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Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace
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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)



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.

Customer Reviews:

  • Wasn't quite what I was hoping for
    Moms are told on every side that they are "bad moms". It seems that no matter what we choose, we are wrong. I've seen many, many internet "mom support group" sites filled with posts blasting one woman or another her choices. I was looking for funny book poking fun a at this destructive trend, a book gently letting us know that it's alright to be "wrong", that "wrong" is probably just fine after all. This wasn't it. At least, not for me. ...more info
  • Honest
    Some people have issues with Ayelet Waldman. The big controversy was her statement that she loves her husband more than her children. She was demonized for making this statement. While I don't always agree with her--I think that some parents have those moments when they do love their partner's more than their "spawn."

    That said, once again we get an honest, if not jarring, jaunt with Ayelet about mothering. If you have enjoyed her other books about parenting, you'll enjoy this book. She's funny and witty, and the book is well-written. What more could you ask for? ...more info
  • Entertaining and helpful book for mothers.
    I have liked all of Ayelet Waldman's books. Her Mommy track books were great. This book called "Bad Mother" should be reasuring, especially to new mothers.
    She writes frankly about having a career and children. She writes she was criticized for saying she loved her husband more than her children.Romantic love is differant from mother love. She did not say she did not love her children. Children feel secure in a home when the parents love each other.I think she sounds more like a typical mother. All mothers judge each other. Child rearing among the educated class of mothers sometimes seems like a contest, who gets in best pre school etc. Poor mothers do not have this problem so much I suppose. Many must work and take care of their children and most do an amazingly good job of it.She sounds like a good mommy to me. Ms. Waldman writes that her mother is a feminist of the old school. She writes frankly about her past and bi-polar disorder.I highly recommend this book, although I wish she would write some more mysteries she's really good at it....more info
  • Candid, Funny, Thought Provoking
    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.
    ...more info
  • Funny, touching, and honest
    Being a mom today is hard. Working, not working, co-sleeping, crying it out, attachment parenting, spanking, positive discipline...the list of things "good moms" do versus the things "bad moms" do (or don't do) can go on forever. Waldman takes an honest look at how moms make each other feel like failures, question our decisions, and jump at the chance to berate another mom for being "bad." Many times, I laughed out loud while reading this book. Sometimes I wanted to cry. Waldman is brutally honest, very funny, and very clever. I read this book in under 24 hours, and already know a few moms who I'll be happy to loan it to. The basic message is to not get caught up in the race to be the best mom, comparing ourselves to fictional ideals like Mrs. Cleaver or Mary Poppins.

    The only gripe I have with the book is something that bothers me about many "motherhood" books. It doesn't detract from Waldman's theme, but once again we have the perspective of a mom who actually has a choice between a high powered, lucrative career and staying home. She had to pump breastmilk in her own office--what about the moms who have to pump in a bathroom or car? What about the moms who simply can't choose to stay home because their income is needed just to feed and clothe the children? To her credit, Waldman does comment on the fact that not everyone can afford a housecleaning service. She, at least, seems aware that not all moms have her lifestyle. Personally, I'd enjoy reading a book from a mom's perspective on how to divvy up housework with a spouse, not feel guilty about working, and adjusting your working life to family life when you have a "job" instead of a "career," when you and your husband have no choice but to work outside the home, and you can't afford to pay someone else to scrub the toilet. In spite of that, I still loved Bad Mother. ...more info
  • Applause-Worthy, Cringe-Worthy Account of Modern Motherhood
    This is a tricky book, partly so on-target and profound that I wanted to quote lengthy passages to anyone who would listen. The first several chapters were fantastic, discussing how mothers set themselves up for failure by falling for the notion that fictional moms are our role models. And how by embracing a rebellious bad mother attitude, where you "snarl at the mention of Dora the Explorer..and shrug at the orange Cheetos dust smeared across our children's mouths...", we really end up revealing how much we buy into the good mother/bad mother labels.

    Those labels are so ingrained in modern American moms that we even look at mentally ill women, women who *murder* their kids, as bad mothers, because that lets us feel that we ourselves aren't *that* bad. As Waldman discusses these issues, I'm sold. I love her insight and opinions, and even when she seems a little derivative of Anne Lamott's famous mothering essays, I still enjoy her viewpoint.

    Yet as the book goes on, sections were embarrassing, overly personal and even incongruous. Do I want to hear about her experiences at a political rally that had nothing really to do with her mothering? Do I need to know about how she loves sex, or that she snooped into parent's bedside tables when she was a teen-aged babysitter? There were times when I was reading this book when I glad the author was not a friend. Would you ever get a word in edgewise?

    This book isn't for every mother. Waldman is a Berkeley liberal, she embraces her super openminded lifestyle and her own neurosis. I happen to see eye to eye with her politically, and I love a little self deprecation when a mother is writing a book aimed at other mothers, and how hard we are on ourselves. But this book ultimately seems a little meandering, and I would have enjoyed it more as a long magazine piece as opposed to a 200-plus page book.

    Not sorry to have read it, not sure I'm a big fan....more info
  • Exonerating Waldman
    The cover quote of Bad Mother reads, "The 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."

    This book quotes another, "This widespread, choking cocktail of guilt and anxiety and resentment and regret... is poisoning motherhood." I was intrigued, but first I needed to get dinner on the table.

    Unfortunately the book did a big downward spiral into feminist claptrap. And with the feminist agenda comes the guilt of hiring another woman to clean your toilets so you can have more time to spend with your family. The feminist can't just hire a woman who has applied for the job, she must first flail herself for allowing another sister to do that lowly job, for having the money to hire it done, and she must mention that it is the men in her life's fault because they are such poor aims and she owns two shaggy dogs(!?) "Just hire someone", I thought, "because YOU don't want to clean toilets and you want someone else to do it for you! AND quit thinking up a good feminist argument for the decision."

    The feminist whining got old fast and in the end does not offer solutions to the guilt so often associated with motherhood. And the political agenda grew wearisome as well. We all better believe as Waldman does or we are just bigots, racists and idiots.

    This book is Waldman's attempt at exoneration for her particular choices, so it just fell flat. The book began so hopefully and then it spiraled down into the feminist mantra, equality and choice... The more I read the more I just felt sorry for Waldman; she's made a bunch of sad choices and is trying to justify and live with the consequences and be all in your face and conquering but I just felt sad for her.

    This is such a great title and idea for a book, but it is mostly about how you better be thinking just like Waldman and very little about mothering, good or bad. And that's too bad....more info
  • pretty good
    This is a book that Erma Bombeck could have written if she was born at a later period in history. Not word for word, but the intelligence, insight and humor is there, just as it was in M's Bombeck's books. And while some of you are thinking "who is Erma Bombeck" or "you can't mean her", yes I do. I consider Erma Bombeck an underrated writer because she wrote about domestic life. Too bad she is not around to give us her views on the new generation of children.

    That being said, let's go on to Ayelet Waldman's excellent book "Bad Mother". This is a brutally honest look at what it's like for Ayelet Waldman to be the mother of four children. Note that I say Ayelet Waldman and not my experience or possibly not yours.
    That being said, this book is a collection of 18 essays on different aspects of being a mother. Some are interesting in that "I thought I was the only one who felt that way" recognition. I could have done without the old school feminism where men always trample over the women in the world and the extra dose of feminist guilt (why feel guilty because you can afford to hire cleaning help? I can't even imagine being able to afford it, let alone feel guilty about it) but that's me and I don't live in M's Waldman's world.
    Two of the most heart breaking essays were about Rocketship and Abraham. Rocketship was a child she choose to abort after learning the baby could be born with a multitude of problems. I admire the way M's Waldman writes about her conflicting desires and the courage of her conviction to abort the baby. I also admire M's Waldman's courage in being able to say "yes I did this". A lot of women I know would deny the abortion just to make themselves look good.
    The other essay about Abraham, her youngest, was especially effective because she wrote about the problems she had with nursing Abraham. She had successfully nursed her first 3 children, but Abraham was born with a palate malformation that prevented him from receiving enough nutrition from nursing. That had to be a terrible blow for her not to be able to nurse her baby, coupled with the guilt she felt because she believes her actions caused the problem.
    This would be a good gift for Mother's Day or for that new mom (maybe before the woman has the baby so she has a chance to read it). If every mom is honest, she will admit that she feels like a bad mother at times. This book will let her know that other women feel the same way. ...more info
  • Honest, although not Engaging Read
    What would you say if you heard a mother saying that she loved her husband even more than she did her four young children. Many women would probably say that woman was a BAD MOTHER. In her book of essays about maternal guilt, Ayelet Waldman is immoderately honest about motherhood which is precisely what makes "Bad Mother" occasionally absorbing reading.

    She takes her point of view to a rhetorical extreme -- she could survive the loss of a child, she felt compelled to spell out, and life would go on, so long as she had her husband. "Bad Mother" is full of blistering honesty and brutal self-assessment. However, Waldman's book can be redundant: Yes, having children changes your life; no, it's not OK to trash other moms; yes, we should all just get along.

    While I didn't find Walden's book all too engaging, I did like the take-home message of "Bad Mother", which is let's stop beating each other and ourselves up about who is or isn't a bad mother and keep trying our best to love our children as much as we can....more info
  • Very Interesting ...
    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!

    4/23/09...more info
  • Self-Indulgent Motherhood Memoir
    I enjoyed this book. It's, at face value, fairly light reading but touches on alot of serious issues. The writer discusses raising her four young children, two daughters two sons, and also includes a great deal of baggage passed on from her own mother.

    This is not a "how-to" manual, nor is it scientific, sociologic, or anthropologic by any means- pure anecdote. That said, Ayelet Waldman has alot to say about being a mom in this day and age.

    I read many passages from this book out loud to my husband. Waldman advocates telling the truth to her children, since they are, after all, so good at sussing it out anyway. She wants her daughters to enjoy sex but not be stigmatized by promiscuity as both she and her mother were with the dread word "SLUT". But that said, she claims worse case scenario is one of her daughters coming home with a promise-keepers ring on saying she is 'saving herself for her husband'. Meanwhile she is acclimating her children to the idea of birth control by displaying condoms on the bathroom shelf.

    The writing is good but I guess Waldman and I will just have to agree to disagree on several aspects of parenting(I, too, have two girls). There certainly are some funny moments- dating her husband, yiddish humor, etc.. Be aware that Waldman is old school feminist, and her argument is that our society is set up so that mothers just can't win. I don't necessarily agree with her viewpoints, but she is an excellent writer and conveys her thoughts in an intelligent, humorous manner.

    What it boils down to is if you have a bit of a bra-burning-feminist side to you, you'll probably love this book. If you are more conservative or traditional- you may find some of it offensive. At around 200 pages, it is a quick read with a conversational tone- very memoir-ish as the author recalls her own upbringing. She casts an empathetic eye toward her fellow mommies while railing against society's view of moms....more info
  • A Stepmom's Review of a book on being a mom
    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....more info