K's Reviews > Mothering Without a Map: The Search for the Good Mother Within

Mothering Without a Map by Kathryn Black
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Jul 28, 07

bookshelves: readablenonfiction, thought-provoking

Review, Part 1

I wavered between three and four stars on this one. The topic was compelling; the book somewhat less so. I found it kind of slow and verbose, although it certainly was interesting and gave me a lot of food for thought (as you will see if you have the patience to read another long, rambling review). I got a little annoyed when she kept emphasizing how a mother can provide a clean home, home-cooked meals, adequate clothing, structure and supervision, etc. for her kid and that child can still grow up feeling shortchanged emotionally -- it almost felt as if she was minimizing the amount of effort and yes, LOVE, that goes into doing those things. I'm not trying to invalidate the pain of a child who grows up with these things and feels unloved, but as someone who works hard to provide those things for her children (and I'm fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom; working mothers have to work much harder than I do to provide these things), I can tell you firsthand that it's a very demanding job and one that I could only do, or certainly only do well and consistently, for people to whom I really felt commitment and love. Providing these things generously and graciously is definitely a statement of love, even if children don't appreciate that until they grow older. Of course, emotional needs should be tended to as well; however, I wonder if perhaps our generation expects too much in that sense? I remember reading P.D. James's memoir where she wrote about how, when she was younger (she wrote the memoir several years ago when she was in her late 70s), there were a lot fewer divorces. She acknowledged that this probably means there were more unhappy marriages, but as she says, in those days "we did not view happiness as an entitlement." She commented that today's generation appears to feel more entitled to happiness and anxious to pursue it as a goal, but is not necessarily happier for it. Anyway, getting back to the book at hand, I often wonder how much of my generation's general dissatisfaction with their upbringing and efforts to improve on it stems from increased psychological awareness and is based in reality, versus how much of it reflects a perceived "entitlement to happiness" as P.D. James would have it, and a lack of appreciation of the things we did have and the efforts that went into providing them. The book doesn't raise this question, much less attempt to answer it, but I did wonder how much of these "undermothered" women's deprivation was in their minds, and a sign of the times, as opposed to actual emotional deprivation.

[They told me my review was too long, so I'm going to attempt to paste it in two parts; let's see if I succeed. Part 2, hopefully, will follow...]
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message 1: by K (last edited Sep 15, 2008 05:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

K Review, Part 2 [hope this works!:]

This book also made me think about our efforts to improve on our own upbringing when we raise our kids, and to what extent we succeed. In that sense I truly enjoyed the book for giving me a lot to consider in that realm. For example, she mentioned that while a lot of mothers claim to be radically different from their own mothers in specific ways, their children make the exact same complaints about them that they make about their own mothers. Are these mothers completely lacking in self-awareness? Or were their mothers an extreme of this particular behavior, whereas the daughters-as-mothers do it to a lesser extreme but still annoy their children with it?
I often think of a peripheral friend of mine who's married to a man whose father beat his mother regularly. This man thinks he's a wonderful husband because hey, he shows way more self-restraint than his father did and never beats his wife. When I think about how we try to improve on our parents' parenting, that comes to mind for me. There are definitely things that my parents did that I try not to do, and to my mind, succeed. But what will my kids say in 15-20 years? Am I just blind to how much I actually do give in to the urge to do these things (psychologically, it makes sense that I would be predisposed to notice the times that I resist the urge to do these things, and to overlook the times that I fall in)? Or do I do these same annoying (or worse) things to a lesser extreme than my parents did, but still more than the norm? Although some of the examples in this book were redundant and a bit tiresome to read, there were definitely some interesting and provocative ones. One of my favorite anecdotes (which was surprisingly new to me, since I've taught developmental psych several times and should have been familiar with this) was the one about the woman who was studied by developmental psychologists from the age of one year 'till her mid-20s or so (reminiscent of "The Truman Show"). She was studied because she had a rare stomach condition which meant that she could only be fed through a tube inserted in her stomach as an infant, and holding or cuddling her was difficult at best but impossible while she was being fed (an operation at age 2 cured the condition and she had a pretty normal life after that). The researchers studied how she interacted with her dolls as a child, and with her four daughters when they were infants, and then how her daughters later interacted with their dolls. I found this really fascinating and it was one of my favorite parts of the book. There were other examples and questions raised by the book which I enjoyed, and overall found the book worth reading. It would make great discussion material. It's probably most interesting for mothers, but I think women who are not yet mothers might enjoy reading it as well, especially if they feel determined not to repeat their parents' mistakes and are interested in extensive interviews with likeminded women. I would also recommend it to psychologists, especially those who are working with people from dysfunctional backgrounds who are struggling with parenting issues. Although the book has its flaws, it does offer some interesting perspectives and can inform this kind of therapy.

message 2: by Skylar (new)

Skylar Burris Oh, I'm sure my children will be in therapy 15-20 years from now...sigh.

message 3: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K I know that feeling. On the other hand, maybe the pendulum will swing the other way by then...

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