Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Authors
Books
Features
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

  • Bad Mother
  • Written by Ayelet Waldman
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780767930697
  • Our Price: $14.95
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - Bad Mother

Buy now from Random House

  • Bad Mother
  • Written by Ayelet Waldman
  • Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780385527934
  • Our Price: $24.95
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - Bad Mother

Buy now from Random House

  • Bad Mother
  • Written by Ayelet Waldman
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780767932165
  • Our Price: $13.99
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - Bad Mother

Bad Mother

    Select a Format:
  • Book
  • eBook

A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace

Written by Ayelet WaldmanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Ayelet Waldman

eBook

List Price: $13.99

eBook

On Sale: May 05, 2009
Pages: 224 | ISBN: 978-0-7679-3216-5
Published by : Anchor Knopf
Bad Mother Cover

Bookmark,
Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - Bad Mother
  • Email this page - Bad Mother
  • Print this page - Bad Mother
ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE PRAISE
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
EVENTS EVENTS
Tags for this book (powered by Library Thing)
parenting (28) motherhood (27) memoir (25) essays (15) family (7) mothers (5) biography (4)
parenting (28) motherhood (27) memoir (25) essays (15) family (7)
» see more tags
mothers (5) biography (4)
» hide
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

1. Bad Mother
I busted my first Bad Mother in the spring of 1994, on a Muni train in San Francisco. She was sitting on the edge of her seat, her young daughter standing between her knees. She had two barrettes clamped between her lips and a hair elastic stretched around the fingers of one hand. With her other hand she was brushing the little girl's long dark hair, trying to gather the slippery strands into a neat ponytail. It was not going well. She would smooth one side and then lose her grip on the other, or gather up the hair in the front only to watch the hairs at the nape of the girl's neck slide free. The ride was rough, the Muni car bucking and jerking along, causing the little girl periodically to lose her footing. When the driver took a turn too sharply, the little girl stumbled forward, her sudden motion causing her mother once again to lose hold of the ponytail. With a frustrated click of her tongue, the mother yanked a handful of the girl's hair, hard, and hissed, "Stand still!"

That's when, indignant, confident that someday, when it was my turn to brush my own daughter's hair, I would never be so abusive, I leaned forward in my seat, caught the woman's eye, and said, in a voice loud enough for everyone in the train car to hear, "Lady, we're all watching you."

We are always watching: the Bad Mother police force, in a perpetual state of alert-level orange. Sometimes the avatars of maternal evil that come to obsess us are grave and terrible, like Andrea Yates, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity for drowning her five children in the bathtub. Sometimes our fixation on a particular Bad Mother has to do with our own racism, as in the national obsession in the 1980s with the mythical welfare queen, described by Ronald Reagan as a woman with "80 names, 30 addresses, [and] 12 Social Security cards," or the current hysteria about undocumented women giving birth to "anchor" babies in order to immunize themselves from deportation. Sometimes the crime is so lunatic that it approaches a kind of horrible grandeur, like that of Wendy Cook, a prostitute in Saratoga Springs who snorted cocaine off her baby's stomach while she was breast-feeding. (And here I've always been proud of being able to nurse and read at the same time!)

As soon as one Bad Mother fades from view, another quickly takes her place in the dock of the court of public opinion. Not long ago, the dingbat pop starlet Britney Spears was hoisted up as the latest agent of villainy. Her Bad Mother rap sheet is long and varied. It includes being committed to a psychiatric facility, losing visitation rights after failing to submit to court-mandated drug testing, driving with her infant son on her lap, and running in her car over the feet of photographers and sheriff's deputies. And apart from her legal troubles, there are her miscellaneous crimes of lifestyle. Her constant partying, her spendthrift ways ($737,000 every month!), and, most notoriously perhaps, her inexplicable refusal to wear undergarments. We can all agree, can't we, that Britney Spears is at best an incompetent mother and at worst a neglectful one. She's far worse than my first collar, the Medea of Muni, who pulled her daughter's hair on the J Church line. So why, then, do I find myself feeling like she's gotten a bit of a rough deal?

Perhaps because in a smaller way, at the periphery of the public eye, I was myself made to do the Bad Mother perp walk. For a Warholian fifteen I became fodder for the morning talk shows and gossip blogs, held up to scorn and ridicule as an example of maternal perfidy. My crime? Confessing in the pages of the New York Times style section to loving my husband more than my children.
In that essay I wondered about why so many of the women I knew were not having sex with their husbands, while I still was, and I concluded that it might be because they, unlike me, had refocused their passion from their husbands or partners onto their children. I wrote, "Libido, as she once knew it, is gone, and in its place is all-consuming maternal desire." And then I spent some time worrying about what was wrong with me: Why hadn't I successfully "made the erotic transition a good mother is supposed to make"? I said that if a Good Mother was one who loved her children more than anyone in the world, more even than her husband, then I was a Bad Mother, because I loved my husband more than my children.

The Bad Mother police were swiftly on the scene. They speculated publicly, down in the toxic mud of the comment sections on blog pages, that I was crazy, evil, a menace, that my children should be taken away from me. They cross-examined me on the set of Oprah. And New York City's elite Bad Mother SWAT team, the warrior shrews of UrbanBaby.com, sank their pointy little incisors into my metaphorical ankles.

I feel enough of Spears's pain to find myself wondering at the genesis of our current obsession with these varied archetypical manifestations of maternal evil. To a certain extent, of course, we've always been both terrified and titillated by the Bad Mother. Think Euripides' Medea and Agave, think Jocasta, think Joan Crawford. But I can't help but feel--and perhaps only because I've been tried and convicted of the crime--that there is something especially sharpened and hysterical about contemporary Bad Mother vitriol. The frequency with which a new Bad Mother is unmasked, and the extent of our interest in each one, are, I believe, more than merely symptoms of the contemporary general degeneration of civility. While, granted, the human dum-dum bullets of message boards like UrbanBaby hardly exemplify the attitudes of the civil and decent core of American society, they do seem to distill to a vile essence what is a widespread societal preoccupation with Bad Mothers.
There is an appealing sociopolitical rationale for our preoccupation with Bad Mothers, one articulated to me by the feminist scholar and advocate Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Getting us to focus on Bad Mothers, she says, is part of a larger political agenda to keep our attention off the truth--that it is not our mothers but our government that has failed us. The patriarchy and its political, media, and profit-making machines encourage us to scapegoat and vilify one bogeymama after another, because worrying about egregious freak-show moms like Wendy Cook and Britney Spears distracts us from the fact that, for example, President George W. Bush cheerfully vetoed a law that would have provided health insurance to four million uninsured children.

As persuasive as I find Paltrow's argument, something in me rebels at the notion that we can attribute our communal obsession primarily to the patriarchy. I agree with her that we are just at the very beginning of accepting the notion of gender equality (it's only been, as she says, "a microsecond in the course of history"). Still, the blare of condemnation that drowns out so much of civil discourse on the subject of mothering and child rearing originates not from some patriarchal grand inquisitor's office but, in large part, from individual women. And while women have always, historically, been the enforcers of acceptable social conduct, even when it was to their detriment (remember Abigail Williams, the lead accuser in the Salem witch trials?), an hour or two surfing the myriad of mommy blogs provides compelling support for the notion that, in this area at least, we women are the primary authors of our own subjugation. The Bad Mother cops with the most aggressive arrest records are women.

And why? Because the Andrea Yateses and Susan Smiths, the "crack hos" and the welfare moms, provide us with a profound personal service. By defining for us the kinds of mothers we're not, they make it easier for us to stomach what we are.

When I polled an unscientific sampling of my friends and family, they had no trouble defining what it meant to be a Good Father. A Good Father is characterized quite simply by his presence. He shows up. In the delivery room, at dinnertime (when he can), to school recitals and ball games (whenever it's reasonably possible). He's a good provider who is not above changing a diaper or wearing a Baby Bjorn. He's a strong shoulder to cry on and, at the same time, a constant example of how to roll with the punches. This definition seems to accommodate, without contradiction, both an older, sentimentalized Father Knows Best version of a dad and our post-Free to Be You and Me assumptions.

However, my polling sample had a difficult time describing a Good Mother without resorting to hyperbole, beneath which it's possible to discern a hint of angry self-flagellation.
"Mary Poppins, but biologically related to you and she doesn't leave at the end of the movie."

"She lives only in the present and entirely for her kids."

"She has infinite patience."

"She 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, and she does art projects with them and enjoys all their games. And she is never too tired for sex."

"She's everything that I'm not."

These responses might be colored by the fact that my polling sample, despite containing a moderate amount of racial, religious, and socioeconomic diversity, was composed of women of approximately the same age (mid-thirties to early forties) and the same level of education (which can be described, succinctly, as "more than they use"). Nonetheless, the common elements in the responses make a compelling statement both about the pervasive power of the antiquated June Cleaver vision of motherhood and about how badly we fall short.

The single defining characteristic of iconic Good Motherhood is self-abnegation. Her children's needs come first; their health and happiness are her primary concern. They occupy all her thoughts, her day is constructed around them, and anything and everything she does is for their sakes. Her own needs, ambitions, and desires are relevant only in relation to theirs. If a Good Mother takes care of herself, it is only to the extent that she doesn't hurt her children. As one of my polling samples put it, "She is able to figure out how to carve out time for herself without detriment to her children's feelings of self-worth." If a Good Mother works, she does so only if it doesn't harm her children, or if her failing to earn an income would make them worse off. More important, even the act of considering her own needs and desires is engaged in primarily to make her children into better people. As one woman told me, "A Good Mother is in shape and works outside of the home so she can be a good role model."

Being a Good Father is a reasonable, attainable goal; you need only be present and supportive. Being a Good Mother, as defined by mothers themselves, is impossible. When asked for an example of a Good Mother, the women I polled came up with June Cleaver and Marmee, from Little Women. Both of whom are by necessity, not coincidence, fictional characters. The Good Mother does not exist, and she has never existed, not even in those halcyon bygone days to which the arbiters of maternal conduct never tire of harking back. If the producers of Leave It to Beaver had really wanted to give us an accurate depiction of late-1950s and early-1960s motherhood, June would have had a lipstick-stained cigarette clamped between her teeth, a gin and tonic in her hand, and a copy of Peyton Place on her nightstand. But still, this creature of fantasy is whom the mothers in my sample measured themselves against, and their failure to live up to her made them feel like Bad Mothers.
It's as if the swimmer Tracy Caulkins, winner of three Olympic gold medals, setter of five world records, were to beat herself up for being slower than the Little Mermaid.

Without exception, the mothers I know feel like they have failed to measure up. As Judith Warner so eloquently wrote in her book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, "This widespread, choking cocktail of guilt and anxiety and resentment and regret . . . is poisoning motherhood."
I have been pondering the reasons for this maternal anxiety ever since I first found myself suffering from it, sitting in a playground, my briefcase traded in for a diaper bag, my focus narrowed to my baby and myself, my ambition curdling into something I thought was anger but I now realize was closer to despair. I had always been hard-driving and ambitious, myopically fixated on my career. But I was working long hours, and after a day taking care of desperately needy people who looked to me to keep them from spending years, decades, or even the rest of their lives in jail, I had nothing left for my baby. I was jealous of Michael, a work-at-home writer who got to spend long, languid hours with our daughter, dressing her up in her new outfits and shuttling her from Mommy & Me to the library. One day I simply packed up my desk, tossed my framed diplomas into the attic, and became a stay-at-home mom.

It was everything that I thought it would be. Mommy & Me, story time at the library, Gymboree, long stroller walks with my stay-at-home-mommy friends. And then the next day it was Mommy & Me, story time at the library, Gymboree, and long stroller walks with my stay-at-home-mommy friends. And the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that.
Within a week I had gone mad.

I took a certain satisfaction in the fact that I was now the most important person in the day-to-day life of my child, but I was also bored and miserable. And the fact that I was bored and miserable terrified me. A Good Mother is never bored, is she? She is never miserable. A Good Mother doesn't resent looking up from her novel to examine a child's drawing. She doesn't stare at the clock in music class, willing it along with all the power of a fourth grader waiting for recess. She doesn't hide the finger paints because she can't stand the mess. A Good Mother not only puts her children's needs and interests above her own but enjoys doing it. If I wasn't enjoying myself, then I wasn't a Good Mother. On the contrary, I was a bad one.


From the Hardcover edition.
Ayelet Waldman

About Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman - Bad Mother

Photo © Stephanie Rausser

AYELET WALDMAN is the author of Daughter’s Keeper and of the Mommy-Track mystery series. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Believer, Child Magazine, and other publications, and she has a regular column on Salon.com. She and her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon, live in Berkeley, California with their four children.
Praise

Praise

“Hilarious, heartbreaking, and edgy.”  —Newsweek

“This is not only a wonderfully written book, but I think it may also be a book of great salvation for many women. Most of the mothers I know (the honest ones, the tired ones, the confused ones) will see themselves reflected in these wise pages and will find long-overdue comfort here.”  —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
 
“Absorbing reading . . . takes brave risks. . . . What really makes Waldman’s book interesting, as voices on motherhood go, is Waldman herself—the intensity of her positions and the way she thinks.” —The New York Times Book Review

“I have often felt that it is impossible to be a mother without a profound, even corrosive, sense of failure, or at least that’s how I feel about myself.  To find a book that shares that anxiety, and an author who dissects this insecurity and self-doubt with wit, honesty and proper, enquiring intelligence, is (as a reader) like being grossly dehydrated and being presented with a vat of water to drink. . . . I want to be in the company of her frank intelligence forever.” —Nigella Lawson
“Many find Waldman’s honesty hard to take. For some of us it’s hard to live without.” —People

“Waldman’s book is nothing short of a revelation.” —The Oregonian

“Nuanced and thoughtful. . . . Waldman is often an astute commentator on contemporary parenting.” —Boston Globe

“Waldman hates to hold back, and that trait serves her well in Bad Mother.” —The Washington Post

“Bound to stimulate ferocious discussion.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Waldman is a courageous and talented writer. Her greatest accomplishment in this book is to take her experience—some of our worst fears—and make it something we can understand. . . . Isn’t that a mother's real job?” —Susan Cheever, The Daily Beast

“Fascinating. . . . If she’s honest, every mother will see herself reflected in the pages of this book.” The Anniston Star

“Ayelet Waldman writes cleanly and thoughtfully about motherhood as both an experience and a spectator sport.  Bad Mother is blunt, wry, prescriptive and pleasurable.” —Meg Wolitzer, author of The Ten-Year Nap

“Ayelet Waldman's sane perspective on the challenges of motherhood comes as a relief. I relished her graceful language, self-mocking humor, her clear, if sometimes painful, insight.  And I admire her—deeply—for the bracing honesty that redeems it all.” —Peggy Orenstein, author of Waiting for Daisy
 
“Ayelet Waldman writes about motherhood the way women live it: Not only as parents, but also as wives, professionals, and most touchingly, former children. Written with humor, insight, generosity, and unflinching honesty, Bad Mother is for anyone who has—or has been—a child.”  —Pamela Paul, author of Parenting, Inc. and The Starter Marriage

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to stimulate your group’s discussion of Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother.

About the Guide

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.

About the Author

Ayelet Waldman is the author of Daughter's Keeper and Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.  Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, New York, Elle, Vogue, and other publications.  She and her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon, live in Berkeley, California, with their four children.

Discussion Guides

1. The author begins by quoting some of the unattainable definitions of a “good mother” that doom women to fail in the pursuit. What are some definitions of “good mother” that you’ve come across in your experience? How do you think society defines a good mother? Do you agree with the author that these expectations are generally too high?

2. What do you consider a responsible, attainable ideal of a modern mother?

3. Are you familiar with any of the blogs the author mentions—Salon, Urban Baby, or other similar sites? What is your experience with them?

4. What do you think of the author’s declaration that she loves her husband more than her children? Is there a hierarchy in your household between spouse, children, home, self? Do you think there is a right way to organize affections within a family?

5. Discuss the idea of being honest with one’s children. How far do (or would) you take this in your home? Where would you make exceptions?

6. The author concludes by saying that her parenting goal, rather than to be “good,” is to be “mindful.” Can you summarize your parenting goals in a single word (or phrase)? Do you think it is important to have a guiding principle like this?

7. The author describes her evolving relationship with her mother-in-law as having been initially tainted by jealousy (her own), and then improving as the children were born. Have you gone through anything like this? Do you think her mother-in-law was as guileless as Waldman claims in this evolution?

8. In reference to Zeke’s ADHD diagnosis, the author discusses her feelings that the facts of family are sometimes disappointing when compared to our unrealistic expectations. What are your expectations for your children? Which ones derive from your children themselves, and which from your and your spouse’s traits and experiences? Are you fair to your children with regard to your expectations? Do you think the concept of “fairness” applies here?

9. Discuss the author’s difficult experience with Rocketship. Why does she choose to include such a detailed description of the events in this book? Do you consider the decision to terminate the pregnancy to be a parenting decision? Were any of the events and decisions she shares surprising or helpful to you?

10. The division of labor in the household is an important theme in the book—both in terms of the author’s actual experience and the statistical information she cites. How does this play out in your family? Do you and your partner discuss these issues, or just let them determine themselves? What are your jobs in the home?

11. The author describes at length her feminist upbringing, and how her home in liberal Berkeley, California, helped shape her outlook on motherhood. Similarly, how did your upbringing, either liberal or more conservative, contribute toward who you are as a parent?

12. What do you make of the author’s opinions on optimism vs. pessimism? What are the relative benefits of each? Does one’s optimism or pessimism play into the idealized role of a “good mother”?

13. Are there any passages in the book you would like to share (or have already shared) with your partner or friends?

14. What lessons do you take from the book? Were any passages particularly meaningful to you? What do you think is most useful about the book, and about Waldman’s philosophy?

15. Why do you think the author chose to write this book? Do you think it was successful in its aims?


(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman Events>

Ayelet Waldman - Bad Mother

Photo © Stephanie Rausser

4/21/2014 BROOKLINE BOOKSMITH CORP.
279 HARVARD ST
BROOKLINE, MA 02446-2970
7 pm
Confirmed
Map It
4/22/2014 LONGFELLOW BOOKS
1 MONUMENT WAY
PORTLAND, ME 04101-4078
7 pm
Confirmed
Map It
4/22/2014 LONGFELLOW BOOKS
1 MONUMENT WAY
PORTLAND, ME 04101-4078
7:00pm
Confirmed
Map It
4/28/2014 STRAND BOOKSTORE
828 BROADWAY
NEW YORK, NY 10003-4826
7 pm
Confirmed
Map It
4/28/2014 BASS BOOK TRADING CO., INC. C/O STRAND BOOKSTORE
828 BROADWAY
NEW YORK, NY 10003-4826
7:00pm
Confirmed
Map It
5/1/2014 CHIZUK AMUNO
8100 Stevenson Road
BALTIMORE, MD
7:00 pm
Confirmed
Map It
5/4/2014 BOOK PASSAGE
51 TAMAL VISTA BLVD
CORTE MADERA, CA 94925-1145
4 pm
Confirmed
Map It

Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: