The Good Mother Myth edited by Avital Norman Nathman: Review + Giveaway!

thegoodmothermyth

The Good Mother Myth edited by Avital Norman Nathman | Published in 2014 by Seal Press| Source: Review copy from the publisher

My rating: 3/5 stars
Goodreads

Synopsis:

In an era of mommy blogs, Pinterest, and Facebook, The Good Mother Myth dismantles the social media-fed notion of what it means to be a good mother. This collection of essays takes a realistic look at motherhood and provides a platform for real voices and raw stories, each adding to the narrative of motherhood we don’t tend to see in the headlines or on the news.

From tales of mind-bending, panic-inducing overwhelm to a reflection on using weed instead of wine to deal with the terrible twos, the honesty of the essays creates a community of mothers who refuse to feel like they’re in competition with others, or with the notion of the ideal mom — they’re just trying to find a way to make it work.

It’s been years since I read a collection of feminist essays – probably since Dropped Threads in the early 00s. I love reading and I love feminism, but these days I tend to get my fill of non-fiction essays on blogs. Many of the contributors to The Good Mother Myth are bloggers and the book didn’t quite exceed the sum of its blog posts, but it was a good attempt. Rather than my usual list of favourite stories/pieces, here are the things I look for in a nonfiction anthology, and how this book stacked up:

Credibility
Anyone can write a blog (hi, case in point!) but a book has some credibility attached to it. Then there are the little extras to add an ever greater sense of it – blurbs and forewords and introductions.

The Good Mother Myth is blurbed by Mayim Bialik, who calls this a “perfect collection for all of us interested in being the best parents we can be.” Good start! The foreword is written by Christy Turlington Burns, who has the credibility (she founded a maternal health non-profit) but it’s poorly written. This sentence is so awkward: “While in the Western World, we have some of the greatest rights and privileges as women and mothers than anywhere else in the world, we yet have an insidious burden working against our empowerment and freedom.” The introduction is by editor Avital Norman Nathman and is well written, but I bristled at this (emphasis mine):

The so-called Mommy Wars, mother’s guilt, peer judgement, mental illness, and postpartum depression have all been caused or exacerbated by the unrealistic expectations promoted by The Good Mother Myth.

I’m not saying this is never true, but it wasn’t my experience; and I’m no scientist, but aren’t mental illness (including postpartum depression, not sure why they are presented as separate concepts here) diseases, caused by things like hormones and genetic disposition?

The Big Idea
From the synopsis: “…the honesty of the essays creates a community of mothers who refuse to feel like they’re in competition with others, or with the notion of the ideal mom.” So the central theme is sort of a negation of this ideal mom, but not much time is spent expanding on what this ideal mom is. We just know we’re rejecting her.

I keep thinking about Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, which I assume provided inspiration for this book’s title; Wolf spent a lot of time explaining the history and nature of the beauty myth, what it means, what kind of damage it does and who benefits from it. I would have loved to see more of this kind of analysis, and specifically more about consumer culture and how that ties in – you know plenty of people are making a killing off of parents’ feelings of inadequacy.

I do like that the tone of the essays is pretty consistent and appropriately serious given the topics, and doesn’t tend towards the silly or cheeky “this is why mommy drinks” territory, though.

Order
I like how the sections take start us with “sort of bad, but mostly just realistic” mothers, then moves on to mothers who are actually struggling with something (usually themselves,) to mothers who don’t usually get a lot of positive press, like teen moms, and finally introduces us to mothers doing bad things, like smoking pot and admitting they never wanted children. A sense of order is something you just can’t get from jumping around between blog posts or tweets.

Variety of Authors
Near full marks for this one. We’ve got most every kind of mother you could imagine. A little NYC-centric, yes, but Nathman has done an admirable job finding writers of different races, genders, sexual orientations, classes, occupations, and family situations. Check out the contributor bios here.

Variety of Topics
The variety of authors resulted in a pretty good variety of topics, however, I found most of the essays to be along the lines of “I’m not a good mom, but that’s ok!” and would have been really interested in some “I actually fit into this concept of “the good mother” and that’s okay too!” or even “I am actually a pretty bad mom and here’s what that means and how my kids were affected.”

There are plenty of parenting bloggers who present a very particular, curated, branded version of motherhood to the world. They’re often referenced in this book, without naming names. I would love to see one of them respond. One such blog that kept coming to mind is The Art of Making a Baby, which chronicles the blogger’s picture-perfect house, outfits, exercise routines, etc. through pre-conception to pregnancy, birth and beyond. The blogger was much maligned all over the internet for being self absorbed, fake, crazy, and possibly a Russian mail-order bride, among other things. For some reason, I couldn’t look away, and was pleasantly surprised when the baby did not turn out to be “perfect” and she was brutally honest about what it’s like to have a non-sleeping baby. Yeah, her baby was born around the same time as my non-sleeper so there were personal reasons for my obsession!

On the “bad” side, given the success of Drunk Mom I was surprised not to see more moms struggling with addiction (no, the pot smoking mom doesn’t count.) I guess I was expecting a few essays that really went over that line from “not perfect mom” to “bad mom.” I guess that’s still too taboo.

The Verdict
I enjoyed The Good Mother Myth but it didn’t change the way I think about motherhood, and that’s what I look for in non-fiction. Change my perspective. Don’t just confirm what I already believe. This is a great book for someone who doesn’t follow a lot of feminist writers, or for a new or expecting mother who doesn’t know what she’s getting into; and it’s still a pretty good book for those of us who’ve been there and done that. Sometimes it helps to remember that all sorts of moms are being there and doing that too.

Up Next: The M Word
I am really looking forward to April, when editor Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This publishes The M Word, a book with a similar concept and a Canadian perspective.

Bonus #1: Parenting Blogs Worth Following
Parenting blogs aren’t really my thing (and don’t even say “mommy blog” to me, ugh) but here are some that I do enjoy:

  • The Laotian Commotion: Attachment parenting without the AP smugness. And she has the best hair.
  • The Stay at Home Feminist: Unapologetic feminist, writer, and #365feministselfie enthusiast (and neighbour!)
  • Raising my Boychick: Taught me the word kyriarchy.
  • PHD in Parenting: I love it when she trolls big brands on Twitter. Bring it, P&G Moms.
  • The Mamafesto: Editor of this book.
  • The Art of Making a Baby: mentioned above. This blog is basically everything I hate about mommy blogs and yet I love it. It’s kind of like how I love Gwenyth Paltrow even though I know I shouldn’t.
  • The Feminist Breeder: Kind of an anti-recommendation. I didn’t enjoy her essay in this book, and am not a fan of the constant drama surrounding her online presence (yep, I’m a member of the banned-by-TFB club,) BUT, some of her free blog posts are very good.

Bonus #2: Giveaway!
I ended up with two review copies, so I’m passing one on to you! Open to all, just leave me a comment to enter. If you like, tell me about your favourite parenting blog, or about your favourite fictional mom. I’ll randomly pick a comment on Feb. 13th.

Thank you to Seal Press for the review copies!

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19 comments

  1. tanya (52 books or bust)

    it is always nice to know that you are not alone in struggling with motherhood! I recently picked up Shattered by Rebecca Asher, which looks at motherhood and the career woman. I’ve only flipped through the book, but it is interesting to see how we are expected to be successful at out chosen career and be good moms. I must admit, i often feel looked down upon because I’m a SAHM.

  2. Naomi

    These days a parenting/Mom book has to be pretty darn good and offer me something new for me to want to read it. I’ve seen so much at this point, and the repetition and buzz topics get on my nerves. I’m also starting to move into the teen territory which is a whole different story.

    When I think about a good fictional mom, the only one that pops into my head right now is the Mother in Little Women. It’s been a while since I read it (I would love to read it again!), but I think I remember her having a pretty laid back parenting style.

  3. meghan

    Thanks for the review! I never know whether to pick up books like these because I never feel really represented within – so many parenting, and especially mothering essays, seem to have the arc of “It’s hard, here’s some funny/disgusting/mortifying thing that happened, but it’s all worth it in the end.” As someone for whom parenting still feels, even after five years, really unnatural, I guess I’m still waiting for the “it’s all worth it in the end” moment.

    I’m having a big motherhood gap right now too – I can’t think of any fictional mothers that are my favourite. Maybe if Leslie Knope had a kid, but that just might be because I am in love with Leslie Knope.

    • lauratfrey

      Yeah I call that kind of essay “parenting slapstick.” I don’t enjoy it either. There wasn’t much of that in this book, which I appreciated.

      I don’t have those sunshine and lollipops “it’s all worht it” moments either. Nor did I fall in love with my children the second they were born. I don’t relate to that stuff at all!

      Confession: I had to Google Leslie Knope. I love the “bad” moms on TV, like Betty Draper and Skylar White. You know, the ice queens everyone hates. They’re just misunderstood! 🙂

  4. Carolyn O

    Wait, how did you get banned by TFB? I read some mom blogs while I was pregnant, but not since — I think I’d read parenting books to solve a specific problem, but I rely on my own mom for a lot of parenting advice. Her best line: “put on your own oxygen mask first.”

    That’s probably why my son knows every character on The Office. There comes a time when one cannot stand to look at Elmo for another second.

    • lauratfrey

      Well, more like blocked on Twitter. All I did was say something not 100% complimentary about her decision to but a paywall on her blog… like.. it was really nothing inflammatory! I was so excited when she started following me too, I mean, I loved Veruca Salt! 🙂

      Parenting forums were my vice. Could never stand parenting books or most blogs. I’m mostly off the forums too, now. My mom gives me the best advice too.

      • Carolyn O

        Jeez, people are so sensitive! And paywalls on sites are so annoying.

        Also, thought of my favorite fictional mother: Mrs. Murray in A Wrinkle in Time (and the sequels). Smart, compassionate, funny, scientist.

      • lauratfrey

        You just reminded me to add A Wrinkle in Time to my reread list. I DNF’d it as a kid and always felt so inadequate… I was supposed to be smart but didn’t understand that book!

  5. CourtJ

    Good review of the basics of the essay collection. I would read it as I have been 100% fiction for the last few months. I have been holding off on “Odd Girl Out” for when my daughter is older so I can be prepared for girl on girl conflict. I rarely read parenting blogs unless someone has posted something on Facebook that looks particularly interesting. I am always looking for new perspective on parenting in hopes that it will help me chill out and lower the bar and be a bit easier on myself. I stay off Pinterest because I am very susceptible to that kind of pressure.

    • CourtJ

      Haha, just read my own comment and thought, “well that’s the kind of writing you do when trying to write with a kid hanging off you leg… speaking of bad writing.”

    • lauratfrey

      My review came across a little harsh but I would actually recommend it. It’s not the kind of book that will make you feel bad, quite the opposite! And most of the essays are well written, quick reads – you know, between tantrums 🙂

      I wouldn’t touch Pintrest with a virtual 10 foot pole!!

  6. Brie @ Eat Books

    Hmm, I’m kind of in to stuff like this and *gasp* some mommy blogs (why do they suck you in?!) I just recently discovered The Stay at Home Feminist’s blog thanks to you liking one of her posts on facebook! So far, I’ve liked what I read…especially the post about being a stay at home mom (a choice I will be making sooner than later).

    Man, it’s hard to think of your favourite fictional mom….from books, Ron Weasley’s mum, (Molly) from Harry Potter is pretty darn amazing, but I think one of the most memorable and honest portrayals of a mom was Claudia from Roost. I LOVED her. I wish I knew her, like in real life! TV wise – Lorelai Gilmore from Gilmore Girls is one of my favourite moms ever and I also really get a kick out of Frankie Heck of The Middle. She’s hilarious and unapologetic in her never ending faults as a mom.

  7. Kristilyn

    I don’t really read any parenting blogs, but I do love reading Kath Eat’s blog, Baby Eats Real Food. It’s interesting to see how she tackles healthy eating for her little boy, as well as other parenting issues that come up. It came in very helpful when we were planning for baby! I also just love reading monthly baby updates on blogs, like on Daily Garnish and Love, Laughter & A Touch of Insanity … it’s fun to see what I’m in store for!

  8. Pingback: The M Word edited by Kerry Clare | Reading in Bed

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