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Bad Mother    by Ayelet Waldman order for
Bad Mother
by Ayelet Waldman
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Having raved to friends about Ayelet Waldman's Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, I opened her parenting memoir, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, with enthusiasm - and read it in almost one sitting - on Mother's Day.

Ayelet Waldman is married to celebrated author Michael Chabon, and they have four children whose ages ranged from five to thirteen at the time of writing. She tells us that her book 'is about the perils and joys of trying to be a decent mother in a world intent on making you feel like a bad one.' She even describes (with self-directed humor) a time before she became a mother herself, when she was very judgmental about other women's mothering behavior. Her approach now? Waldman feels that 'mothers should tell the truth, even - no, especially - when the truth is difficult.'

Surfing the mommy blogs quickly convinced Waldman that 'The Bad Mother cops with the most aggressive arrest records are women.' She also shares that 'Without exception, the mothers I know feel like they have failed to measure up' (to me it's sadly almost a definition of a good mother that she feels that way). She talks of modern women's ambitions 'that went beyond the confines of our own houses' and of how, for many 'the realities of the workplace and of family life have either defeated or drastically changed those expectations.'

Waldman talks about her own life: her feminist mother; the father whose creativity and bipolar disorder she inherited; how she and Michael met, married and raised four children together while Ayelet worked, first as a lawyer and later as a writer alongside her husband - 'A man who was eager to start a family and planned to be the primary caretaker.' Sounds perfect, but as any reader knows, no life achieves perfection. Waldman talks of making the decision to be a full-time mother and discovering how 'ill suited and poorly trained' she was for it (but then who isn't?)

Waldman is hard on herself as she relates the good and the bad times - and her own views on parenting and on the pressure that feminism has placed on women - with honesty and self-deprecating humor, sharing her vulnerabilities with readers who will acknowledge their own in the process. Topics she addresses include the age-old 'tug of war between a mother and a daughter-in-law'; drawing the line on excessive homework; kids' needs for boredom (the 'state of mind where the imagination is forced to take over and create entertainment'); the importance of keeping your children's trust; and coping with tragedy.

Though Waldman deals objectively and openly with controversial issues in the book (abortion, sex education and gay families in particular), what touched me most (having late teen sons) came in the last chapter, The Life I Want for Them, where she talks about letting go of parental expectations 'that have nothing to do with them and everything to do with the parents' own egos.' And she sagely concludes that it's worth trying to be a 'mother who does her best, and for whom that is good enough, even if, in the end, her best turns out to be, simply, not bad.' Amen.

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