I checked this out before I knew that Waldman was married to Chabon. When I figured out who she was, my expectations were elevated and so the fact that the book was only mediocre was slightly more disappointing than it otherwise would have been. I also found it to be rather repetitive. She makes some good points, but she continues to make them over and over again ad nauseum.
First, her argument about the inequalities in expectations of a good mother vs. a good father is valid, but is also one I read in Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs. Unfortunately for Waldman despite being a woman and a mother I found his essay on the topic more entertaining and a funnier read.
Second, her essays are not all about motherhood. Several of them are more memoir oriented; I get that the history of her marriage and family psychological disorders is relevant to her children's lives, but it is also just more about her and less about being a mother.
Third, her remarks on feminism and female sexuality were also interesting and valid, but compared to Catlin Moran's How to be a Woman (which I also just read) fell flat and were less than inspired. I found this to be especially true for the abortion stories.
Other than that, I did find a few quotes that I liked and certainly I think I would like Waldman as a person. My favorites are below:
"mothers should tell the truth, even--no, especially--when the truth is difficult."
"It's the being unfulfilled, that makes us feel the worst. That's what triggers our most intense anxiety Feeling dissatisfied, bored, and unhappy is unpleasant, yes, but what really scares us is the very fact of our dissatisfaction, boredom, and unhappiness. Because a mother who isn't satisfied with being a mother, a mother who wants to do more than spend her days with her children, a mother who can imagine more, is selfish. And just as the Good Mother is defined by her self-abnegation, the single most important, defining characteristic of the Bad Mother is her selfishness."
"There was no way I would admit to her that the sheer monotony of caring for a baby was killing me. It turns out that entertaining someone with a two-minute attention span for fourteen hours is infinitely harder than trying to convince a jury of Orange County Republicans that your illegal immigrant client had no idea that the cardboard box he was carrying contained eight kilos of cocaine."
"As marriages progress, you surrender areas of your own competence, often without even knowing it."
"If you tell children that all drugs will kill you (or all sex will get you pregnant and cause you to break out in postulant, fatal sores), as soon as they are old enough to realize that their pothead cousin not only is not dead but has just graduated magna cum laude from Yale, they will dismiss all your warnings, just as the townsfolk dismissed the warning of the boy who cried wolf."
Overall it was okay. I was not inspired and not overly entertained. It felt like a companion piece to Manhood for Amateurs (and maybe would have been better marketed as such, rather than a treatise on motherhood) as there was so much overlap between the two. I know Waldman doesn't like criticism and I do really like Chabon, but ultimately this work felt a bit like flying on her husband's coattails.