This book was definitely not, to borrow from the title of that ubiquitous parenting tome, what I expected.
Ayelet Waldman, a former federal public defender, was penning successful "mommy-track" mystery novels when she thrust herself into the middle of the national, media-induced, mommy-tug-of-war. In the now infamous essay, published in the March 27, 2005, Modern Love column of The New York Times, she dared to confess that her children had not supplanted her husband as the center of her passionate universe. And, not only were she and her husband still "doing-it" on a regular basis she was enjoying it!
So, quite frankly, I was expecting a primer on how to become a "bad-ass" mother myself.
I didn't imagine the Ayelet presented by narrator Mia Barron in this collection of essays: a sensitive and loving woman, with a strong identity as both a "good Jewish girl" and a staunch feminist, struggling with society's dictates for mothers in a post-feminist world. By all accounts, Ms. Barron reads with a wonderfully accurate approximation of the author's pedigreed voice. Her tone and cadence is pleasant, with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek needed to deliver the more ironic passages.
She recounts Ayelet's journey from working, breast milk-pumping lawyer (Chapter 4) to stay-at-home, baby-lusting mother of four (Chapter 16) and the blogosphere-full of disdain for both roles. Like mothers everywhere, she worries that there is something wrong with the baby; something wrong with the 1st grader; something wrong with the 13-year-old.
When she's not crying over an optimistic YouTube portrait of the world her children might someday inherit, she's busy dissecting the influence of her and her husband's disparate upbringings, as it bears on their children's future. And she can go from boring ("My Mother-in-Law, Myself", Chapter 7) to heartbreaking ("Rocketship", Chapter 11) in 60 seconds. As parenthood does, every day.
Ayelet does give up a few secrets, and they benefit both seasoned moms and "we're trying" gals. The secret to an intact, marital libido? Equally shared housework. The secret to a happy, healthy child? "Be the parent your child needs, rather than the one you want to be."
Now, I ask you, does that sound like the advice of a bad mother? Lisa Duggan
As every pregnant woman knows, motherhood is a nonstop pleasure cruise filled with warmth, personal fulfillment, and consistent joy - or at least that's what women are told before they give birth and the real truth of mothering asserts itself. As seasoned moms will attest, mothering is difficult, stressful, and the biggest challenge a woman will ever face.
With rare insight, Waldman addresses the overwhelming task of motherhood - and encourages women to realize they may be doing a much better job than they think.
©2009 Ayelet Waldman; (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
"Waldman writes in these well-fashioned essays how a mother's best intentions frequently go awry.... [her] frank revelations are chatty and sure to delight." (Publishers Weekly)
"While Waldman's biting humor is ever present, it is her concern for other conflicted mothers that stays with the reader. In all, an unexpectedly tender book in which Waldman candidly considers how difficult it is to be Mommy." (Booklist)
There is just something about Ayelet that I really like. Her honesty is so refreshing and thought provoking. I am mad that I moved away from my fantastic book-group in PA. I would've loved to have heard what they would have said about this book.
I know I will look at mothers differently after reading this.
I almost deleted this book several times. The title and media reviews suggested irony and humor. The contents demonstrate, instead, that intelligence plus obsessive introspection don't necessarily add up to insight, that blaming oneself doesn't exclude blaming others, and that having it all doesn't necessarily lead to happiness. There is a compelling narrative about the moral and psychic conflicts surrounding an elective abortion, but no ambiguity at all about the author's joy in getting guilty felons acquitted when she was a San Francisco lawyer. Or any concern that her young children might not be truly capable of the "consent" she obtained to present her rather horrifyingly intimate fantasies about them. There's a reason that many informed choices have a statutory age of consent. A lawyer should know about these things.
I finally gave up in the face of a political diatribe so relentlessly bombastic that it was simply intolerable to listen to-- even though I actually agreed with all of the opinions! Somewhere out there is an Ayelet Waldman who is clever and sophisticated, with a comic touch. But she doesn't appear very much in this book.
It was time well spent - especially after I skipped some parts. The book is very uneven. Some great storytelling (memorizing, I guess), some insightful discussion/musings, and some trite parts. I especially did not enjoy - even resented - the stereotyped, cliched and downright boring chapter on a mother's relation to her son and mother in law. I did appreciate the chapter on the author's struggles during her pregnancies, and accounts of household labor division.
I was thinking about some of her points; good food for thought / points of reference.
I thought the reader was great.
Likes: Cozy mysteries (cats a plus), personal memoirs,not too dark fantasy, books about the brain. Dislikes: Torture, animal cruelty.
When I bought Bad Mother, I was looking for humor - humor which made me see that all moms are as flawed as me. Not quite what I got. Waldman started off discussing what it means to be a good mother and a good father and it is clear how raw of a deal we moms have. People seemed to agree that Dads who showed up to things and were somewhat supportive were good fathers, but the list of requirements for good mothers seem to be attainable only by fictional characters. Of course a person's enjoyment of any book like this which is part essay/part memoir is strongly linked to how you feel about the person who spends the book sharing their opinions. I felt an attachment to the author, though my best friend hated her. She said she hated it enough not only to never read anything by Waldman again but to also boycott the works of her husband Michael. So the book evokes strong feelings.
There are basically two situations that can occur in which I feel like a bad mother. One is when I am actually interacting with the kids and get frustrated by them. The other is when I am not interacting with the kids and feeling happy about it. I suppose I was looking for a book that in a humorous way would tell me everybody felt like this and that it was really ok. This book would have lots of cute stories about annoying things that happen when you meet other moms on back to school night, etc. Now this book has some of these stories - and it is amazing how you can collect examples over the years of the infuriating things other moms have the nerve to say. However, the mom who wrote this book doesn't necessarily have the same failings that I do. So she can say she's a bad mother, but then go on to list all these lengths she has gone to for kids and then instead of feeling good I felt bad. The part that started making me feel bad rather than good was her long description of the lengths she went through to attempt to breastfeed particularly her youngest child. It is amazing how despite the fact that I don't really see why anyone feels they need to breastfeed I still managed to feel a little guilty that I never even considered trying.
But anyway, it starts off mostly with some essays on motherhood but develops into a full scale memoir which I found for the most part to be very interesting. Waldman was high powered public defender who quit her job to be a stay at home mom and hated it and that lead to some funny material. But what she actually ends up doing is becoming a writer so she can really be at home and be a working mom. And she has money. I actually got over being annoyed by all she does when she later admitted to having Bi-Polar disorder, because that cleared up for me how she managed to do so much for her kids sometimes. And hey bipolar disorder is interesting all by itself. Another very interesting part was when she found out that a child she was carrying had a genetic abnormality. She learned this from an amnio so by then she was very pregnant and it was one of those tricky things where the kid might be normal or might be severely deformed and disabled. She ends up terminating the pregnancy. I found it incredibly moving when she described the night before the abortion, just lying there feeling the baby move trying to savor the experience since she knew it would soon end. How touching - how completely horrible. Chapters like that made me feel for her. She had another scare with a later pregnancy. Later she talks about how horrible she felt when her other kid was determined to have ADHD and what a letdown this was for her. Then I wanted to slap her.
This is all interesting when you consider her writing career. When she was playing stay at home mommy she wrote these lighthearted "Mommy Track" mysteries which I would read one of it I came across it. It has a stay at home mom who used to be a public defender but now solves mysteries of course. Later after the abortion, she wrote more serious novels, including one which has a miscarriage and the aftermath of losing this hoped for child as a major plot component. Think I’ll pass on that.
Anyway, while I didn't always like Waldman, I found a lot of the book interesting. If I were an actual book critic I would have to complain how she compares her kids to food too often too - their buttery skin, for example. Sometimes I wondered if they were kids or croissants. But perhaps the most annoying thing for me was her insistence on throwing in political opinions (she went to Harvard Law with Obama I think she said). But I am someone who tries to avoid politics and didn't see why it needed to be in this particular book.
As a working mother of two young children, I could relate to a lot of the material in this book. I would have enjoyed it SO much more if the author would have left the politics out of it. It really wasn't necessary and leaves me with no interest in any of Ms. Waldman's other works.
I don't know why I bought this. I thought it was a comedy. My youngest child being 23, I am well over the bad mother complex. I hope the readers have a little more self confidence in themselves.
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