Socrates may have been right when he said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but the overexamined life is no picnic either. In Bad Mother, Ayelet Waldman, lawyer, novelist, essayist, wife and mother of four, attempts to wrestle to the ground her various insecurities, worries and doubts about her success (and failures) as a mother, peering into all the cracks and crevices that make up modern motherhood.
Waldman made national news when, in a New York Times essay, she professed to love her husband more than her children. A visit on Oprah and hundreds, if not thousands, of nasty e-mails later, Waldman was slimed with that most horrifying of epitaphs: Bad Mother. Now, in 18 brutally honest essays, Waldman shares her thoughts and misadventures as a daughter, wife and mother.
If happiness is a skill, then Waldman is, at best, a novice. Her tendency to (over) analyze herself and others brings her as much angst as it does self-awareness. Her husband's home-repair handiness brings on feminist guilt. (Shouldn't she be the one fixing the leaky faucet?) Her mother-in-law's serenity inspires only jealousy. (She needs to prove who comes first in her husband's heart.) And her perception of society's impossible expectations of mothers makes her failure to achieve the title of "good mother" a certainty.
But she has spent enough time in the parental trenches to have insight into those moments that try your very soul, those moments when you have to face your deepest, darkest fears about yourself and your children. They're rarely discussed in glossy parenting magazines, but Waldman bravely wades into the sticky issues of managing expectations, heartbreaking decisions and being the parent your children need vs. the parent you always wanted, all of which are as much a part of parenthood as sticky kisses and glitter-encrusted Popsicle stick art projects. And only good mothers know that.
Tammar Stein is an award-winning novelist living in Florida.