to Free to Be You and Me and instilled in her the importance of becoming a working mother. With her supportive husband to manage the domestic drudgery, Waldman did pursue a law career, until she quit to be with her growing family. As a champion of "bad mothering," that is, dropping the metaphorical ball-making mistakes and forgiving yourself for it-Waldman writes in these well-fashioned essays how a mother's best intentions frequently go awry: she really meant to breastfeed, until one of her children was bottle-fed because of a palate abnormality; she denounced the playing of dodgeball in her children's school, out of her own memories of schoolyard humiliations; and she confesses to aborting a fetus who suffered a genetic defect. Her determinedly frank revelations are chatty and sure to delight the online groups she frequents. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
Praise for BAD MOTHER

"Many find Waldman's honesty hard to take. For some of us it's hard to live without." –People, 3 1/2 stars

"Absorbing reading... takes brave risks... What really makes Waldman's book interesting, as voices on motherhood go, is Waldman herself--the intensity of her positions and the way she thinks." –New York Times Book Review

"Waldman's book is nothing short of a revelation." –The Oregonian

"Waldman admits that she's an oversharer-which happens to be a great trait for a memoirist. Her essays about motherhood are hilarious, heartbreaking, and edgy." –Newsweek

"Nuanced and thoughtful... Waldman is often an astute commentator on contemporary parenting." –Boston Globe

"Waldman hates to hold back, and that trait serves her well in Bad Mother." –The Washington Post

"Bound to stimulate ferocious discussion." –San Francisco Chronicle

"Waldman is a courageous and talented writer. Her greatest accomplishment in this book is to take her experience--some of our worst fears--and make it something we can understand.... Isn't that a mother's real job?" –Susan Cheever, The Daily Beast

"Fascinating.... If she's honest, every mother will see herself reflected in the pages of this book." –The Anniston Star

"Waldman writes in these well-fashioned essays how a mother's best intentions frequently go awry.... [her] frank revelations are chatty and sure to delight." –Publishers Weekly

"This is not only a wonderfully written book, but I think it may also be a book of great salvation for many women. Most of the mothers I know (the honest ones, the tired ones, the confused ones) will see themselves reflected in these wise pages, and will find long-overdue comfort here."
–Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

"I have often felt that it is impossible to be a mother without a profound, even corrosive, sense of failure, or at least that's how I feel about myself.  To find a book that shares that anxiety, and an author who dissects this insecurity and self-doubt with wit, honesty and proper, enquiring intelligence, is (as a reader) like being grossly dehydrated and being presented with a vat of water to drink.... I am sad to have finished it, and feel I want to be in the company of her frank intelligence forever."
–Nigella Lawson

"Ayelet Waldman writes cleanly and thoughtfully about motherhood as both an experience and a spectator sport.  Bad Mother is blunt, wry, prescriptive and pleasurable."
–Meg Wolitzer, author of The Ten-Year Nap

"Ayelet Waldman's sane perspective on the challenges of motherhood comes as a relief. I relished her graceful language, self-mocking humor, her clear, if sometimes painful, insight.  And I admire her–deeply– for the bracing  honesty that redeems it all."
–Peggy Orenstein, author of Waiting for Daisy

"Ayelet Waldman writes about motherhood the way women live it: Not only as parents, but also as wives, professionals, and most touchingly, former children. Written with humor, insight, generosity, and unflinching honesty, Bad Mother is for anyone who has — or has been — a child."
–Pamela Paul, author of Parenting, Inc. and The Starter Marriage

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767932165
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/5/2009
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 362,511
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Ayelet Waldman
Ayelet Waldman is the author of Daughter’s Keeper and Love and Other Impossible Pursuits. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Salon.com, New York, Elle, Vogue, and other publications. She and her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon, live in Berkeley, California, with their four children.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Biography

Some writers make it all look too easy. Take Ayelet Waldman, for example. The first novel she ever wrote -- heck, the first piece of creative writing she ever attempted -- was not only published, but it launched the successful Mommy-Track mystery series. Six years and eight novels later, Waldman is still wowing fans and critics alike while occasionally moving into more serious territory.

Waldman is most famous for her witty Mommy-Track mysteries, which follow the adventures of Juliet Applebaum. Like her creator, Juliet Applebaum is a former-public defender now playing the role of stay-at-home mom Unlike Waldman, Juliet breaks up her days of parenting with a little amateur sleuthing on the side. Waldman explained the origin of her beloved series during an interview at UC Berkley in 2004. "They grew out of this period in my life when I had left the public defender's office and I was staying home; I started writing them to keep myself entertained."

The novel that Waldman essentially wrote on a self-entertaining lark -- Nursery Crimes -- became the first in a series of lighthearted mysteries that clearly struck a chord among the writer's peers. "I think they kind of hit the market at a time that there were a lot of women like me," Waldman explained. "A lot of ex-lawyers, ex-doctors, ex-CEOs of companies who were finding themselves straight from the boardroom to the sandbox and kind of going crazy, so there was a ready audience for people who were not necessarily all that fulfilled by making homemade play-dough, but nonetheless realized where they were gonna be for the next couple of years."

After the initial four books in the Mommy-Track series (which included such tongue-in-cheek titles as The Big Nap and A Playdate With Death), Waldman decided to use her newfound literary success as an opportunity to try her hand at a non-series novel. "The more I wrote," she said, "the more I realized that [writing] was something that I really loved to do and I wanted to do more with it. I wanted to grow as a writer and I wanted to start writing more serious fiction." Daughter's Keeper, a tale that sheds some critical light on the War on Drugs, revealed that she was more than capable of handling heavier subject matter. As Publishers Weekly noted: "Waldman's passion and affection for her characters shines through."

Having broken into a new realm of writing, Waldman then delivered two more installments in the Juliet Applebaum adventures before penning her second non-series novel. Like all of her previous works, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits addresses Waldman's favorite subject, motherhood, but this time around she also touches on the grittier issues of grief and death. Once again, Waldman's foray outside of her popular series has proved a resounding success. In Chelsea Cain's laudatory review in The New York Times, she described Love and Other Impossible Pursuits as "a romantic, shocking and sometimes painful page-turner does the unthinkable: it actually says something new and interesting about women, families and love."

While more Mommy-Track mysteries are likely on the way from the prolific Waldman, the side roads she has taken thus far confirm that she is a writer willing to defy expectations.

In addition...
Waldman is also noted for the controversy that followed the publication of her 2005 essay "Motherlove." The essay, first published in the anthology Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race and Themselves, sparked a heated national debate about the nature of love, marriage, and motherhood.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Waldman:

"My children are my inspiration. I write about mothers, and about maternal ambivalence. No matter what I set out to do, it seems, I end up writing about that. My four kids have veto power on anything I write about them, but the only time it's ever been exercised is when my eight-year-old told me never to write about breastfeeding him ever again, as long as he and I both walked the earth."

"My husband and I both edit one another's work. Nothing leaves the house that the other hasn't gone over with a fine-toothed comb.

"Nursery Crimes, my first murder mystery, was the first piece of fiction -- the first piece of creative writing -- I ever did.

"I have no hobbies, other than reading. I love to read, and on my web site I keep a log of every book I read, along with a few words about the book and about what I thought. Check it out at www.ayeletwaldman.com

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    1. Hometown:
      Berkeley, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 11, 1964
    2. Place of Birth:
      Jerusalem, Israel
    1. Education:
      Wesleyan University, 1986; Harvard Law School, 1991
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

1. Bad Mother
I busted my first Bad Mother in the spring of 1994, on a Muni train in San Francisco. She was sitting on the edge of her seat, her young daughter standing between her knees. She had two barrettes clamped between her lips and a hair elastic stretched around the fingers of one hand. With her other hand she was brushing the little girl's long dark hair, trying to gather the slippery strands into a neat ponytail. It was not going well. She would smooth one side and then lose her grip on the other, or gather up the hair in the front only to watch the hairs at the nape of the girl's neck slide free. The ride was rough, the Muni car bucking and jerking along, causing the little girl periodically to lose her footing. When the driver took a turn too sharply, the little girl stumbled forward, her sudden motion causing her mother once again to lose hold of the ponytail. With a frustrated click of her tongue, the mother yanked a handful of the girl's hair, hard, and hissed, "Stand still!"

That's when, indignant, confident that someday, when it was my turn to brush my own daughter's hair, I would never be so abusive, I leaned forward in my seat, caught the woman's eye, and said, in a voice loud enough for everyone in the train car to hear, "Lady, we're all watching you."

We are always watching: the Bad Mother police force, in a perpetual state of alert-level orange. Sometimes the avatars of maternal evil that come to obsess us are grave and terrible, like Andrea Yates, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity for drowning her five children in the bathtub. Sometimes our fixation on a particular Bad Mother has to do with our own racism, as in the national obsession in the 1980s with the mythical welfare queen, described by Ronald Reagan as a woman with "80 names, 30 addresses, [and] 12 Social Security cards," or the current hysteria about undocumented women giving birth to "anchor" babies in order to immunize themselves from deportation. Sometimes the crime is so lunatic that it approaches a kind of horrible grandeur, like that of Wendy Cook, a prostitute in Saratoga Springs who snorted cocaine off her baby's stomach while she was breast-feeding. (And here I've always been proud of being able to nurse and read at the same time!)

As soon as one Bad Mother fades from view, another quickly takes her place in the dock of the court of public opinion. Not long ago, the dingbat pop starlet Britney Spears was hoisted up as the latest agent of villainy. Her Bad Mother rap sheet is long and varied. It includes being committed to a psychiatric facility, losing visitation rights after failing to submit to court-mandated drug testing, driving with her infant son on her lap, and running in her car over the feet of photographers and sheriff's deputies. And apart from her legal troubles, there are her miscellaneous crimes of lifestyle. Her constant partying, her spendthrift ways ($737,000 every month!), and, most notoriously perhaps, her inexplicable refusal to wear undergarments. We can all agree, can't we, that Britney Spears is at best an incompetent mother and at worst a neglectful one. She's far worse than my first collar, the Medea of Muni, who pulled her daughter's hair on the J Church line. So why, then, do I find myself feeling like she's gotten a bit of a rough deal?

Perhaps because in a smaller way, at the periphery of the public eye, I was myself made to do the Bad Mother perp walk. For a Warholian fifteen I became fodder for the morning talk shows and gossip blogs, held up to scorn and ridicule as an example of maternal perfidy. My crime? Confessing in the pages of the New York Times style section to loving my husband more than my children.
In that essay I wondered about why so many of the women I knew were not having sex with their husbands, while I still was, and I concluded that it might be because they, unlike me, had refocused their passion from their husbands or partners onto their children. I wrote, "Libido, as she once knew it, is gone, and in its place is all-consuming maternal desire." And then I spent some time worrying about what was wrong with me: Why hadn't I successfully "made the erotic transition a good mother is supposed to make"? I said that if a Good Mother was one who loved her children more than anyone in the world, more even than her husband, then I was a Bad Mother, because I loved my husband more than my children.

The Bad Mother police were swiftly on the scene. They speculated publicly, down in the toxic mud of the comment sections on blog pages, that I was crazy, evil, a menace, that my children should be taken away from me. They cross-examined me on the set of Oprah. And New York City's elite Bad Mother SWAT team, the warrior shrews of UrbanBaby.com, sank their pointy little incisors into my metaphorical ankles.

I feel enough of Spears's pain to find myself wondering at the genesis of our current obsession with these varied archetypical manifestations of maternal evil. To a certain extent, of course, we've always been both terrified and titillated by the Bad Mother. Think Euripides' Medea and Agave, think Jocasta, think Joan Crawford. But I can't help but feel--and perhaps only because I've been tried and convicted of the crime--that there is something especially sharpened and hysterical about contemporary Bad Mother vitriol. The frequency with which a new Bad Mother is unmasked, and the extent of our interest in each one, are, I believe, more than merely symptoms of the contemporary general degeneration of civility. While, granted, the human dum-dum bullets of message boards like UrbanBaby hardly exemplify the attitudes of the civil and decent core of American society, they do seem to distill to a vile essence what is a widespread societal preoccupation with Bad Mothers.
There is an appealing sociopolitical rationale for our preoccupation with Bad Mothers, one articulated to me by the feminist scholar and advocate Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Getting us to focus on Bad Mothers, she says, is part of a larger political agenda to keep our attention off the truth--that it is not our mothers but our government that has failed us. The patriarchy and its political, media, and profit-making machines encourage us to scapegoat and vilify one bogeymama after another, because worrying about egregious freak-show moms like Wendy Cook and Britney Spears distracts us from the fact that, for example, President George W. Bush cheerfully vetoed a law that would have provided health insurance to four million uninsured children.

As persuasive as I find Paltrow's argument, something in me rebels at the notion that we can attribute our communal obsession primarily to the patriarchy. I agree with her that we are just at the very beginning of accepting the notion of gender equality (it's only been, as she says, "a microsecond in the course of history"). Still, the blare of condemnation that drowns out so much of civil discourse on the subject of mothering and child rearing originates not from some patriarchal grand inquisitor's office but, in large part, from individual women. And while women have always, historically, been the enforcers of acceptable social conduct, even when it was to their detriment (remember Abigail Williams, the lead accuser in the Salem witch trials?), an hour or two surfing the myriad of mommy blogs provides compelling support for the notion that, in this area at least, we women are the primary authors of our own subjugation. The Bad Mother cops with the most aggressive arrest records are women.

And why? Because the Andrea Yateses and Susan Smiths, the "crack hos" and the welfare moms, provide us with a profound personal service. By defining for us the kinds of mothers we're not, they make it easier for us to stomach what we are.

When I polled an unscientific sampling of my friends and family, they had no trouble defining what it meant to be a Good Father. A Good Father is characterized quite simply by his presence. He shows up. In the delivery room, at dinnertime (when he can), to school recitals and ball games (whenever it's reasonably possible). He's a good provider who is not above changing a diaper or wearing a Baby Bjorn. He's a strong shoulder to cry on and, at the same time, a constant example of how to roll with the punches. This definition seems to accommodate, without contradiction, both an older, sentimentalized Father Knows Best version of a dad and our post-Free to Be You and Me assumptions.

However, my polling sample had a difficult time describing a Good Mother without resorting to hyperbole, beneath which it's possible to discern a hint of angry self-flagellation.
"Mary Poppins, but biologically related to you and she doesn't leave at the end of the movie."

"She lives only in the present and entirely for her kids."

"She has infinite patience."

"She remembers to serve fruit at breakfast, is always cheerful and never yells, manages not to project her own neuroses and inadequacies onto her children, is an active and beloved community volunteer; she remembers to make playdates, her children's clothes fit, and she does art projects with them and enjoys all their games. And she is never too tired for sex."

"She's everything that I'm not."

These responses might be colored by the fact that my polling sample, despite containing a moderate amount of racial, religious, and socioeconomic diversity, was composed of women of approximately the same age (mid-thirties to early forties) and the same level of education (which can be described, succinctly, as "more than they use"). Nonetheless, the common elements in the responses make a compelling statement both about the pervasive power of the antiquated June Cleaver vision of motherhood and about how badly we fall short.

The single defining characteristic of iconic Good Motherhood is self-abnegation. Her children's needs come first; their health and happiness are her primary concern. They occupy all her thoughts, her day is constructed around them, and anything and everything she does is for their sakes. Her own needs, ambitions, and desires are relevant only in relation to theirs. If a Good Mother takes care of herself, it is only to the extent that she doesn't hurt her children. As one of my polling samples put it, "She is able to figure out how to carve out time for herself without detriment to her children's feelings of self-worth." If a Good Mother works, she does so only if it doesn't harm her children, or if her failing to earn an income would make them worse off. More important, even the act of considering her own needs and desires is engaged in primarily to make her children into better people. As one woman told me, "A Good Mother is in shape and works outside of the home so she can be a good role model."

Being a Good Father is a reasonable, attainable goal; you need only be present and supportive. Being a Good Mother, as defined by mothers themselves, is impossible. When asked for an example of a Good Mother, the women I polled came up with June Cleaver and Marmee, from Little Women. Both of whom are by necessity, not coincidence, fictional characters. The Good Mother does not exist, and she has never existed, not even in those halcyon bygone days to which the arbiters of maternal conduct never tire of harking back. If the producers of Leave It to Beaver had really wanted to give us an accurate depiction of late-1950s and early-1960s motherhood, June would have had a lipstick-stained cigarette clamped between her teeth, a gin and tonic in her hand, and a copy of Peyton Place on her nightstand. But still, this creature of fantasy is whom the mothers in my sample measured themselves against, and their failure to live up to her made them feel like Bad Mothers.
It's as if the swimmer Tracy Caulkins, winner of three Olympic gold medals, setter of five world records, were to beat herself up for being slower than the Little Mermaid.

Without exception, the mothers I know feel like they have failed to measure up. As Judith Warner so eloquently wrote in her book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, "This widespread, choking cocktail of guilt and anxiety and resentment and regret . . . is poisoning motherhood."
I have been pondering the reasons for this maternal anxiety ever since I first found myself suffering from it, sitting in a playground, my briefcase traded in for a diaper bag, my focus narrowed to my baby and myself, my ambition curdling into something I thought was anger but I now realize was closer to despair. I had always been hard-driving and ambitious, myopically fixated on my career. But I was working long hours, and after a day taking care of desperately needy people who looked to me to keep them from spending years, decades, or even the rest of their lives in jail, I had nothing left for my baby. I was jealous of Michael, a work-at-home writer who got to spend long, languid hours with our daughter, dressing her up in her new outfits and shuttling her from Mommy & Me to the library. One day I simply packed up my desk, tossed my framed diplomas into the attic, and became a stay-at-home mom.

It was everything that I thought it would be. Mommy & Me, story time at the library, Gymboree, long stroller walks with my stay-at-home-mommy friends. And then the next day it was Mommy & Me, story time at the library, Gymboree, and long stroller walks with my stay-at-home-mommy friends. And the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that.
Within a week I had gone mad.

I took a certain satisfaction in the fact that I was now the most important person in the day-to-day life of my child, but I was also bored and miserable. And the fact that I was bored and miserable terrified me. A Good Mother is never bored, is she? She is never miserable. A Good Mother doesn't resent looking up from her novel to examine a child's drawing. She doesn't stare at the clock in music class, willing it along with all the power of a fourth grader waiting for recess. She doesn't hide the finger paints because she can't stand the mess. A Good Mother not only puts her children's needs and interests above her own but enjoys doing it. If I wasn't enjoying myself, then I wasn't a Good Mother. On the contrary, I was a bad one.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Or, Life in Eighteen Pieces 1

1 Bad Mother 5

2 The Life She Wanted for Me 21

3 Free to Be You and I 42

4 Breast Is Best 58

5 Tech Support 70

6 Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle 80

7 My Mother-in-Law, Myself 86

8 Drawing a Line 97

9 So Ready to Be the Mother of a Loser 103

10 Sexy Witches and Cereal Boxes 109

11 Rocketship 122

12 A Nose for Bad News 137

13 To Each His Own Mother 145

14 Legacy 154

15 Darling, I Like You That Way 172

16 Baby Lust 179

17 The Audacity of Hope 186

18 The Life I Want for Them 196

Acknowledgments 209

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Interviews & Essays

Why did you write this book?
Do you want the snarky answer or the real one?

The real one...
Because so many women I know are in real pain. They are so crippled by their guilt, by their unreasonable expectations, that they can't even allow themselves to celebrate the true joys of being a mom. When your little girl curls up in bed with you and says, "Your hair always smells so good, Mama," you should be able to melt with emotion without worrying about whether she's reading at grade level.

Do you think you're a BAD MOTHER?
Well, yes. Of course. I mean, that's the whole problem. I feel like a bad mother, even when by all reasonable analysis I'm a perfectly fine mother. Hell, I went camping last month with the second grade. Camping. Me. A Jewish American Princess from New Jersey.
Camping for me is staying in a Marriott, but I slept on the ground and ate toast burned over an open fire. And had fun.

What is your definition of a good mother?
As one of my interview subjects said, "A Good Mother remembers to serve fruit at breakfast, is always cheerful and never yells, manages not to project her own neuroses and inadequacies onto her children, is an active and beloved community volunteer. She remembers to make playdates, her children's clothes fit, she does art projects with them and enjoys all their games. And she is never too tired for sex."

Okay, so what do you consider a responsible, attainable ideal, of a modern mother?
One who loves her kids and does her level best not to damage them in any permanent way. A good mother doesn't let herself be overcome by guilt when she screws up.

How did yourupbringing shape you as a mother?
My mother drilled into me the importance of being a feminist, a woman with her own identity. But perhaps more important, she and my dad modeled a relationship that was entirely unequal...and didn't work. I knew I wanted something different from what they had. So while I've made choices that made her feminist blood boil, I've also expected that my husband pull his share of the home and child labor.
And that's made all the difference.

What advice would you give to mothers, today?
Most important, learn to forgive yourself and the other mothers you know. Try to lay off the judgment.
Just do your best and consider the rest a small donation on your part to therapists the world over. If we never messed, up what would they charge our children for?

So what's the snarky answer to why you wrote BAD MOTHER?
As a kind of f&%k you to the insane Urban-Baby type moms who, after my New York Times piece on loving my husband more than my kids, sent me letters saying my children should be taken away from me and/or my husband would leave me for another woman. And especially to the woman on Oprah who leapt across the stage shouting, "Let me at her!" when I walked on that set. Yes, that really happened.
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Reading Group Guide

1. The author begins by quoting some of the unattainable definitions of being a “good mother” that doom women to fail in the pursuit. What are some definitions of “good mother” that you’ve come across in your experience? How do you think society defines a good mother? Do you agree with the author that these expectations are generally too high?

2. What do you consider a responsible, attainable ideal of a modern mother?

3. Are you familiar with any of the blogs the author mentions–Salon, urbanbaby.com, or other similar sites? What is your experience with them?

4. What do you think of the author’s declaration that she loves her husband more than her children? Is there a hierarchy in your household between spouse, children, home, self? Do you think there is a right way to organize affections within a family?

5. Discuss the idea of being honest with one’s children. How far do (or would) you take this in your home? Where would you make exceptions?

6. The author concludes by saying that her parenting goal, rather than to be “good,” is to be “mindful.” Can you summarize your parenting goals in a single word (or phrase)? Do you think it is important to have a guiding principle like this?

7. The author describes her evolving relationship with her mother-in-law as having been initially tainted by jealousy (her own), and then improving as the children were born. Have you gone through anything like this? Do you think her mother-in-law was as guileless as Waldman claims in this evolution?

8. In reference to Zeke’s ADHD diagnosis, the author discusses her feelings that the facts of family are sometimes disappointing when compared to our unrealistic expectations. What are your expectations for your children? Which ones derive from your children themselves, and which from your and your spouse’s traits and experiences? Are you fair to your children with regard to your expectations? Do you think the concept of “fairness” applies here?

9. Discuss the author’s difficult experience with Rocketship. Why does she choose to include such a detailed description of the events in this book? Do you consider the decision to terminate the pregnancy to be a parenting decision? Were any of the events and decisions she shares surprising or helpful to you?

10. The division of labor in the household is an important theme in the book–both in terms of the author’s actual experience and the statistical information she cites. How does this play out in your family? Do you and your partner discuss these issues, or just let them determine themselves? What are your jobs in the home?

11. The author describes at length her feminist upbringing, and how her home in liberal Berkeley, California helped shape her outlook on motherhood. Similarly, how did your upbringing, either liberal or more conservative, contribute toward who you are as a parent?

12. What do you make of the author’s opinions on optimism vs. pessimism? What are the relative benefits of each? Does one’s optimism or pessimism play into the idealized role of a “good mother”?

13. Are there any passages in the book you would like to share (or have already shared) with your partner or friends?

14. What lessons do you take from the book? Were any passages particularly meaningful to you? What do you think is most useful about the book, and about Waldman’s philosophy?

15. Why do you think the author chose to write this book? Do you think it was successful in its aims?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 35 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(8)

4 Star

(11)

3 Star

(7)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 35 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Bad Mother A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace

    This is the first time I have ever read a book by Ayelet Waldman. I was inspired by Ayelet's honesty and the huge helping of self that she squeezes into every sentence. The love that she has for her children is so raw, so honest that at times you almost feel that you are invading their privacy but it is because of this honesty that you begin to understand that for everything mothers do for their children they do it because of love. Right or wrong, there are really very few bad mothers, only mothers who try in their own way to be a 'good' mother. Ms Waldman holds nothing back as she shares her family's decision in favor of an abortion and also of the diagnosis of bipolar disease that runs in her family. This book opens the door to understanding more about ourselves as mothers, I learned a lot from it and want to thank Ayelet for having the courage to write it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    Not your typical mommy book

    I thought this was such a wonderful book. Each of the 18 chapters is basically an essay on a mothering/parenting related issue. I found Ms. Waldman's writing to be honest, funny, and thought provoking. I enjoyed her candor. I laughed reading this book, I nodded in agreement, I cried. In some cases I didn't agree with her parenting style or choices (that rocketship chapter was a tough one for me), but I strongly agreed with what I felt to be her overall message - mothering is hard, there is no right way, and we make it harder on ourselves and others with our expectations, judgments, and lack of empathy, support and plain old kindness. I appreciated Ms. Waldman sharing her life and thoughts with us.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Breath Of Fresh Air

    In Bad Mother, Ayelet Waldman talks about how all mothers are made to feel like they are performing poorly as mothers, regardless of their choices. Waldman is married to the novelist, Michael Chabon, and together they have four children. She gives the reader an intimate view of the choices she has made as a mother, and the negative feedback she has gotten for some of her choices.

    The book is written in eighteen chapters, each discussing common parenting issues. The stay-at-home mom vs. the working mom is covered, and how each is criticized for what they choose for their family. The marriage partnership and how work is divided is a chapter. Chapters I found especially relevant was one about how they elected to abort a child identified with birth defects, and one that talked about how to discuss sex and the parents' sexual history with one's children. I also liked the chapter about the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship which gave me new ways to look at this common issue through a new filter. The chapter about helping children with their social relationships and not dragging your own angst into the issue was timely, and I loved the chapter about hating homework.

    This book is recommended for all readers. Those who are parents will recognize themselves, or at least the issues that most parents face, while those who have remained childless will gain a better understanding of what family life is like.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 6, 2010

    Loved It, Love Ayelet

    After reading this book I felt so close to Ayelet Waldman I would swear we've been friends for years. Only the most successful memoirists can seduce you into that kind of relationship while confessing their greatest sins and fears. Even though she writes of some unsavory topics, her love and good intention shines through, and, as a reader, I just forgive and look forward to the next chapter. As a mother, I found so much humor and commiseration that I actually heaved a sigh of relief at one point. I loved this book and know that I will re-visit it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2009

    Brutally honest

    I have no doubt Ayelet feels the way she does about Motherhood, I just don't share her points of view. I found some of her thoughts/opinions/actions offensive but the whole point of her book is for women to be tolerant of each other's decisions; as a new mother I can appreciate and respect that.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 17, 2013

    I almost stopped reading in the beginning.  She was starting to

    I almost stopped reading in the beginning.  She was starting to lose me when describing how she was a defense attorney, determined to keep her career going, despite having a baby.  She was lucky enough to have a husband who could care for the baby all day and work at night.  She finally reeled me back in when she decided to quit and stay home, finally realizing that her mother and the feminist pursuit of career was just not realistic when having young children.  I can relate to this, having figured it out before having a baby.  I feel bad for the author to have a mother who pressured her to maintain a career while parenting.  It's not possible for women to do both (dedicate 100% to a career and children simultaneously).  The feminists sold us a bill of goods here.  Luckily, Waldman figured it out early on.  




    She talks of being bored as a stay at home mom.  I can relate to that, but when you have babies, it goes with the territory.  There's a lot of isolation and monotony that we have to accept and deal with.  




    I'm glad I stuck with the book mainly because of her chapter on her pregnancy termination for medical reasons.  I can also relate to this, personally.  This is a brave decision and a courageous thing to write about.  More women should come forward with their stories like this.  The abortion debate usually leaves these cases out, making it all about unwanted pregnancies.  This was a much wanted pregnancy where the baby had a chromosomal defect and she chose not to attempt to carry to term.  She talks of her grief, coming to terms with it and moving on for the sake of her living children.  Bravo.




    The other chapters were mainly about her family.  I can't relate to her politics, but her opinions are all over the place.  Maybe a little less of that and more about the kids.  She talks a LOT about her husband.  It's great that she has such a good marriage.  Many women aren't so lucky.  I cringed while reading about her parents, but she ended talking about her son's ADHD.  I can also relate similarly.  Overall, it was a good read from the digital library.  

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2013

    Meh

    I only read the sample and thought it was just drivel. I couldn't figure out how famous people were supposed to be typical examples of motherhood. That is not in touch with reality at all. Bad mothers are people that treat their kids bad. You know who you are. You also know that if you're a good mom, you still have bad days. Working or not working doesn't make you good or bad. Child rearing is the most challenging thing you will ever do, if you're doing it right. It's also the most rewarding. I think this woman has a lot of gall trying to psychoanalyze the mother hood via news paper clippings...

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  • Posted August 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    No Thank You

    I bought this book as the title immediately grabbed my attenion and I thought the book would be entertaining. As I have children, one with special needs, I thought this book would give me a good laugh and a sense of relation. I understand what the whole objective of this book was, but made no connections to it. After I started reading the third chapter and Ayelet said "skip to the next chapter if you are not this person" I did skip ahead, but then I found myself skipping through the whole book not enjoying what I was reading. All mothers can tell funny stories, but the brutal honesty about some of the material in this book was not what I wanted to read (and definitely not for the faint of heart). This is the first book ever that I have not finished. I was colossally disappointed.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2010

    Good laugh and insight for Moms

    I enjoyed reading this book during my dauther's first two years of life. It brought humor and light heartedness to the topic of being a mom and not being perfect. It was just what I needed!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 11, 2010

    Goodbye to Perfect Mother Untruths

    In Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, Ayelet Waldman rails against the cult of the perfect mother that is given new life online now in certain mommy blogs. When we try and live up to unrealistic ideal of maternal conduct, "this creature of fantasy," she argues, "It's as if the swimmer Tracy Caulkins, winner of three Olympic gold medals, setter of five world records, were to beat herself up for being slower than the Little Mermaid." Waldman shares stories of her own good days and bad and reminds us "how profound a problem a young mother's loss of self can be."

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Book!

    While I found a lot of differences between Ayelet and myself as a woman and mother, you truly have to appreciate her brutal honesty and fearlessness. Despite it all she is a loving mother and wife with a successful career. It is a good reminder that as Moms we don't have to be perfect or even try to be perfect. We come in all different shapes and sizes!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2009

    Skip this one

    As a mother I can relate to her sentiment, her book goes on and on about things that do happen in child rearing. But it tends to get tedious and I got her point after the first paragraph. I got this book after it was rated by an internet website. Bottom line don't waste your time

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Over rated

    I found the book completely uneventful. Most mothers I know behave the same exact way. Considering the author was said to be so risque, I expected to be moved, instead, I had trouble staying awake. Friends, colleagues, and other moms I know from playgroups all admit to acting similarly or at least have some common traits so for her to be seen as some kind of hero for writing a journal is a joke to me.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great book that made me feel very normal...with reassurance of being a good mom!

    It's a great book! 9/10 chapters could have been written about my life. From the secret stuff I think as a mom that I can't say out loud... to the great stuff that happens in which "I could just eat my kids up!... about "static" between daughter -in-laws and mother-in-laws, sex, men's roles in the home.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted June 24, 2011

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    Posted December 3, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted June 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted June 7, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2011

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    Posted May 27, 2009

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 35 Customer Reviews

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