My Bad Mother, Keeping Me On My Toes

March 15, 2007

(From my inbox, yesterday…)

Hi Sweetie,

I am e-mailing rather than using comments because I can’t figure out how to post a comment. You know I read your blog faithfully. I’m not always touched by it because, while I am awed by your writing talent, I think that it’s sometimes something of an exercise in self-absorption, and that it panders to an audience of mostly privileged women who have the luxury of philosophizing about motherhood. I hope that your experience on the subway brings you (and your readers) to a heightened awareness of those mothers who do not have the means of indulging their beloved children (or in a lot of cases, not even being able to provide what we would consider necessities). Can you imagine how your heart would hurt if you couldn’t give WonderBaby the world? I deeply felt your feelings as you described the young mother. As we have discussed many times, those very same feelings were the motivating factor in my chosen career.

I hope that you don’t think my comments are harsh, but your post stirred up twenty years of passionate feelings.

Love you and eternally grateful that you are my daughter.



Hi Mom,

That was only a little bit harsh (Not always touched? Pandering? Ouch) ;)

I agree that bloggers are, for the most part, a bunch of privileged narcissists. All writers are, I think. I certainly am. But most of us are aware of that. Most of the bloggers that I gravitate toward are fully self-reflective about their privilege (whether it be absolute or relative privilege – certainly any person who has the time and skill and access to technology to blog enjoys a certain amount of privilege). I try to be self-reflective. I may not always succeed, but I try. But here’s the thing about motherhood and privilege that astounds me: motherhood is humbling, and many of its trials don’t discriminate on the basis of privilege. We all of us, rich and poor and everywhere in between, experience a new, gut-wrenching kind of fear; we feel a new, soul-shaking kind of vulnerability. It is tough work, and sometimes really disempowering – and for many women, for ME, it is the first taste of being afraid, helpless, confused, dependent, and disempowered. And, because of my (relative) privilege, some amount of guilt and shame that I am sometimes brought to my knees by these things, when so many other women with so much less manage to stay standing.

If I write about dropping my kid or posting pictures of my kid or messing up or failing, maybe, in some critical moment to do the right thing that is, yes, an exercise in self-absorption, but it’s also an exercise in self-reflectivity. And I hope that it demonstrates that privilege, or any measure of it, doesn’t necessarily make any of us any better mothers. I’m a terrible fuck-up much of the time, at this motherhood thing – and I think that that has given me a better appreciation of what a mother with less has to struggle with, and a better understanding of how great her victories are. The example of those mothers humbles me. Really.

It all humbles me.

Thanks for making me think, always.

Love you tons and more,

Your Bad Daughter

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    Sandra March 17, 2007 at 6:23 am

    I didn’t comment at first because I had the same reaction as Bub & Pie but didn’t know how to frame it and not offer a defensive reaction about me. Because I am a woman with privledge but I dedicate 60+ hours a week to working in advocacy for women who do not have privledge and I got defensive.

    But, it has nothing to do with me or your readership. But this is an excellent example of how one feels if they percieve to be judged (which of course your readers were not being judged). Interesting.

    What I realllly want to say is how wonderful and amazing your mom is. I covet the honesty in your relationship and can see what a big influence she’s been on the amazing person you have become.

    Both bad mothers rock!

    slouching mom March 17, 2007 at 8:39 am

    Here’s an exercise in the malleability of memory. Having read all these comments (because they are so interesting!), I was starting to feel more and more as if her bad grandmother was out of line in her e-mail.

    So I went back and read it. And you know what? It was nothing like I had remembered it.

    Except for the word ‘pandering’, perhaps, it was loving and warm.

    Try it — you might be surprised.

    Her Bad Mother March 17, 2007 at 9:15 am

    Oh, Flutter, you don’t have to apologize! The comment about my relationship to my readers is the most challenging of her note (and the one with which *I* take most issue.) But it wasn’t meant as a comment on my readers, as I said above. In any case, one of the things that I love most about my mother is that she can be almost brazen in her honesty – but you have to know her to love that about her, I think.

    Crunchy Carpets March 17, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Is privilege connected to the concept of owning a computer and the having the time to blog?
    Are computers still considered a luxury nowadays?

    are we privileged because we have the time to ponder things that maybe the earlier generations didnt?

    Or did they just not think about them or voice their questions because they weren’t supposed to?

    I think we are ‘lucky’ in many ways..but in others..not so much and if we wanna bitch about it …great.

    mothergoosemouse March 17, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    I also have to admit that your mother’s conclusion stung a bit. I may be privileged, but my philosophizing extends far beyond what my tax bracket (or my voter registration card or my military service or…or…or…) might lead others to believe. And where possible, I think many of us turn our philosophizing into action – even when it only involves a computer and the community we’ve built.

    Then again, I’ll admit to being a tad sensitive to perceived judgment. It’s hard to be an atheist Republican veteran in the mommyblogosphere… ;)

    ewe are here March 18, 2007 at 6:57 am

    It’s true. Many of us our ‘privileged’. In the sense that we have time for our most loved ones and to reflect on that time and how we spend it. And share our reflections. I know I am.

    What I really lovedseeing in this post? The clearly awesome, open and honest and ability to talk openly with your mom. I really really envy that.

    Stefanie March 18, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    I have a slight migraine so I can’t muster up a comment good enough for a well thought out post like that, but I wanted to chime in with the others in that it was well written, well put and so true.

    kittenpie March 18, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    I must admit, I too have an uncomfortable reaction to being labelled as privileged. I would say that I am, in a relative sense, privleged now, even though we are seriously struggling and in comparison to a few years back, we are barely afloat – I recognize that we are still doing well, compared to se many.

    Yet I know of less privileged too. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, at my family, at our houses and our neighbourhood now. You wouldn’t know of a childhood being raised by a single mother poor enough that we went many weeks subsisting on crackers, sardines, powdered milk, and vats of pea soup she made between work and school and shifts at my co-op daycare. She grew bean sprouts in the cupboard, and at times, we lived in communal houses with students and other folks down ontheir luck.

    Even so, in many ways, I had a privileged childhood. It depends on what you’re talking about. I had a fantastically loving mom, one who sang to me and painted pictures for me, who made me toys in the industrial arts shop at school (great wooden cars I still have) or at home, where she hung mobiles made of blanched and painted chicken bones above my cot to amuse me, and create a rolling unicorn of nothing more than two thread spools and a coat hanger. She would hang me in a jolly jumper and read her school texts aloud to me, throwing in bits of song to keep me happy as she worked. I was what she had, and she was what I had. It seemed enough.

    So, before I ramble on any further, this is all to say – I think there are a lot of sides to what privileged is. Your mom is clearly seeing people who are privileged on NO sides, so it is an easy place to speak from about what others have, but I think it bears discussion about what we are talking about when we talk about privilege, for it is a many-layered word.

    Lawyer Mama March 18, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    Wow, your mom sounds a lot like mine!

    And my first response to my mother would have been, “well, isn’t my blog supposed to be an exercise in self- absorption?” You could write about motherhood and it’s problems in the abstract, but I know I probably wouldn’t read it as avidly. We’re all drawn to the “mommy blogs,” I think in part, by the search for common human experience. We are all mothers (well, many of us) and we seek women who talk about their own experiences in motherhood. I know I’m endlessly fascinated by how motherhood has changed others.

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