Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman

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

2009. 208 pages. Hardcover. Doubleday.

From: The Public Library

For the challenge: Take a Chance: All in the Family challenge

In a nutshell:

I was aware of Ayelet Waldman for her now famous 2005 New York Times article where she stated that she loved her husband more than her children: “Truly, Madly, Guiltily”.  After starting Bad Mother, I realized I’d never read that article myself, so I went back to it.  I recommend reading the article before reading Bad Mother as Waldman refers to it several times in the book, and you’ll want to know what she’s talking about.

In the article, Waldman muses that she might be considered a “bad mother” because her husband is still the center of her world, not replaced by her children.  In Bad Mother, Waldman expands upon the concept of the “bad mother.”  She tells stories about her own experiences with motherhood, her efforts to be at least a “good enough” mother.


I am nowhere near having kids right now, but as I observe relatives and friends starting families, it makes me think about what I would be like as a mother.  I am aware of the impossible standards that have been set for mothers by society.  Waldman calls this type of society the Bad Mother police: strangers ready to reprimand you in public for any slip in the perfect mother composure, online commenters in mommy forums, mothers of your children’s playmates and classmates.  Motherhood is scary enough and then one has to worry about being constantly judged on your parenthood choices. Waldman herself admits to times when she has been unjustly judgmental of other mothers.

The primary strength of Bad Mother is in Waldman’s often startling and articulate honesty about her experiences and feelings.  She opens the door to a discussion of motherhood that is not about finger-pointing but about sharing one’s struggles.  From her battles with being bi-polar and a mother to her feelings about her mother-in-law, she has really laid herself open.  The chapter “Rocketship” is particularly personal as she describes her and her husband’s decision to have an abortion when an amniocentesis reveals a genetic defect in their third child.  It’s a chapter that deserves to be mulled over, no matter where you stand on the issue of abortion.

One of the best parts of Bad Mother for me was her discussion of household labor.  I had heard statistics on this before and Waldman also presents them, but basically, even when the wife and husband both have full-time paying jobs, the wife usually ends up spending much more time doing housework than the husband.  It is hard to condense here, but Waldman writes fantastically about how equal sharing of housework is beneficial to both marriage partners.  My favorite quote: “There is nothing sexier to a woman with children than a man holding a Swiffer.”

I also liked Waldman’s chapter, “So Ready to Be the Mother of a Loser” where she realizes that she has been ready to have her children go through the same ostracism that she did, but it turns out they are well-adjusted and liked at school.  It throws her for a loop.  I was so happy to hear her talk about this because I’ve wondered what one does when your child has a completely different childhood experience from your own.

I am not like Ayelet Waldman in many ways – in stage of life, in some opinions and perspectives – but I find her account of motherhood in Bad Mother to be both encouraging and thought-provoking.  It’s a book I expect I’ll be referencing in future conversations.

Other reviews:

Booksie’s Blog

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From My Front Porch Looking In


Filed under Book Review, Non-Fiction

8 responses to “Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman

  1. Pingback: Memorable Memoir Challenge and Take a Chance Challenge « A Good Stopping Point

  2. This sounds like a great resource. I just can’t figure out why society is so hard on women.

  3. I read some of this book and really enjoyed the perspective, although I’m not a mother either. I liked her column.

  4. Great review! I love that you are reading the same books for this part of the challenge that I did. I can’t wait to see what you think of Chabon’s book. I adored it.

    I do think this book could be interesting even if you aren’t a mother … there is a lot in there about being a feminist, woman, wife and so on. And thanks for the link to that article. I keep meaning to read it but never got around to it.

  5. Jennifer Benson

    Great review Christy – will have to read it after I finish Crazy Love and The Post Birthday World:) I so enjoy that I can read more now a days and that you are my personal librarian for what I could be reading!

  6. bermudaonion: Probably some good books out there exploring the ‘why’.

    daphne: Yeah, I think it’s a book for women at multiple stages of life. I think men should read it too (and I’d like to hear their opinions on it!)

    Jenners: I haven’t decided for sure which Chabon book I’m reading, though definitely Manhood for Amateurs seems like the natural pairing.

    Jen: I have Crazy Love but haven’t read it yet. I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts on Post-Birthday World. I’m definitely going to call you soon by the way!

  7. I have enjoyed Waldman’s books and articles, and this book sounds really great.

    When you were talking about “shared housework,” that took me back…way back in the day (the seventies) when I wrote about that very concept in my master’s thesis.

    Back then, we struggled to accomplish this equality, but mostly fell short.

  8. Pingback: Bad Motherhood for Amateurs, Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon « Jenny's Books

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