Full Disclosure: I am not a mother. Well, I’m a mother to a spoiled beagle, but that’s it.
There’s been a whole rash of books coming out lately written by parents. These are not the run of the mill parenting books about how wonderful it all is, and how feeding organic baby food to the baby is life’s most rewarding experience; these are written by women (and a few men) who are admitting that they’re not perfect parents, they’ll never be perfect parents, and that they are, in fact, Bad Parents.
Salon and Slate have both reviewed these kinds of books in the last week, the most famous of which is Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother. Ayelet Waldman just so happens to be Michael Chabon’s wife. These reviews, and the books themselves have made me a little squeamish and I’ll tell you why.
First, Ayelet Waldman lives in Berkely and her husband has won a Pulitzer Prize. She’s also a writer who sells her fair share of books. Money wouldn’t really be an issue here. You can see how I’m getting the feeling that the yoga-organic-$900-stroller Moms are tired of trying so hard to be perfect that now they want to write (whine) about it and how unfair it all is. Another full disclosure: I haven’t read any of these books, just some excerpts and some reviews. I have read Waldman’s Salon parenting columns that she mostly draws from in this book. She’s a smart woman, and a good writer.
The trope in these books seems to be that, oh well, I tried my best, I failed a lot, but my kids will grow up smart and indepedent and flawed and funny, so it’s OK. My kids are better for it, because I wasn’t perfect and boring and superficial. This is probably true, but I can’t help but wonder whether it takes something away from an extremely disadvantaged group: the children of REAL bad mothers.
What about the Real Bad Mothers? What about the ones who are addicts and neglect their children? What about abusive mothers? What about mothers who are economically disadvantaged and frustrated? These mothers will not likely write books about motherhood for a whole host of reasons, not least of which are health reasons, mental issues, and education level. Some of their children will also grow up to go to college and have good lives, like Waldman’s kids. Most of them will not. Most of their children will be like them, and have children too young, or fall into abusive relationships, etc, etc. I, nor Waldman, are laying judgement on these mothers,but, regardless, the existence of a book written from a place of privilege called Bad Mother just serves to unbalance the scales a little bit more.
I just can’t stomach a rich Mom in Berkely complaining about being a bad mother when she so obviously isn’t. Her children are very bright, economically privileged, and stimulated by intellectual parents. They will all undoubtedly go to good colleges and have interesting careers. No amount of disclosure in an introduction about how much she knows that she’s lucky and privileged but that she still feel this way blah blah blah makes me feel any less uneasy. Now I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be able to tell their stories, no matter what they are. Her stories of motherhood are interesting, and touching and well written. And I’m sure I’ll be obsessed with my children and my parenting when I have kids. I can’t judge her, because I’ll probably be worse. But I don’t need to read about Waldman’s hang ups; I’ll have enough of my own to worry about soon enough.