Friday, May 29, 2009

Bad Mother - Discussion Questions

Although I ended up taking issue with the author, Bad Mother lays out some good points about modern motherhood and there are some discussion questions in the back that are thought-provoking:

~ The author begins by quoting some of the unattainable definitions of being 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?

Endlessly patient. Soft-spoken, but firm and authoritative when necessary. Enjoys tea parties, Barbies, building blanket forts, endless games of Candyland, playing with Play-
Doh, and reading the same book seventeen times in a row. Is able to hold it all together seemingly effortlessly. Is able to redirect her children's tempers and bouts of misbehavior with just a look. Does not feel the need to keep her house compulsively neat and tidy; revels in the toys, books and games scattered across every room, as the mess is proof that her children are happy. Those are just some of the images I have in my head of what a good mother is supposed to be like. I have no freaking idea where I got these images, except that I'm sure they are shared by society. I do know that I don't live up to that by a long shot. Logically, I realize that it's all very unrealistic, but emotionally, I still can't seem to let go of those ideas of what I'm supposed to be like, and so I often feel like a failure as a mother.

And by the same token, I know full well that I myself tend to be judgmental and sanctimonious in my attitudes towards other mothers about certain things. You don't breastfeed? What the hell is wrong with you? How selfish can you be? You can't keep your house clean and you've got two or three kids and a mother who regularly helps you out? Grow up. I have SIX kids and no help and I manage just fine.

It's a circle-jerk. We all do it to each other, and to ourselves.

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

The author writes about being a "mindful" mother, and I have to agree that that is what we should all be. Aware, engaged, tuned in. The last lines of the book read:

"A mother who doesn't worry so much about being bad or good, but just recognizes that she's both, and neither. A mother who does her best, and for whom that is good enough, even if, in the end, her best turns out to be, simply, not bad."

Wow. Definitely words to live by. I will also add that accountability should be part of the equation. Not that we should beat ourselves up every time we screw up, but I think it's important not to make excuses for our own bad behavior, and to take responsibility for our actions as parents, acknowledge when we've made a mistake - to ourselves for our own emotional health, and to our kids for theirs - and move on, trying to do our realistic best.

~ 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 among spouse, children, home, self? Do you think there is a right way to organize affections within a family?

I will not say that I love my husband more than I love my children. I certainly love my husband in a much different way than I love my children, but with pretty equal intensity. I will admit, however, that a good deal of the time, I enjoy my husband's company more than I enjoy my children's company. He doesn't whine, he doesn't crap in his pants, he doesn't argue with me over what he's going to wear today, he doesn't throw himself on the ground and go into hysterics when he doesn't get his way about something. He makes me laugh. He listens to me. He provides me with stimulating conversation. You see what I mean?

Unfortunately, there is a hierarchy in our house, and the kids are on top as far as attention goes, just by virtue of the sheer number of them. However, I am a firm believer that the primary relationship, that is the relationship between the parents, needs to be honored by the whole family. When a baby comes along and replaces the affections of spouse in the mother's eyes, that can only spell trouble. Some day the kids are going to grow up and move out (hopefully!), and the parents are once again going to be left with only one another, and if that relationship hasn't been nurtured and honored, what's left? Kids demand a lot of time and energy, and sometimes it's difficult to find the energy to put into the husband-wife (or wife-wife, husband-husband, whatever) relationship when you've been sucked dry by kids and/or an outside job all day, but you just have to make that effort.

I really think that's a big reason why Michael's and my marriage is in such a good place despite having six kids. We make time to be together, to laugh, and talk and stay tuned in to one another. Not that we're connected at the hip - we're not. He has his interests and his time for himself, and I have mine, but our time together is precious. We hire a sitter and go out to dinner together fairly regularly. We've developed a weekend ritual where, after the kids are all in bed, Michael mixes up a couple of cocktails and we sit in the living room and have some of our best conversations.

I remember a while back, a friend reacted with surprise when I told her that we hire a sitter so we can go out on "dates" together. She couldn't understand why we'd want to go out together, just the two of us, because she apparently couldn't imagine enjoying her own husband's company that much. I just thought that was really sad.

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

I am a a big fan of honesty with one's children. I think it's a good idea to be honest without giving more information than the child can deal with, which is sometimes a slippery slope. I think hiding things, or being dishonest with one's children, is pretty much guaranteed to come back to bite you in the ass as some poing. The truth always comes out eventually, and if your kid learns that you lied to him or her, or hid some big truth from them, they're just going to feel betrayed and distrustful of you. That said, there are certainly things that it is difficult to be honest with your kids about. There are things I have not yet been faced with that I'm not entirely sure how I will handle when the time comes - like being asked by my kids if I ever did drugs, or how old I was when I first had sex, or did I ever steal anything. I'm sure those issues have to be handled very carefully, as I don't want my kids to think it's okay to emulate certain behavior I indulged in, but I still think that in the end, honesty is the best policy.

~ In reference to Zeke's ADHD diagnosis, the author discusses her feelings tht the facts of family are somtimes 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?

This is a tough set of questions to answer. I do think that I am often unfair in my expecations of my children in that I often expect them to transcend their naturally immature selves. In other words, it's too easy for me to forget that kids will be kids - they're messy, they're noisy, they're often obnoxious and inconvenient, even - but that it's the nature of being children and not that they are purposely setting out to irritate me. As far as long-term expectations, I guess I just expect them to utilize their talents and brains and make the most of their lives, which I hope will include meaningful employment and pursuit of happiness, whatever that may be for each of them. Certainly I would love to see them each get married and have children of their own, but I realize that that may be an unfair and unrealistic expectation - and that those are not necessarily things that every person needs or wants in order to be fulfilled. Certainly having Finn, a child with Down syndrome, has taught me a lot already about expectations and how painful and disappointing it can be to have strong expectations of what your kids are going to be.

~ 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?

I think the author must have found it cathartic to write about her experience, and I have to admit that I grudgingly admire her for at least holding herself accountable for her decision, being honest about why she made the decision, and calling it what it was: abortion. She writes, "I killed my baby."

It's a very complicated issue for me. I have always been in favor of choice . . . but I am also in favor of life. I'm not even sure where I draw the line in my own mind. I do know that as the mother of a child with a genetic "defect," a child who is "disabled," it was very difficult for me to read her account of terminating her pregnancy after she found out that the baby she was carrying had a chromosomal abnormality, and as I wrote before, her hypocrisy really troubles me. I wonder if she's even aware of how absolutely hypocritical it is of her to strive to live in a world of equality and tolerance, when she couldn't even tolerate the idea of having a child with possible mental impairment.

~ The division of labor in the household is an important theme in the book - in terms of both 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?

When Michael and I first moved in together, we were a family of three (me, Michael, and Kevin), and Michael and I both worked at jobs outside the home. We had a lot of struggles for a while establishing a division of labor, and it actually got to the point that we wrote down all the household chores and divided them, and he had his list of chores and I had mine, both hung on the refridgerator, so we could finally stop arguing over who was doing more, who should do what, etc. I'm sure this is a very common struggle among couples. So when I was working, I fully expected that the household chores should be shared. When I quit my job to stay home with the kids when Joey was born, I took on more (most) of the household chores, because I just assume those are part of my job as the stay-at-home spouse. So I do the majority of the housework, the laundry, the errand-running, the bill-paying, etc. I do expect Michael to help out when he gets home from work, though, because my shift certainly doesn't end at 6:00, so why should his? And he's very hands-on - he's not afraid to throw a load of wash in, he cooks, he does dishes, he's changed plenty of diapers (although he will clearly get out of it if he can finagle it), he reads stories, he does the whole bedtime routine with the three girls every night, and he definitely plays with the kids more than I do. He's the fun parent. And he's not afraid to take the five oldest kids out to the park or whatnot, on his own. He doesn't refer to caring for his own children as "babysitting." I know I have it far better than some of my friends whose husbands, to hear them tell it anyway, do little to nothing as far as household stuff and child-rearing.

And that's all I have for now, folks. Feel free to throw your own two cents in!

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