There are parts of Ayelet Waldman's collection of essays that will make any mom squirm.
Occasionally, she might feel the need to cry. At more than one point, reading about another mother's admitted mistakes and miscues will have the maternal types either nodding — secretly — in agreement or thinking the feminist novelist-essayist-wife-mother orbits in a different universe.
Whichever state a mother finds herself in while reading Waldman's latest work of non-fiction, boredom will not be one of them.
Bad Mother serves a fascinating purpose in that it addresses many issues that American mothers may think about, but rarely discuss openly … because they're afraid of being labeled a "bad mother" by themselves or by someone else. Waldman uses her personal experience as the lens to examine myriad issues that relate to mothers and, by extension, their daughters: premarital sex, abortion, stay-at-home mothering and parenting teens, among them.
Waldman, who was once booed on Oprah after she'd written in an essay that she must be a "bad mother" because she loves her husband more than her children, gives a voice to every inch of the mothering spectrum. Some mothers will relate to much of her experience. Every mother — if she's honest — will see herself reflected in parts of it.
And this is a book for modern mothers — not just women and not just mothers. Grandmothers likely won't understand the world in which Waldman and her 30-something and 40-something contemporaries live. Women may enjoy Waldman's feminist voice and find the stories interesting, but her decisions, conversations and conflicts will not resonate.
The book's 18 chapters are divided into short essays about life with Waldman, her husband, novelist Michael Chabon, and their four children living in California. Waldman writes frequently about her mother's influence on her life. She shares the dynamics of her relationship with Chabon and, in a recurring element, gives her perspective on the judgment other women levy on mothers and the job they're doing raising their children.
That judgment, which often results in a guilty, "bad mother" verdict, is what led Waldman to write Bad Mother.
"Because so many women I know are in real pain," Waldman says. "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."
It's a message worth remembering, especially today.