Sunday, February 28, 2010

Being a Mother: The Meaning & the Messiness

By some serendipity, or synchronicity, I’ve recently read  several  books about mothering that have really stuck with me, and since my last post on the tyranny of perfect parenting expectations clearly struck a nerve with a lot of readers I thought I’d share a couple of these “momoir” treasures.
Melanie Gideon is a gloriously imperfect mother.  I laughed and cried at her The Slippery Year: A Meditation on Happily Ever After, one of my favorite books yet on being a mom.  Melanie’s a 44-year-old, reluctant peewee lacrosse mom, and she’s taking a look at her life. Her description of her son’s Halloween costume escapades had me in stitches (not hers—she doesn’t sew, or cook) as did her stories of her son’s first foray to camp (complete with her hilarious fake voice messages and faxes from camp staff to overanxious parents), what happens when her son hears her curse and her Ninemandments-- everything you need to know about 9-year-olds.  

Whether she’s chronicling her struggles home with a sick child, sharing a crazy hulking camper with her husband who bought it online or caring for a dying dog and her son’s grief, Gideon is gloriously imperfect.  This is a mom who has to use a biofeedback device to calm herself in carpool line (almost orgasmically), and who is preparing to tell her husband she is having a love affair with their mattress--how can you not love that?!  She is also a proponent of the “Good Enough Life” and good enough parenting.  Gideon writes with warmth and humor, and--hey! what a coincidence!--those are the two most important qualities of being a mom.  

In Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, Ayelet Waldman rails against the cult of the perfect mother that is given new life online now in certain mommy blogs.  When we try and live up to unrealistic ideal of maternal conduct, “this creature of fantasy,” she argues,”It’s as if the swimmer Tracy Caulkins, winner of three Olympic gold medals, setter of five world records, were to beat herself up for being slower than the Little Mermaid.”  Waldman shares stories of her own good days and bad and reminds us “how profound a problem a young mother’s loss of self can be. ”

On a related note, I’m happy to announce that my therapist from my new mom days in Dallas, Ann L. Dunnewold, Ph.D., has just launched a blog “Who Says?! --Who says women and mothers have to (fill in the blank)? Let’s question the expectations--of ourselves, of others.”  It’s on her website ( whose subtitle is the most excellent “Arming Women Against the Pressures of Modern Motherhood.” She’s also author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box: Cut Yourself Some Slack (and Still Raise Some Great Kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting, about what she calls “perfectly good mothers.”  What a concept.  What a relief.

As Waldman exhorts us, “Can’t we just try to give ourselves and each other a break?”

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