on September 16, 2009
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.
on July 26, 2009
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.
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. This book actually reads almost along the lines of a personal series of therapy sessions, as if the author is working through her own fears, faults and shortcomings. Since that is the case - if you share some of these fears this book can actually take a bit of the weight off of your shoulders in the knowledge that you aren't alone in it all.
She discusses the fears we have of losing ourselves in our motherhood - becoming "Tommy's Mom" or "John's Wife" rather then being known for our own contributions. The frustrations of giving up a career and the satisfaction that we would have gained from it. The boredom and maddening feelings that the transition from business woman to mommy can envoke, and the guilt we slather on ourselves for even thinking this way.
I loved the beginning of this book, and I probably would have rated it 4 stars if I had been able to get past my personal hangups of writing her off. I have a hard time feeling sorry for a woman debating on hiring a cleaning lady because of her "feminist" values, or complaining about snarky comments from other Berkley residents, or whining about her choice to give up her prestigious legal career to be a stay at home mom. Most moms don't have the option to hire a cleaning service, or live in Berkley, or even have the option of a legal career. Where I really started to shut off was at the ending of the book when her liberal leanings became the forfront of her writings. I'm registered as an independant and don't believe in either party - and I also don't like to be bashed over the head with party politics from either direction.
If you're not a liberal - you probably won't like this book. The last several essays become extremely liberally biased and some of the poking and prodding about the pros of a gay lifestyle and glory of interracial marriage became enough to make me gag (which is quite a feat considering that I don't have an issue with either.) I would also warn anyone who is extremely pro-life that this book does contain and essay about an abortion and her justification for her choice.
Still - even though I didn't agree with her in-your face political leanings at the end of the book - there were some very touching and eye opening moments that made this book worthy of the read.
on June 9, 2009
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.
I am not sure whether to laugh or cry when I read this book. There are some controversial subjects in there that definitely raised my eyebrows and can only imagine what others might think of this book. It is a well-written book on 18 different topics, but mainly on the subject of motherhood. If you are a mother, you might be interested in this book especially if you've been carrying a load of guilt for anything you think you're not doing right. If you are tired of the guilt, then take a load off your feet, kick back and read this book. This book will have you laughing in spots, nodding in recognition and crying in other spots. No matter what you may think of some of the controversial subjects she brings up, you will recognize the warmth and appreciate her direct honesty for what it is worth. She is a mother but she is also human too.
I don't know which is my favorite chapter ... the one where she confesses she loves her husband more than her children (which I can relate to. After all, she married her husband, not her children!) or the heartbreaking subject of her abortion. You do not have to agree with every single word she writes but you will appreciate the courage she has in sharing her tribulations and trials as a mother. I don't understand how she would find infanthood tedious ... but that's just me. Those were my best years but then again, I was really tired from having twins making demands on me, that I didn't think too much about how tedious it was.
She also tends to go on and on sometimes about something and you just wish she would have a better editor (maybe she did, because my copy is the advance reader copy) and chop some of it down to make it more bearable and more readable. But I thoroughly enjoyed every single page that I've read ... she is someone I can relate to in this ardous journey called motherhood.
It comes out in early May ... just in time for Mother's Day. I would recommend this to all my friends who are mothers simply for the fact that this woman has gone through a lot of the issues we all face. She handles it with grace and wry humor along with direct honesty. It is definitely a new book on motherhood, right up there with the others. All moms can relate to this book!
While occasionally mildly amusing, this is definitely a deeper read than most mommy essay collections. It's more a series of academic opinion pieces, interspersed with personal anecdotes, and, I thought, a good bit of anger on the part of the author.
Waldman tries to tackle the big questions of motherhood--most of which are firmly based on mommy guilt and judgement--from multiple angles, including as a victim of both. Perhaps best known for her infamous New York Times "I love my husband more than my children" essay, which landed her on Oprah (an experience she recounts multiple times in "Bad Mother"), Waldman rails against online comments and how mothers tear each other down, while at the same time bemoaning her own inner "bad mother" with self-imposed attacks. And while most of us will never have other moms judge us on Oprah, I've yet to meet a good mom who doesn't worry about being a bad mother.
Raised with a feminist vibe in the '60s and '70s and a longtime resident of Berkeley, Waldman is well positioned to view the current impossible mommy standard we are trying to hold ourselves to. Breastfeeding, career vs stay-at-home, attachment parenting as a religion ... All get their own chapters. And, while she pokes fun at it, she also can't help but embrace the tenants of "perfect motherhood," and berate herself when she (inevitably) falls short of parental perfection.
While I find Waldman a terrific and compelling fiction writer, I think she occasionally got bogged down here in defending her own life. I also think that, once your remove domestic duties (while I agree with Waldman that even with a nanny and housekeeper there's still plenty for a mom of four to do around the house, most women don't have such luxuries), marital strife (Waldman's husband is just about perfect and their dynamo sex life, despite four kids, well documented by Waldman in previously published work, is once again trotted out here) and financial difficulties (Waldman is unabashedly affluent), the book is lifted out of the everyday experience for most women.
I actually agreed with just about everything Waldman wrote, but I'm also lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom, with a weekly housekeeper and relatively high-income, wage-earning husband. (Plus, I share Waldman's distinctly left-leaning political bent. If you don't, you'll probably find at least some of her stories highly off-putting.) And while I'm not nearly as well off, in any area, as Waldman, I still know I've got it better than most of the moms I meet. I'm amongst the few who can talk about "choosing" to stay home with my child, rather than being forced to either work, simply to survive, or stay home only because the income they could generate couldn't begin to cover child care costs. That's the reality for most American moms, not whether it's feasible to follow the lactation instructions you flew cross country to meet with a specialist and receive in order to get your palette-challenged child to breast feed. (A real Waldman moment from "Bad Mother.")
You don't have to live in Berkeley to find pockets of moms who seem perfect. I run into them everyday here in the midwest as well, in all the same places Waldman did: Gymboree, Mommy and Me Gymnastics, preschool, the park, etc. And I'm right there with her, breastfeeding, preparing and sourcing organic snacks and meals for my preschooler, limiting screen time, lining up playmates and just the right number activities, all while trying not to go insane. And there are plenty of days I feel like a bad mom, despite all my efforts. (And exactly zero days my husband, who travels and works a lot, berates himself similarly.) There is a universal truth there, but the subset of moms who get to worry about those things is probably pretty small. Most are just too busy trying to survive ... And that doesn't make them Bad Mothers either.
I bet these "essays" worked great as blog posts, but they lack the depth and quality of thought necessary to work as a book that's going to be good for anything but its shock value.
The book is full of cliches. Waldman makes shallow, stock pronouncements about children, parenting, gender roles, feminism, liberalism, conservativism, abortion, education, and more. If she really had anything to say about any of these topics, the book might be worth reading. But she seems to be more of a "personality" who happens to write books, rather than a serious writer who has a well thought out worldview to present.
Her overarching negativity (to which she refers often in the book -- a bid for pity? a way of excusing herself?) doesn't help matters either; the essays stay mired in a muck of complaints. Any uplift, anything that might help readers who feel the same way, is offered sparingly, often too late, and in a manner that seems perfunctory. Even when she finally does get around to talking about what she loves about her children, it's not convincing.
This book is contrived and phoned-in. Nothing "controversial" about it. For it to be truly controversial, the author would have had to have gone much deeper -- into her own life and beliefs, and into the lives of others. Instead it relies on odious generalizations that reflect the real lives...well, who, exactly?
I'm not saying the time crunch doesn't exist -- I feel it myself. I'm not saying the struggle to balance one's children and oneself doesn't exist -- it is my struggle too. But somehow I couldn't relate to most of this book. Maybe it's Waldman's bad attitude -- as lonely or as stretched-too-thin or as rushed as I get, I could only have written essays like these if I'd chosen to ignore a lot of the beauty, wonder, and fun in my everyday life as a mother. I guess people think ignoring the positive things makes for a better book. More dramatic. Certainly more "controversial."
on December 15, 2009
I cannot fathom just why the blurb-writers claim that this author is America's most "outrageous" writer or why they seem to think she's so drop-dead hysterical. I've read a lot of edgy mom-lit, my share of features in "Brain,Child" magazines and other media, etc., and this book pales in comparison. One weird thread that runs through it is the author's apparent jealousy of her husband--he's holding the fort at home while she works, writing novels while pulling the day-shift parenting. And because they're well off, she can do what other "bad" moms can't: she quits her job to stay home with the kids, too. (The envy-thread continues with her jumping into a literary career, too--with a difference: Chabon's current memoir on parenting is insightful and enjoyable to read.) At one point she accuses a TV personality of "stealing" a simile she comes up with in which she compares her post-baby flabby tummy, when attempting to tuck it into jeans, to origami--it's a strange riff, as (1) origami involves crisp folds, not mush, so it's a bad simile, (2) she probably isn't the first to make the comparison, and (3) it's pretty self-centered to assume someone who uses a similar turn of phrase read your work and got it from you. But then, that "look at me! look at me!" attitude is central to the book, so it's not surprising the author would assume this.
If you want funny and insightful, stick with Anne Lamott's "Operating Instructions," or go back in time and enjoy Shirley Jackson's "Life Among the Savages" and "Raising Demons."
on April 20, 2009
Note: This review is based on an advance review copy and not a final copy of the book.
"One of the reasons we tell stories is to find meaning in events that seem devoid of it, to make sense of the senseless." Ayelet Waldman
Author Ayelet Waldman wrote BAD MOTHER to explore "the perils and joys of trying to be a decent mother in a world intent on making you feel like a bad one." And there are lots of perils, as any mother knows. Society blames her when children are anything less than its definition of perfect, and she blames herself for whatever society misses. But Waldman's book is not a droning sociological dissertation. Not at all. It's light and weighty, humorous and intimate, thought provoking and entertaining.
Waldman starts off by listing the numerous fuzzy and unattainable definitions of a GOOD mother, she then goes on to describe the judgmental workings of the BAD Mother police, mothers compelled to correct other mothers' poor parenting. Why do they do this? She says, "Perhaps it's because there is so much at stake. Another parent's different approach raises the possibility that you've made a mistake with your child. We simply can't tolerate that, because we fear that any mistake, no matter how minor, could have devastating consequences"
Waldman gets serious as she examines how her mother's feminist influence/agenda has affected her marriage and mothering choices. She notes there are women "who have ended up, contrary to their expectations, living lives disturbingly similar to those of their mothers." And she confesses she's a bad mother because she allowed her newborn to starve for weeks before she realized he wasn't nursing correctly, and because she loves her husband more than her children.
She takes a look at gender roles in her marriage, and she takes on her relationship with her husband's mother--a GOOD mother, of course. She then complains that mothers shouldn't be asked to shepherd their too-young kids through complex, time-consuming homework tasks and that her kids shouldn't have to go through the shame of being a dodgeball target like she did. But then she says, "sometimes what you have to protect them [your children] from is the ongoing avalanche of your own childhood."
In some chapters Waldman is incredibly vulnerable. For instance when she relates her extensive sexual history: "At Wesleyan University there was no dishonor in being a slut... I slept with roommates and bandmates (although never at the same time), with frat boys and stoners, with exchange students and grad students." Most touching is when she shares her agony about her decision to have an abortion in her second trimester. She says it is "the most serious of the many maternal crimes I tally in my head when I am at my lowest, when the Bad Mother label seems to fit best."
Waldman lightheartedly describes her children's reactions to her arguments with her husband and her guilt over the disparity between the documented minutia of her first child's life with that of the occasional references to her fourth child's life. She reveals her family's legacy, bipolar disorder, and how difficult it was to accept that she too has the disorder. She states she will like her children just the way they are, even if they turn out to be gay and that when she said this in a column she created uproar.
In the later chapters, Waldman confesses her desire to have more children, even though she knows four is enough. She examines her tendency to be pessimistic, yet she's hopeful her children will soon live in a more tolerant world. In the last chapter she concedes that children who don't excel in school, who have physical or cognitive problems--one of her sons has ADHD--aren't necessarily the product of bad mothering, that even good mothers can have less than academically perfect children.
Ayelet Waldman speaks for many women who don't buy into the latest mothering fad, which pins a "Good Mother" badge on those whose reason to live is to bolster their children's success, and pins "Bad Mother" on those who insist they have a name other than so-and-so's mom. This book is bound to rile up some mothers, and I hope it does.