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May 13, 2012

Bad Mommy by Willow Yamauchi

The world already having had its fair share of bad mothers, bad mothers, and bad mothers, I’d wondered if Willow Yamauchi’s new book Bad Mommy was a necessary addition to the canon. But the book turned out to be quite different from what I’d supposed it was, not another tell-too-much so-bad-I’m-awesome mother memoir, but instead a satirical guide to motherhood, the perfect antidote to any baby book I ever read, particularly in the early days.

And best intentions do start early, don’t they? I spent my pregnancy reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Pam England’s Birthing From Within, eventually become a compulsive parenting expert, found becoming a mother akin to the universe exploding, and clung to its pieces with my few certainties: cloth diapers, front-facing strollers, not to feed baby to sleep, to breastfeed lying down at night, black and white mobiles, etc. At first there were the things I “knew”, and eventually, with enough confidence and experience, there were actual things that I really learned, though it baffled me how inapplicable my advice seemed to be to other people’s experiences. Why weren’t they taking my certainties on board? And even more baffling– why did I care so much what other people were doing? Why did other people’s (ill-advised, I thought) breastfeeding holds make me crazy? Why did nothing terrify me more than seeing other mothers making different choices from mine, I wondered? And of course, I see now that I was clinging to order in a chaotic world, imagining there was one path to good motherhood and that I was walking on it, because the alternative (which was the reality) was too much consider–that there was no path, and that all of us were all just stumbling blindly, making our own way as best we could.

I’m not sure I could have read Bad Mommy back when I was still clinging, when it was so important to me to be certain. Yamauchi’s irreverence is without restraint, nothing is sacred, and anyone and everyone is a target– she’s fair and balanced in that respect. Let’s face it, she tells us in her introduction, you are a bad mommy. You may be trying to be good, but you’re still bad, or at least somebody is going to tell you so. And in the next 40 chapters, she proceeds to tell us how: you will always be too young or too old to be a good mommy; no matter how you time your pregnancies, you’ll always get it wrong. Even if you remember the folic-acid, there will still be plenty of opportunities to fail your child’s development in utero– sushi, cheese, paint and kitty litter to choose from! You’ll gain too much weight, or not enough. You’ll deliver your baby in an idyllic water birth, and have the baby get stuck in the birth canal, or you will give birth in a hospital with painkillers which will result in an apgar score of less than perfect.

Everything you do as a mother, says Yamauchi, will be wrong, so you might as well have a sense of humour about it. Oh, and the breastfeeding– night nursing leads to tooth decay! Women who pack in breastfeeding are failures! Mommies who breastfeed into toddlerhood are perverts! The chapter on circumcision was my very favourite, the entirety of which I read aloud to my husband whilst laughing hysterically– “A common reason given for circumcision is that men want their little boys to ‘look like them’ down there. This is such a bizarre concept. First of all, what kind of parent and child compare their genitals for familial similarities?…” Though, she writes, don’t circumcise and your son will end up with STDs, Bad Mommy.

And so it goes, through disposable diapers and cloth, how to put your baby down to sleep (and the standards for this, Yamauchi notes, change every ten minutes, along with car seat requirements, and when and how to start solid foods), to vaccinate or not to, to work or stay at home. The point is to go confident in your choices, says Yamauchi, because you’ll only ever be wrong in them.

And there are so many ways to be wrong– I related in particular to the “Crafty Bad Mommy” chapter, as our craft supplies haul is mainly stubby crayons. You can be the Bad Mommy who sends her kid to school sick, or the Bad Mommy with muchhausen by proxy. You’ll have fat kids, or anorexic ones, you’ll look like a frump or a mutton-dressed-as-lamb, and onwards and onwards, so it goes, until you start to see that Yamauchi is joking but she also isn’t.

The book ran a bit too long to my tastes, and I found Yamauchi’s chapters more interesting than the case-studies that followed each of them (though even these had their moments), but in general, Bad Mommy is a great counter to so much of the faux-earnest or overtly polemic conversations about parenting going on all around us these days. Though everything is fair-game in the book, its point is not to abandon your principles as a mother (and for the record, I am still a cloth diaper fanatic. I just shut up more than I used to. Not that anyone actually wears diapers in our house anymore [!!!]), but to embrace them.

To be Willow Yamauchi’s bad mommy is simply to be the mother you are, but with gusto.

3 thoughts on “Bad Mommy by Willow Yamauchi”

  1. Jennie says:

    Brilliant!

    This applies before babies even come out. I was admonished by a cab driver the other day for still working whilst pregnant, the women at the counter serving me tea on Saturday reminding me that tea has caffeine in it (WHAT???!!! who knew), and before we have even met this little person, we have been told a thousand ways in which we will probably do it all wrong and/or are delusional.

    I worry too much by some standards, but haven’t read, planned or considered enough by others.

    Can’t wait to read!

  2. Claire says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. Am about halfway through Bad Mommy, and am enjoying it so far. One thing is driving me crazy though; the word mommy repeated so many times is making me a bit stabby. I think I need some more sleep…

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