Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Talking about Bad Mother

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By Heather Cori

It's summertime and three of the four women in our Compass Group sit outside at our favorite wine bar with a copy of Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman tucked under our arms. Lu is still wearing her veterinarian assistant's smock and Beth has just finished 11-hour work day as a coach for low income small business entrepreneurs. As we talk, I begin to fill my yellow legal pad with notes.

"First of all, the whole thing about how the author caused such a stir about proclaiming to love her husband more than her children? It never crossed my mind to even think about that," Beth begins.

"It's like how Eskimos have all those words for snow, I just have different definitions of the love I feel for my husband and the love for my child," Lu says.

I chime in, "I think it was pretty ridiculous how other women got upset about that. Like the woman who leapt across the Oprah stage saying 'Let me at her.' It's Ayelet's story. So what? She wasn't saying 'this is how it should be for everyone else."

"I can't say I've ever experienced that kind of viciousness from other mothers," Beth shares, "but I don't doubt it."

Lu nods, "I would often hear disparaging remarks about only children as Emma was growing up."

"I agree there is a big difference between a mother sharing her story and a mother saying 'this is best for you,'" I contribute.
Beth shares how she is allergic to women who launch into "my kid is larger than life" stories.

Lu chuckles, "Yah, I liked Ayelet's comment about 'why isn't average good enough?'"

"So I've been curious to hear what you guys think about the 'who does what' chapter. If there was a more equitable division of household labor, do you think we'd all want to have sex with our husbands more often?" I ask.

Beth says, "I think a lot of what she had to say is true. I mean, what happens to that resentment? Over time it can lead to a parallel existence."

"There again," Lu adds, "It's like she's on mission to 'out' everything in her life and tell it like it is. That takes guts."

"I would definitely say that I wasn't raised or groomed to appreciate motherhood from my own mother," Beth says, "I was more prepared to stand up for myself and be a success in my work than I was to give pieces of myself over to my child. It's still hard."

Lu sums up, "More than anything this book reminds me that you can't look at a person or a couple and really know anything. Everyone has a showcase and everyone has the real story that goes on backstage."

"And why do we work so hard on that showcase?" Beth muses, "Is it because we are all so insufferably insecure?"

"What a piece of work we all are," we say as we clink wine glasses and Lu gets a text from her daughter that indicates she's been out too long and Beth is late to relieve the babysitter and I have three kids at home waiting to pounce with a day's worth of stories and energy.

After reading Bad Mother, I was inspired to create my own definition of a good mother: A good mother is one who reflects on her practice more than she judges others and constantly strives for balance. According to my definition, Ayelet Waldman, a mother who thinks, is a good one.


Caroline M. Grant served on the editorial board of Literary Mama for over ten years, including five as Editor-in-Chief. She is currently Associate Director of the Sustainable Arts Foundation, which provides grants to writers and artists with children.

She is the co-editor of two anthologies: The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat (Roost Books, 2013) and Mama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life (Rutgers University Press, 2008). Her column, Mama at the Movies, ran on Literary Mama for six years; she has published essays in a number of other journals and anthologies.

She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons; she writes about food and family on her blog and at Learning to Eat. Visit her website for more information, including clips from her radio and television events.

Caroline is former editor-in-chief for Literary Mama.


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