Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The ingredients for 'good motherhood'

What makes a good mother? Not being a mom myself (and being, I often suspect, temperamentally unsuited for motherhood), I frequently wonder about mothers, good and bad. I was blessed with a wonderful, caring mom (who was far from perfect; among other things she was much too concerned --and quite vocal-- about the shape and heft of my body). My good mom was herself cursed with a nasty mother, who told her repeatedly throughout childhood she was just a piece of meat with eyes.

Good motherhood is a little like pornography; you know it when you see it, though in theory it's perhaps hard to define. Ayelet Waldman, in her Modern Love piece for Sunday's New York Times, defines a good mother by what she is not: a good mom is not someone who continues to make her husband the center of her 'passionate universe', thus relegating her kids to the periphery of that love, little moons to the father's sun. By this measure, Waldman judges herself lacking in the motherhood department; if not a bad mother, she is at best a 'good enough' mother... And yet... shouldn't our definition of good motherhood be broad enough not to require the abrogation of the wife and lover in favor of the mother and nursemaid? Shouldn't a good mother model for her children a strong, passionate relationship that is essential to but independent of the parent-child bond?

Some may wince at Waldman's admission that her "children are satellites, beloved but tangential" because "I love my husband more than I love my children." And yet -- it's the children's job to grow up and move away, to outgrow the nest. Why shouldn't the bond between the parents be most important, when it is the parents who will remain once the children grow into their own lives?

As the daughter of parents who loved each other first and best, I agree with Ayelet Waldman when she concludes her essay with the words she will tell her children if they question why their father comes first in her affections:

"I will tell them that I wish for them a love like I have for their father. I will tell them that they are my children, and they deserve both to love and be loved like that. I will tell them to settle for nothing less that what they saw when they looked at me, looking at him."

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