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.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Ayelet Waldman is the author of the novels Love and Treasure, Red Hook Road, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, and Daughter's Keeper, as well as of the essay collection Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, and the Mommy-Track Mystery series. She was a federal public defender and taught a course on the legal implications of the War on Drugs at the UC Berkeley law school. She lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband, Michael Chabon, and their four children.
Date of Birth:December 11, 1964
Place of Birth:Jerusalem, Israel
Education:Wesleyan University, 1986; Harvard Law School, 1991
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 feeland perhaps only because I've been tried and convicted of the crimethat 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 truththat 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.
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
Reading Group Guide
The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to stimulate your group’s discussion of Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother.
1. The author begins by quoting some of the unattainable definitions of 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, Urban Baby, 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?
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love this book! If everyone were as honest about themselves as Ayelet Waldman the world would be a better place. I like how she discusses how women are always judging each other. If we all take a good look in the mirror we are all not nearly perfect or happy for that matter. Very cool book.
Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace is a book I started with suspicion. Of course I had heard about Ayelet Waldman¿s article about loving her husband more than her children. I thought she was either lying or rubbing our noses in the fact that she is married to a very successful novelist, is a published novelist herself--and lives in Berkeley. At least other women in her situation have the good grace to live in Manhattan or on a multi-acred bucolic estate somewhere so that we can¿t relate--at all. (I¿ve never read any of Michael Chabon¿s novels, and I wonder if that¿s so I don¿t have to be even more jealous by finding out how great he is.) So I was prepared to feel smug and superior and sorry for her children, except this book shows Waldman is actually a very good mother; and now that I am on husband number four, who seems like a keeper and with whom I have logged thirteen years, I can actually see her point. I used to think husbands were the people you left behind, while your children would always be there to look after you in your old age. Now I see the opposite is true--a good mother allows her children to feel responsible only for their spouse and children. As for old age, I hope this husband outlives me. If he doesn¿t, I¿ll try to save enough money to take care of myself with the help of an exorbitantly costly old folks¿ home. That¿s what I thought Waldman¿s book would be about. Ironically, it¿s instead about being a good parent.I suppose I shouldn¿t have been surprised to like Waldman. While I really cared for only the first of her Mommy-Track Mysteries--the premise got old fast--I really liked her two other novels: Love and Other Impossible Pursuits and Daughter¿s Keeper. The maternal voice in those two books was evident in Bad Mother. It¿s clear Waldman gets it that child-rearing is the most important job a parent can do, even if it is not always the most rewarding. I say this because she is so honest about her children, and honesty is the only way one can mould another being¿s character to the extent that any parent can. It¿s great to be as starry-eyed about one¿s spouse as Waldman is about Chabon, but that¿s what marriage is about--acceptance of another grown-up who is already pretty much formed by the time marriage rolls around. Your children, on the other hand, are dependent on you for their health, education, and daily environment. If you allow your own fallibilities to get in the way of what your kids need, you will be subtracting from, not adding to, their life experiences.Waldman¿s surprising candor shows how aware she is of the foibles in her upbringing and brain chemistry that could scar her children permanently. Bad Mother shows the difficult, and in the case of her abortion, heroic choices she¿s made to render her maternal influence as positive as possible. This is how memoirs like Bad Mother should be--instructive because they are unflinchingly honest. I didn¿t find there was Too Much Information (TMI) as some other readers did. What they thought of as TMI was what keeps the book from being preachy, in my view. And I don¿t think it¿s simply because two of my grandchildren are growing up in Berkeley that makes Bad Mother so relatable; I think it¿s Waldman¿s willingness to take on the hard issues without trying constantly to justify her herself. She says she¿s thick-skinned enough to stand up to Berkeley¿s particularly tough criticism. I say it¿s that she good enough to know her critics are more than likely wrong. After all, anyone who uses the correct term ¿suffragist¿ instead of the unthinkingly belittling ¿suffragette¿ about our foremothers deserves to be read with an open mind.
I wish I had had Ayelet Waldman living next door to me while I was raising my children. She is thoughtful, witty, and insightful, and I know we would have gossiped about some of those other mothers - the ones who are all self-righteous about the "proper" way to give birth and care for your baby. (Attachment parenting, man. Crazy zealotry.)Seriously, Waldman's essays on motherhood really spotlight what every mother knows, even if we don't all articulate it: that in this culture, there is simply no way to mother a child without feeling like a "bad mother." Staying home with your child? You're a useless mouth, contributing nothing to society, and your child will suffer because your brain is rotting, you are dependent financially and you're not setting an example of creativity and productivity for her. Working outside of the home? What a terrible mother you are, abandoning your little one, leaving a nanny to raise him. While Waldman does not resolve every mother's dilemma, she does make a sincere plea to stop the "mommy wars." I agree.One thing I really liked about Waldman's essays was her excellent grasp on the concept that a parent actually creates the world that the child lives in. Perhaps it is her profession that makes her see this so clearly; after all, as a writer, she is used to creating worlds using only her words. But this is a thing that all parents do, and, I think, few recognize that they're doing: they translate the world to their children and can , by words and actions, form a dangerous, insecure place, or a warm and nurturing place, or some mixture of the two.Also, this review would not be complete without a separate mention of Waldman's terribly sad essay "Rocketship," about the baby that she aborted. For sheer poignancy, this ranks with Marjorie Williamson's essay about not living to see her daughter grow up, written two days before she died. ("The Woman at the Washington Zoo.") Waldman's heartbreaking essay is a timely reminder that, pro-life or pro-choice, motherhood is often a matter of choosing the least bad of two terrible options; and of suffering forever for whichever choice you make.
Every woman should read this book. We judge each other harshly, but judge ourselves harshest of all. We need to ease up on ourselves and fellow moms. This book is brutally honest and beautiful. I enjoy Waldman's writing and this is no exception. Examining her faults and her strengths, this book will strike home to anyone with kids.
Love, love, loved this book. There really are parents out there like me.....
Raw, wrenching, funny, tragic, deeply personal. A book that will change you.
The perfect book to read while your child mindlessly watches cartoons (I kid, I kid.) While reading, I kept nodding, yes, yes. True, she gets a bit whiny and defensive at times, but really, by the time I was done I wanted to go hang out with Waldman and have some coffee, which is exactly what you want to feel with a book like this.
OverviewSubtitled "A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace," Bad Mother is a warts-and-all look at Waldman's experiences as a mother. (She has four children.) These types of books are like catnip to me. What mother doesn't want to learn that she is not alone in her misgivings about her mothering skills?Waldman writes openly and honestly about a wide variety of topics, including:* pursuing a career versus staying at home (Waldman gave up a high-powered career as a lawyer to stay-at-home ... only to find herself often bored out of her mind! HAHA! Don't I know it!)* balancing household chores and sex roles with your partner (Can we ever really break through the "this is woman's work" and "this is men's work"?)* breast-feeding (more on this below)* judging other mothers (more on this below) * the mother-son relationship and how it affects the relationship with your mother-in-law (I still don't quite measure up to how my husband's mom used to take care of him ... especially when he is sick.)* dealing with your children's homework (where do you draw the line?)* projecting your own fears and hopes on your children (Waldman writes about her outrage and subsequent attempt to ban dodgeball in her children's gym class ... but her children loved it. She was fighting a fight from her own childhood.)* dealing with daughters and sex issues (Waldman explores her own sexual history ... and how she hopes her daughters don't make the same choices she did.)* having an abortion for a child who might be born with genetic defects (This chapter, entitled "Rocketship," is easily the most heart-breaking and difficult to read.) * arguing in front of your kids (They are listening ... don't fool yourself that they are not.)* how honest to be with your kids (Just how do you handle the sex/drug talk if you want to be totally honest about your past but impart a "do as a I say, not as I did" message?) * being a different mom for different kids (In other words, how she wasn't the same mother she was for her first-born as for her last-born.)* handing down a genetic legacy to your children that is less than perfect (Waldman writes about her own bipolar disorder and fear of passing it to her children.)* parenting a child who might be gay (This felt like the least genuine chapter to me; it felt more like a political essay than a personal one.)* baby lust (Those tiny baby feet will get you every time!)* wanting to protect your children from the ugliness of the world (This is an issue that Mr. Jenners and I struggle with. There is a fine line between keeping your children safe and making them "street savvy" and scaring them into thinking the world is an unsafe, bad place.)* managing your expectations/hopes/dreams for your children. (I struggle with this every day, and I imagine it is only going to get worse.)As you can see, the book ranges over a wide variety of topics and delves into some deep and emotional issues. I admire Waldman's honesty and directness. She really put herself out there with this book. I suspect that if you don't share Waldman's basic worldview (liberal), you might not care for much of what she has to say or appreciate where she is coming from in life. Yet I think most mothers would find some area of common ground with Waldman, and I think her message of "let's all be gentler with ourselves and one another" is one we should all take to heart.Structurally, the book is divided into 18 different chapters, with each one functioning as a stand-alone essay. Most of the essays are very personal and specific to Waldman's life and background; yet I think she has a knack for making her personal experiences relatable.My Final RecommendationThis is a thought-provoking and honest look at motherhood that will give readers lots to think about. Waldman doesn't hold back anything, and I appreciated her candidness and openness. I've read a few books on motherhood, and I found this to be one of the most provocative. The wri
It's tricky to review a book whose author regularly discusses how mean people on the internet are about her writing... This book was unusually all over the place for me, in terms of my reaction to it. There were chapters that I really enjoyed (including the last one) but also some that drove me up the wall. A lot of that is personal preference and expectation, though. I was hoping for more general discussion of parenthood and less memoir. My TMI threshold is very very high for memoir and Waldman is an enthusiastic sharer. I also thought there was something annoyingly gimmicky about treating her mental issues as a late-breaking big reveal. The chapter on abortion, however, was particularly valuable, making points that don't come up nearly often enough. I didn't really disagree with any of her parenting points/philosophies (although I've never had kids of my own), except for whether she was likely embarrassing her teenaged kids with assorted revelations. She is very Berkeley; a tolerance for that is necessary.
I tackled some of my stack of unread books recently and in stack was Ayelet Waldman's memoir Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occiasional Moments of Grace. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Waldman is the author of a series of murder mystery novels, The Mommy-Track Mysteries. Lately, she has turned to more emotionally serious topics, and drew extensive criticism for her essay Truly Madly Guiltily, which was published in the New York Times, in which she stated that she loved her husband more than her children. This article lead to a savaging of Waldman on the internet forum community and blogosphere. What I didn't know until a few chapters into the book, is that Waldman is married to the famous prize-winning author, Michael Chabon.This book is a collection of essays surrounding the topic of motherhood. These essays are Waldman's own thoughts on family and children. While some are light-hearted, others are more serious and even heart-breaking. Her writing style is direct and engrossing and the pages turn themselves. While I could not say that I agreed with her point of view all the time, I was impressed by her honesty and I believe that overall she is doing a good job as a mother.
I can relate to this book more than any other book on the planet, and so can most of my friends whether they are brave enough to admit or not. I love that even as Ms. Waldman writes about the unfair expectations on women/mothers she still struggles to meet them. And while she knows the only opinions about her mothering that count are hers (and secondly her husband and children) I have a feeling she is almost as affected as myself when I feel judged. Having this book on the best seller list gives me hope a more honest discussion of motherhood and raising a family and that I am not as bad off emotionally as I might have thought I was. I haven't finished this yet, but plan to savor it, use it as a reference for the rest of my life and buy a supply to give as gifts this Christmas.
First off, let me say I am not a mother and have no plans to be a mother, so it may seem strange that I picked this book to read. My best friend has 4 children and I have lived with her since the oldest was 3 years old. I have been their secondary caregiver and their only babysitter, sometimes I feel like their mother, sometimes their favorite aunt. This book sounded interesting, since I am around my best friend alot, I am also around other mothers (they tend to congregate I've noticed), being an 'outsider' gives me the opportunity to observe, a lot. On to my review.In her book 'Bad Mother', Ayelet Waldman discusses many things:, society's perception of what makes a good mother versus a good father; the 'bad mother police', and confrontations with them; how she personally has felt at times she has failed her children and feels she is a 'crappy' mother; her children and herself's disabilities and failings. Finally, the realization that she is not a crappy mother. That society's expectations of mother's is unrealistic. This book is funny and insightful. Ayelet has a quick wit (there is a chapter on that) and for the most part is brutally honest.
Bad Mother is a book of essays written by Ayelet Waldman, an author who became (in)famous when she wrote that she loved her husband more than her children. The essays in this book are candid, honest, and well-written, and while I may not totally agree with her everything she's written here, several of the essays in this book struck a chord with me.As a mother of 3 boys, ages 8 and under, I have often thought of myself as failing to live up to the "good mother" standard that is put forth by the media--and yes, us mothers ourselves--today. I yell at my kids more than I should, I don't make it to every school function, and I'm a working mom with a full-time job who has not once desired to be a stay-at-home mom. I have felt guilt, anger, sadness, despair over the choices I've made. But reading Ms. Waldman's essays have made me realize that I am not a "bad" mother - I am a normal mother, a good-enough mother, and my kids are doing just fine.In so many of the essays in this book, I saw myself. I've been through the same things, felt the same feelings, made similar decisions. I want to thank Ms. Waldman for voicing what many of us keep hidden away, and making it OK to feel the way we do. All mothers should read this book, whether they be working moms or stay-at-home moms, married moms or single moms. If you are raising children in today's society, please read this book! Whatever your situation, you will feel so much better after you spend time with Ms. Waldman! Highly, highly recommended!
I'm not certain what exactly I thought this book was going to be when I heard the description but somehow it didn't enter my conciousness that it would be essays rather than a memoir or even fiction. Don't know why I didn't think of essays but because I didn't, it took me a bit of time to readjust my reading mindset. Even once readjusted, I didn't love this look at mothering, how we demonize or sanctify perfectly normal parenting acts, and some insight into Waldman's own life as a mother/wife/author (not necessarily in that order). It really left me feeling so-so despite me wanting to like it a whole lot.Waldman addresses the need we seem to feel to point out the "bad mothers" who make the rest of us look like "good mothers." She uses examples from the media--and ironically I was reading this as it came out that Madlyn Primoff made her two bickering daughters get out of the car and then she drove off. Not only did this turn into a prime example of what Waldman was arguing about, it made me examine my own reactions to examples like this (and incidentally, I would totally have done that to my two older kids--also 10 and 12--if I'd thought of it so I'm clearly already the Bad Mother of the books' title). Now hypotheticals are not all Waldman writes about, sharing moments in her life (besides the famed loving her husband more than her kids moment) that might or might not qualify her as a bad mom, mostly not. Well, really, all it qualifies her as in my mind is a human mom. And perhaps that is my biggest trouble with this book. None of the things that Waldman has written about seem egregious to me. They seem average, the sorts of things I do on a daily basis and which, therefore, I don't really need to read about. But I suspect there are moms out there who need the reassurance that they aren't going to break their kids if life isn't one hundred percent perfect all the time. There are some very moving essays in here, such as when Waldman discusses her decision to abort after discovering a terrible chromosomal abnormality. The pain she must have faced and the grace with which she writes about this experience is fantastic. However, this is just a glimmer of what the whole book could have been (although I do rather question including the recounting in a book called Bad Mother but I guess that's a personal choice) and wasn't. The book is also very loaded with current touchstones, which could make for a very dated book even two years down the line. In some ways that's good as it showcases how we don't even manage to retain the names of the demonized "bad mothers" for terribly long but in other ways it didn't work for me.The writing is strong but sometimes the topics of the essays seem questionable in terms of the over-arching theme. This left me with rather mixed feelings and a vague disappointment over what could have been.
Bad Mother is not a book about a bad mother. It simply is a book about motherhood in the way it is experienced by author Ayelet Waldman. Waldman, mother of four children, started a controversy not too long ago by saying that she loves her husband more than her children. She talks about this statement in her book. In addition, she reveals many things about her role as mother. I found her book to be brutally and bravely honest. This makes for good reading, but it also reveals the author¿s skills as an essayist. I previously only thought of her as a novelist, although I admit to never having read any of her other books before.Two chapters struck the deepest chords with me. The first was a chapter about abortion and choices that Ayelet Waldman and her husband, author Michael Chabon, made in more than one instance as to whether or not she should carry a pregnancy to term. The second was a chapter about bipolar disorder and how this family illness affects her role as a mother. I don¿t want to reveal too much as I thought that much of what she had to say about motherhood was so intertwined with who she is as a person. With a new appreciation for this author, I will now seek out her novels.
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.
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...