Is Ayelet Waldman a Bad Mother? Am I a Bad Mom?

I really need to swap out the party hat for the work hat and get something done today, but first, I have to tell you about what just happened.

A colleague sent me the link to a piece in the Washington Post about a new memoir called “Bad Mother,” by a woman named Ayelet Waldman. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/04/AR2009050403451.html)

I figured my friend sent it because for a while, a few years ago, I wrote a column called “Bad Mom” for the now sadly hibernating site www.austinmama.com.

(Here’s a link to my first “Bad Mom” column: http://austinmama.com/badmomone.htm)

That wasn’t the only reason.

Worlds aren’t exactly colliding, but definitely nudging each other.

Not that I would dare to compare myself to Waldman, a well-known writer and Harvard-educated lawyer married to a famous novelist, Michael Chabon.

But we both write about being bad moms.

Turns out, we have something else in common, too. At the end of the Washington Post piece, it’s revealed (as it is in the book) that Waldman — who has four other children — made the decision to abort a baby diagnosed with Down syndrome.  

Ha! I thought to myself. Figures. Not only is Ayelet Waldman a better writer with better connections, a better education and a better name, she even wins on that one. She really is a bad mother.

I don’t like admitting that I thought that, but I did. For a moment.

Then I forced myself to consider how tough that admission must have been for Waldman (let alone the choice to abort)  and how my own choice to keep Sophie was really made more out of ignorance and avoidance — and my husband’s wisdom — than anything else.

I think Waldman’s brave for writing her book. 

Is Ayelet Waldman really a Bad Mother? Am I such a Bad Mom? 

If we really were, would we admit it?

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Is Ayelet Waldman a Bad Mother? Am I a Bad Mom?

  1. I read that piece today too. The comments following it are pretty horrendous. It is interesting how bad mom guilt ranges from working too many hours to abortion choices. Where is all of the bad dad drama??

  2. man, I just don’t know how to react to that at all… except in my reading of the Post piece, it wasn’t a Ds diagnosis, but a different, more rare, trisomy. One of the (small) things I take comfort in with our son is at least it’s common, at least some things are known about Ds.

    But even as a nonreligious pro-choice fella, it’s difficult for me to read about anyone aborting simply because of a diagnosis. As my wife said recently when this came up for an acquaintance after a postive protein whatever test, in her mind, there are only two questions to ask yourself: 1, do you want your baby, and 2, if so, do you want to know about the possibility of something extra/different in order to help prepare yourself. everything else is, to quote my wife, mental masturbation about the coulda/shoulda/woulda and the illusions of any type of control over your life that we all cling to.

    sorry for the long comment, just struck a nerve, i guess.

  3. oh, p.s., just from reading your blog, i’d say you’re a pretty great mom.

  4. Sue

    You know the truth here.

  5. Jackie

    You don’t know me…and this is long. However, I wrote it for my mom, and in response to your “am I a bad mom” post, I wanted you to read it.

    Sunday is Mother’s Day. As several people have commented so far “Aww…your FIRST mother’s day!” As if I haven’t been slightly required to celebrate with my own mother for my whole life.

    In any case, yes, this is my FIRST mother’s day as a mother. So I thought I would put some pen to paper about some lessons learned in my short foray into Mortherhood.

    I HAVE grown to appreciate my mother more in the past three months. Not just for the pain that birth incurs, the sleepless nights, but for other things as well. Yes, there’s the fact that I’m learning that although Daddy’s a lot of fun (and truly, Lucy’s blessed with the best daddy I’ve ever seen), it’s Mommy that will take her to the doctor, make sure her paperwork is complete, comfort her when she’s really upset, buy her the food and toys she likes, hold the garbage can when she throws up, and curl up and sing to her with her when she can’t sleep.

    But there’s an even more profound lesson I’ve learned lately. To fully articulate this, I need to mention a stranger (www.girlinapartyhat.wordpress.com). While pregnant, I got a positive triple screen results with very high odds of having a child with down syndrome. So, I started researching obsessively on the internet about down syndrome and how to raise special needs children. I also started cyber-stalking and reading blogs of a couple of moms of children with down syndrome. Enough with the prognosis, tests, surgerys, etc., I just wanted to know what it was like day-to-day with a child with special needs.

    What I learned from those two mothers, is that moms of children with special needs are just like any other mothers. Their days are much the same. However, one huge difference is that they must fight (and worry) for their kids more ferociously than mothers of “normal” children. This woman in Arizona has been requesting for years for extra aides on the playground just to ensure that her kid doesn’t run out in traffic. The other moms don’t fight for that, because they don’t have to. She does have to, and she continues to defend what her child needs every time she can. Although Lucy does not have ds, I still read those blogs, because they essentially detail the day to day life and mama-bear qualities that I admire.

    Why do I bring this up?

    Because my mom fought for me. And I never realized it until I had a child of my own, whom I will fight for as much as I have to. Many of you know that both my sister and I are severely hearing impaired. Some of you don’t. I hide it pretty well and I lead a normal, everyday life. How? Because my mom fought for me. In school, she fought for me to have special tutoring when I needed it, she fought for me to be seated where I could hear. She fought for me to be mainstreamed when the school system wanted to make me “special.” She fought for me to have the equipment I needed to be able to excel. I didn’t really know the extent to which she had to go until a couple of years ago when I saw the stack of letters that she wrote to the Jefferson County Public School system. Dozens and dozens of letters, just fighting for her child to be able to be normal. I never realized it at the time, but that’s probably why she would get so angry with me when I wouldn’t do my best in the classroom—because it was due to her that I was in that classroom to begin with. Sorry for being a lazy bum, Mom. At least I went to college for free…

    And now? I’m married, with a child of my own, an awesome job, and a normal, every day life. My sister, whose hearing loss is more profound than mine, has a lovely family, and more degrees, accreditations, and initials after her name than there are letters in the alphabet. Mom fought for her even more.

    So although I’ve never really said it for these particular reasons, Thanks, Mom.
    Happy Mother’s Day.

  6. elewinnek

    I shouldn’t even try to follow Jackie’s amazing comment, but here’s what I’m thinking: let’s reclaim the term “Bad Mom,” the same way gay people have reclaimed the term queer. Let’s relish in it. There may be no other option. Bad mom can start to mean badass mom, or it can just mean that we’re sane enough to recognize that perfection is impossible.

  7. It’s odd. I read this blog because of a link from Girl-in-a-Party-Hat (btw, great title & header image) to my very different blog about Ayelet Waldman:

    http://plysandplus.wordpress.com/2009/05/11/creating-your-literary-brand/

    Why so odd? My partner is an OB/GYN and daily I hear about difficult choices women have to make about their wanted and unwanted pregnancies. The social pressures for expectant and new mothers are unprecedented in that many are supposed to bring home 1/2 the income, raise perfect children who get into the best schools, cart these children around to the best extra-curricular activities … (there should be way more than three dots in that ellipsis). And now, these women also need to have the perfect pregnancies. In my partner’s line of field, these pressures often end with tragic outcomes. I admire Ayelet and you, Amy, for speaking honestly about such pressures and the choices that you’ve made in their wake.

  8. When I initially read a few blurbs about Waldman, including her “I love my husband more than my kids” statement I thought she was somewhat of a non-likable person. But I’ve seen a bit of her on television and listened to her on Fresh Air and I now think the opposite. On Fresh Air she described in detail the anguish over terminating her pregnancy that was a trisomy (but not Down Syndrome) diagnosis. The way she talks about her children demonstrates that she is in fact, not a bad mother. So she loves her husband more than her kids, I love my kid more than my husband so I’m by default a bad wife, if we do in fact have to be one or the other.

    I think if you are introspective enough to think and worry about whether you are a good mother, you are. My mother has taught for over 40 years and I’ve heard plenty of stories about kids who have bad mothers. Bad mothering isn’t screwing with the clocks so you can manipulate bed time, bad mothering is smoking crack when you are in labor (one of my mom’s former students) and letting your boyfriend sexually assault your children (another student).

    Worrying about whether you are doing things right and having a touch of humility makes us better mothers.

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