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Bad Mother Reader’s Guide

By Ayelet Waldman

Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman

READERS GUIDE

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to stimulate your group’s discussion of Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother.

Introduction

In our mothers’ day there were good mothers, indifferent mothers, and occasionally, great mothers. Today we have only Bad Mothers: If you work, you’re neglectful; if you stay home, you’re smothering. If you discipline, you’re buying them a spot on the shrink’s couch; if you let them run wild, they will be into drugs by seventh grade. Is it any wonder so many women refer to themselves at one time or another as a “bad mother”?
 
Writing with remarkable candor, and dispensing much hilarious and helpful advice along the way—Is breast best? What should you do when your daughter dresses up as a “ho” for Halloween?—Ayelet Waldman says it’s time for women to get over it and get on with it in this wry, unflinchingly honest, and always insightful memoir on modern motherhood.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. The author begins by quoting some of the unattainable definitions of a “good mother” that doom women to fail in the pursuit. What are some definitions of “good mother” that you’ve come across in your experience? How do you think society defines a good mother? Do you agree with the author that these expectations are generally too high?

2. What do you consider a responsible, attainable ideal of a modern mother?

3. Are you familiar with any of the blogs the author mentions—Salon, Urban Baby, or other similar sites? What is your experience with them?

4. What do you think of the author’s declaration that she loves her husband more than her children? Is there a hierarchy in your household between spouse, children, home, self? Do you think there is a right way to organize affections within a family?

5. Discuss the idea of being honest with one’s children. How far do (or would) you take this in your home? Where would you make exceptions?

6. The author concludes by saying that her parenting goal, rather than to be “good,” is to be “mindful.” Can you summarize your parenting goals in a single word (or phrase)? Do you think it is important to have a guiding principle like this?

7. The author describes her evolving relationship with her mother-in-law as having been initially tainted by jealousy (her own), and then improving as the children were born. Have you gone through anything like this? Do you think her mother-in-law was as guileless as Waldman claims in this evolution?

8. In reference to Zeke’s ADHD diagnosis, the author discusses her feelings that the facts of family are sometimes disappointing when compared to our unrealistic expectations. What are your expectations for your children? Which ones derive from your children themselves, and which from your and your spouse’s traits and experiences? Are you fair to your children with regard to your expectations? Do you think the concept of “fairness” applies here?

9. Discuss the author’s difficult experience with Rocketship. Why does she choose to include such a detailed description of the events in this book? Do you consider the decision to terminate the pregnancy to be a parenting decision? Were any of the events and decisions she shares surprising or helpful to you?

10. The division of labor in the household is an important theme in the book—both in terms of the author’s actual experience and the statistical information she cites. How does this play out in your family? Do you and your partner discuss these issues, or just let them determine themselves? What are your jobs in the home?

11. The author describes at length her feminist upbringing, and how her home in liberal Berkeley, California, helped shape her outlook on motherhood. Similarly, how did your upbringing, either liberal or more conservative, contribute toward who you are as a parent?

12. What do you make of the author’s opinions on optimism vs. pessimism? What are the relative benefits of each? Does one’s optimism or pessimism play into the idealized role of a “good mother”?

13. Are there any passages in the book you would like to share (or have already shared) with your partner or friends?

14. What lessons do you take from the book? Were any passages particularly meaningful to you? What do you think is most useful about the book, and about Waldman’s philosophy?

15. Why do you think the author chose to write this book? Do you think it was successful in its aims?


(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

About this Author

Ayelet Waldman is the author of Daughter’s Keeper and Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.  Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, New York, Elle, Vogue, and other publications.  She and her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon, live in Berkeley, California, with their four children.
 
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