Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman

7 Jun
I’m going to try to sound halfway intelligent in this post, but my brain is feeling particularly tired today, so let’s just muddle through together, shall we?

I finished Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace by Ayelet Waldman earlier this week, and have been sitting on it for a few days, waiting to let my feelings rest and figure out how much I like it. Turns out I do like it! I was engaged the entire time I was reading it (not an easy feat for me and nonfiction), always eager to move on to the next essay. I gave a little teaser on this book a few days ago in this post, but for those seeing this for the first time, here’s the book blurb from Amazon:

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.

I mentioned this before, but I get very squicked out by the overly enthusiastic mother – you know, the one who won’t ever let her child have any sugar or non-organic food, who devotes all her free time to Mommy & Me or other similar kid pursuits, who can’t forgive herself or any other mother for taking two hours away from her kids to get her hair done. Actually, I truly don’t care if they are this way with themselves, but I can’t stand the side-eye they can give to mothers who, in their opinion, aren’t devoting enough to their child’s development. Just, that level of expectation is suffocating to me – isn’t it possible to be a loving, devoted mother and still retain some sense of self? I wish there could be some kind of manifesto for mothers: whatever works for you and your kid is good. No need to criticize or judge other parents when they differ from your own ideals. I think I may be guilty of some judgement too when it comes to these turbo moms – I’m happy they’re happy, but I truly don’t understand how they can want to be that way. I guess I’ll have to wait and see how I do when my own baby is born in a few months…

Ayelet Waldman is of the same opinion as me in her assessment of the “mommy culture” Americans have created. She readily admits being guilty of judging “bad mothers” before her own children were born. In her mind, bad mothers are the ones who lose their temper with their kids in public, who never shows up for classroom duty at the preschool, or who in any way is deemed not as committed, not as devoted to her child’s well-being as other mothers. Now that she has four kids, though, and through her career as a writer has documented a lot of her mistakes and revelations, Waldman has come to relax her standards and to admit that raising a child is hard, and the incessant criticism of mothers by other women does nothing to help. She’s not always gentle in her essays, though; Waldman definitely has a snarky edge that I found amusing, but I imagine that if you found yourself on the other side of the ideological spectrum from her, you might not find it so funny.She has a big personality too and sometimes I was attracted to that and other times repelled. For instance, her competitiveness with what sounds like a perfectly lovely mother-in-law rubbed me the wrong way, but her ability to laugh at herself was endearing. She has LOTS of strong opinions,and I don’t always agree, but that’s what makes her writing entertaining for me. And besides, I’m not looking for a best friend here, just someone to introduce me to some new ideas and perspectives on being a mother today.

Overall, I would recommend this to anyone, but especially mothers who are feeling somewhat “less than” in their assessment of their mothering skills. Chances are, you’ll recognize yourself in Waldman’s foibles and adventures and will feel like being a so-called “bad mother” really isn’t so bad after all.

One Response to “Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman”

  1. Rebecca June 8, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    From my non-mom, no-kids perspective, it feels like a lot of the pressures put on women to be great mothers is still as skewed as it was in the ’50s, before women’s liberation. Then it was you had to be at home, being the June Cleaver figure. Now that women’s roles have expanded toward equal opportunities, women are still expected to be these superhero figures, still do everything that Cleaver lady was doing, on top of having the career that out-earns her husbands, hobbies that showcase her creativity, be the Victoria Secret model/sex kitten (which means lots of exercise, but that time better not take away from your time with your kids, so you either better workout in the morning before your kids get up or on your lunch hour), and maintain meaningful relationships with lots of friends. Basically, that all that oppression women fought to throw off has merely been warped and twisted into this new paradigm, and women buy into it and get snarky about other women who can’t live up to his impossible ideal.

    Where is this pressure on men? I don’t see it. From what I can see, if a man sleeps at home most of the week (doesn’t have a job where he’s constantly on the road), and manages to drive the kids to at least one thing (one day of school, one soccer game), he’s a super dad. Seems a little unbalanced to me.

    The friends that I’ve seen be the happiest after having a child are the ones who had a balanced relationship where they’re both already equals in house chores and decision making. They’re also the most relaxed. They try to eat organic and healthy, try to exercise, but when they can’t…eh, they tried. No guilt, or not that I’ve seen eating them up. It seems like a much healthier way to live than being so stressed about providing the Optimum Experience for your child 24/7.

    Plus, my favorite memories as a child are not the foods I ate or the activities my parents insisted I do; it’s the time I spent with them. Just time. Playing games, reading, riding my bike while they were somewhere within vision range. And having a parent that was in a better mood because he or she spent a few hours with friends or on the golf course or whatever was way healthier for me than a helicopter supermom who never left my sight.

    Wow, that turned into quite the soapbox. 🙂

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