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Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace Hardcover – May 5, 2009

3.4 out of 5 stars 101 customer reviews

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Book Description
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)

From 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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (May 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385527934
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385527934
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #259,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm conflicted about this book. I wanted to like it. I am a daughter of the 70s, raised to be a feminist, educated to be a lawyer, ended up as a stay at home mom and confused as hell. I experienced the pressure of other moms, and I'm sure I put pressure on other moms, too. I've battled with being a good mom in the eyes of other people (yes, that means you, Mom), and I've reveled in being a Bad Mom on occasion. So really, I wanted to like this book.

I had a large problem, though, in that I don't like the author. I find her to be somewhat spoiled and full of herself, and that element in her stories grated on my nerves. I don't have issue with her saying she loves her husband more than her kids, so I'm not responding to that controversy. I don't have issue with her political positions, although I thought that part of the book was arrogantly written.

My biggest problem is that she doesn't seem as interested in taking the pressure off of all mothers as in taking pressure off herself. I don't need to absolve her of her guilt in parenting -- she needs to do that for herself. I'm glad I didn't buy this book but borrowed it from the library.
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Format: Hardcover
Very disappointed by this book, which should be called "Bad Book" rather than "Bad Mother." Her premise, and first chapter, are good: that it's impossible to be a "good" mother in this society, with so many unattainable expectations placed on women. But the book veers off into nothing more than her own personal musings on her personal life, which is not that compelling.

Turns out she's not a bad mother at all. She's really a great mother with four wonderful kids, a great house, a great career, AND the perfect husband, who is a very successful and wealthy author. So, can I relate to her? No. Do I want to hear about her perfect sex life? No. Or her perfect husband? Not really.

I am a truly flawed mother who has a pretty rocky relationship with my teenage daughter, and with my boyfriend (and his kids). I don't have a perfect husband doing most of the cooking and cleaning (and really good wage-earning). I have a really flawed life that has little in common with Waldman's.

Waldman should subtitle her book: "Musings from an Incredibly Lucky, Really Great Mother who Also Has a Perfect Husband." That would be more truthful. She is neither "hilarious" nor "controversial," as the book jacket says. She is mundane, uninspired, and not a great writer. But she is lucky, and a fine mother.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I don't have any of my own children - but I have "aquired" two little boys when I married my husband. Having never been around children I was in for a rude awakening when I discovered that mothering was not at ALL what it appeared to be.

"Bad Mother" is not a book I would have picked up on my own, however I am glad I read it. It's a well written book, and Waldman does have an excellent talent for honest, amusing essays on being a mother and a wife. I did find that many of the areas she touched on resonated in my heart. I was born long after the bra burning days that Waldman lived through and I am not Jewish, nor do I have a lucrative career as an attorney or author, and I don't live in an uber-liberal town filled with good schools. However she WAS able to tap into the side of me that feels like I'm failing as a mother figure to my boys.

Waldman talks about how women in the post-bra burning era have actually set themselves up to feel like failures. We want a career, we believe that we need to work, we also want to be excellent wives, and to be fantastic mothers of perfect children in our fabulously sparkling clean houses. We can't do it - well the vast majority of us can't, there just isn't the time or enough coffee in the world to get it all done, and so we pile the guilt on ourselves making us bitter and unable to appreciate the joys that we do have.

The book contains 18 essays on different aspects of the author's life. These are very honest and personal tales, many are funny, some are heartbreaking, some are thought provoking, but all are honest. This book is not a "how to" or even a vague guide.
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Format: Hardcover
Waldman's writing is cheeky, snarky and brutally honest. The problem that I had with the book is that for a book that is suppossed to be about allowing "bad" mothers to give themselves a freakin break, Waldman spends a lot of time showing us that she really, really, really IS a GOOD mother. Take the chapter detailing her heroic efforts to breast-feed her fourth child who has a mouth deformity that made it impossible for him to latch on. A really "bad" mother would have given it up without a backward glance and without guilt. I quit breastfeeding when I went back to work when my baby was three months old and I never spent a minute being hooked up to a breast pump. I had clients to serve and a family to support so why should I feel guilty? But with the simple confidence that comes with choices that don't require social approval, Waldman wouldn't have a book to write. . .Waldman's central premise about what ails mommies today, i.e., an unattainable ideal of motherhood that is premised on self-abnegation misses the point. Self-abnegation is entirely optional. There's no law that coerces you to breastfeed or to show up at preschool drop off. Rather it is this constant need that women seem to have for broad social approval for the "choices" that they make (by checking and rechecking to make sure their socioecomonic peers are making the same choices and expressing horror and disapproval of those who don't conform) that poisens motherhood today. And Waldman's "confessions" are all about seeking out that very same approval. The book screams "see, I really am a GOOD mommy!!! Look at how self-abnegating I am. Look at how attentive I am to my children's needs. Look at how insightful I am about their character, etc, etc." If she really wanted to give mothers a break, the whole book would consist of a picture of her middle finger raised to the world. Now that WOULD be a "bad" mommy.
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