In the tradition of recent hits like The Bitch in the House
and Perfect Madness
comes a hilarious and controversial book that every woman will have an opinion about, written by America’s most outrageous writer.
In our mothers’ day there were good mothers, neglectful 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. If you buy organic, you’re spending their college fund; if you don’t, you’re risking all sorts of allergies and illnesses.
Is it any wonder so many women refer to themselves at one time or another as “a bad mother”? Ayelet Waldman says it’s time for women to get over it and get on with it, in a book that is sure to spark the same level of controversy as her now legendary “Modern Love” piece, in which she confessed to loving her husband more than her children.
Covering topics as diverse as the hysteria of competitive parenting (Whose toddler can recite the planets in order from the sun?), the relentless pursuits of the Bad Mother police, balancing the work-family dynamic, and the bane of every mother’s existence (homework, that is), Bad Mother illuminates the anxieties that riddle motherhood today, while providing women with the encouragement they need to give themselves a break.
A Q&A with Ayelet Waldman Question:
Why did you write this book?
Ayelet Waldman: Do you want the snarky answer or the real one?
Q:The real one...
AW: 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.
Q: Do you think you’re a bad mother?
AW: 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.
Q: What is your definition of a good mother?
AW: 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.”
Q: Okay, so what do you consider the responsible, attainable ideal of a modern mother?
AW: 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.
Q: How did your upbringing shape you as a mother?
AW: 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.
Q: What advice would you give to mothers, today?
AW: 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?
Q: So what's the snarky answer to why you wrote Bad Mother?
AW: As a kind of f*** 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.
(Photo © Stephanie Rausser)
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)
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