Ayelet Waldman has been known for a few things. Some knew her as a Harvard-trained public defender. More knew her as "Michael Chabon’s wife," even though she’s an established writer herself; she is the author of "Daughter’s Keeper, "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits" and the Mommy-Track murder-mystery series, as well as articles for various publications and anthologies. But when she wrote an essay in the New York Times a few years ago, one in which she admitted that she loved her husband more than her four children — and still enjoyed having sex with him — suddenly, everyone knew her. She was a "bad mother." So Waldman turned that experience and those of other so-called "bad mothers" — Britney Spears among them — into her first non-fiction book, the just-released Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace , a wrenchingly honest (she reveals that she’s bipolar, that some of her children have learning issues, and that she had a late-term abortion), self-deprecating, humorous and insightful look at motherhood today.
Ayelet Waldman, 44, Michael Chabon and their children — Sophie, Zeke, Rosie and Abe — live in Berkeley, Calif. And, yes, she still is madly in love with her husband — and her kids, too.
photo by Stephanie Rausser
I have a friend who, after trying for years, is finally pregnant. I can't decide if I should give her What to Expect When You're Expecting or Bad Mother . Should first-time moms-to-be read it?
Absolutely! The real message of the book is, don't beat up on yourself, to trust yourself and to enjoy the moment. It should be required reading.
A lot of moms have gotten help and support from mommy bloggers. But, as you mention, there are a lot of judgments and insults being hurled around. Do you think mommy bloggers are making things worse for women, or should we just roll our eyes and close our laptops?
It's making things better and worse. For purely practical information, it's terrific to have. I never would have successfully pumped [milk for breastfeeding] for six months. On the other hand, I probably wouldn't have pumped for six months if there weren't this generalized hysteria about breastfeeding. You have to pick and choose and try to avoid the places that get comments filled with toxicity.
You're brutally honest about your kids in "Bad Mother." Many bloggers are honest about their feelings toward their kids and chronicling their kids' lives, too. I never knew how my mother felt about being Mom, nor, as a self-absorbed teen, did I care. Is all this mom self-disclosure a good thing for our kids, whose lives are being blogged about, Twittered and Facebooked?
I wouldn’t write about my kids unless I asked for their permission. But there are certain things I've written about, pieces about Zeke's ADHD, that I wish I hadn't written about. When I wrote it, he was fine with it; he feels differently now. It will shape how I write in the future. But I’ve always self-censored; I’d never say anything bad about my husband or my kids.
Would your mother have considered herself a Bad Mother if she were raising you now?
She had no time. She worked full time and took care of her kids. She was a perfectly good mother. This self-flagellation is a product of my generation. She was certainly unhappy, but she didn't blame herself. She blamed society, which is a healthy approach.
What does she think of the whole Bad Mother phenomenon?
She's like, "Argh! Move on!"
Having a kid with learning challenges is really hard on families, and not just the parents. The other children often are jealous or resentful of the extra attention. How do Zeke's ADHD and Abe's health issues impact Sophie and Rose? How does it impact your relationship with your husband?
There's a saying that you're only as happy as your least-happy child. That's something real and true. We're [she and Michael] on the same team, but it's hard. I have wondered what life would be like without this. It would be so easy. But it is hard on the other kids. You're spread thin, when you’re already spread thin with four kids.
Let's talk about your husband. A lot of women are going to read your book and think it's less about you being a Bad Mother, and more about Michael being a great father and husband. Does our mom-anxiety come from the fact that we haven't married the Good Dad, or that we want too much from our husbands?
Anything I accomplish is because he is such a good husband. He was brought up by a mother who divorced when he was 11 years old. I think that the truth is it's not unreasonable to expect an equal partner. The reason for all the resentment and anxiety is that women's expectations and ambitions changed, but the world didn't. But I don't have any simmering resentment toward him. I appreciate him every day.
Is a dad with a Swiffer really the answer for a sexless marriage, or should moms take some responsibility for getting their sexual mojo going?
It takes a certain amount of focus and concentration to say to yourself, "OK, we're going to do it." You have to decide that you're going to do it.
Could you manage without help?
We have cleaning help and babysitters. We made a decision on where we'd put our resources. We wanted to avoid arguing over who cleans the toilet.
There have been lots of books by people talking about growing up with a bipolar parent, most recently Ruth Reichl's. What do your children know about your condition and how will they one day look back on it?
It's very important to be open about it. It's not like it's a secret when you're cycling. It's important to be open and honest about it, that they understand that when I lose it, it has nothing to do with them. And there’s a strong genetic component. There's nothing they need to be ashamed of.
You have four kids who may or may not become parents one day. What advice on parenting would you give them, and how do you think they'll assess your parenting and your marriage?
My advice is to maintain a sense of self and identity to protect, to figure out who you are and protect that person, to make sure you can find a partner who'll help you do that and to take pleasure in that. Also, that they don't have to have children. They should have children only if they generally enjoy being in the company of children, and not just their own children. I'm sure they're lovingly crafting their memoirs as we speak. As for my parenting? I have no idea. I'm sure they'll think I was great in some ways and awful in others.
What has been the greatest joy of being a parent?
One of the most astonishing and exciting things to see is how they're a combination of us and yet so completely different. They are who they are from the moment they come out. My kids crack me up. They're incredibly funny, quirky and weird. They're delightful to be around.
Bad Mother  author Ayelet Waldman was interviewed by Vicki Larson, Around the Watercooler  contributor. She is a journalist and single mom. She also blogs at The OMG Chronicles .
Here on Mommy Tracked Vicki wrote "A Pretty Good Mom " and Jo Keroes wrote "The Bad Mother Police and What to Do About Them " in response to Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother . See also Leslie Morgan Steiner's "Moms on Trial " about the bad-mother trend.
Looking for more Working Mom interviews with writers like Bad Mother  author Ayelet Waldman? Don't miss our interviews with Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile , authors of I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids  and Judith Warner , author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety .