Interview With Avital Norman Nathman, Editor Of The Good Mother Myth
The “good” mother. She’s the shiny, happy, thin, crafty, organized and perfect social construct who haunts the kitchens, offices, playgrounds and psyches of modern America. And let’s admit it—She, and what she represents, is completely unattainable and unrealistic.
A new anthology, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality, edited by feminist writer Avital Norman Nathman, aims to dismantle this harmful narrative and open a dialogue about the true reality of mothers, mothering, and the varied experiences of people parenting today. With a foreword by Christy Turlington Burns and a list of truly awesome contributors sharing powerful, honest essays, it’s a must-read for anyone interested in motherhood.
We’re so excited to be giving away a copy of the book here on Mommyish, so make sure you enter. I am a huge fan of Avital and her writing (especially her Twitter account—Follow her now if you don’t already), so I was excited to speak with her about the book, her editing process, and her own relationship to the construct of the “good mother.”
What was your impetus to create and edit The Good Mother Myth?
I had been writing about motherhood and parenting for a while, and in doing so, tackled a lot of mainstream stories on the subjects. After seeing one cover story too many that framed the narrative of motherhood in a particular way (it was the Time cover story that asked women if they were “Mom Enough.”), I realized I had enough. The mainstream narrative wasn’t going to change itself, so I wanted to somehow do my part in getting more, varied voices of mothers out there. And, if we could start to dismantle the good mother myth in the process? Even better!
You’ve been writing about parenting and motherhood from a feminist perspective for several years. How did your feminist identity help inform the book?
I definitely think that wanting to deconstruct the good mother myth in and of itself is a feminist act. Questioning not only this supposed ideal, but actively working to tear it down is inherently feminist. There seems to be an age-old debate over whether feminism and motherhood can somehow coexist. For me, my feminism only strengthened and solidified when I became a mother.
Can you tell us a bit about how The Good Mother Myth was put together? For example, how did you manage to find so many impressively badass writers?
It started off by me venting to fellow writing friends who also happened to be mothers. They encouraged me to take on this anthology, so of course when I started getting together a book proposal, I came back to them and asked them to submit something. It grew organically from there. I asked a bunch of writers, who in turn asked their friends, etc… I also posted about it on social media which helped broaden the pool of folks who contributed. I will say that this theme really seemed to have struck a chord. I ended up getting so many submissions – much more than I could publish in one volume, unfortunately, and I had to pass on some excellent material.
Can you talk about your definition of the “good mother myth” and how you see it operating and affecting mothers and families today?
The Good Mother Myth encompasses that “ideal” mother that we all (supposedly) strive to be. The problem, however, is that this myth is very narrowly constructed, leaving out most mothers. Yet she’s still the one that society puts up there to measure other mothers against. This myth is usually a white, cis-gender, hetereosexual, middle/upper-class woman with 2 kids, a happy marriage, sometimes works outside the home but never lets it impact homelife, etc… This image gets played up a bunch in mainstream media as well as social media. The biggest issue with this myth is that in addition to stressing out mothers and families as they strive for an ideal that doesn’t fit, is that it distracts us from real, pressing issues that impact families – lack of mandated, paid family leave, lack of paid sick leave, rising rates of PPD, quality maternal health care, etc…
What’s your own relationship to that construct of a “good mother?” Has it changed since you’ve edited the book? How did you decide what to write about for your own contribution?
I’ve definitely fallen prey to the Good Mother Myth – especially when my son was a newborn. There is just so much information being thrown at you and it can get really overwhelming, really quickly. As a new mom, I wasn’t sure if I was doing it all “right” and that led to some real anxiety. It’s unfortunately really easy to get trapped in your head, second guessing yourself. I had many moments when I thought I was failing at parenthood. Thankfully, I had a wonderful support system of other new and veteran parents and I was able to get through that patch relatively unscathed. While I don’t purport to have all the answers now when it comes to parenting, I’m much more gentle with myself when it comes to how I mother. Working on the book just reinforced the idea that it really helps to talk about all of this. The more we talk about our uncertainties or self-judgements, the more we see that we’re not alone.
My own contribution was pretty self-serving. While I feel fairly confident in most things parenting now-a-days, I still constantly get critiqued on only have one child. My son is 7, we’re all pretty sure as a family that we’re sticking with one, and yet that seems to be the wrong choice in the eyes of many. It’s exasperating and frustrating on my end, I had an inkling that I wasn’t alone in that. It also just felt good to get it out. Now, when people bug me about it, I can just tell them to read my essay!
The book consists of personal essays, a genre we publish often here on Mommyish. I’d love to know what you think about the rise in popularity of this genre, especially online, and how it works in regards to motherhood. It seems to me like the essays in your book (and on our site) allow women to share and connect in honest ways that perhaps weren’t possible before this cultural moment.
I love a good personal essay! One way to take back the narrative is to share our stories apologetically. Each new, diverse voice that we can add to the mix is one more that is speaking out against supposed ideals and stereotypes. They force folks to broaden their definitions and look outside their own lived-experiences. I also think that personal essays are more tangible now, in this blogging age. Anyone can start up a free blog and write their truths. There is real power in that and it’s exciting to see all the different people latching on to that.
What do you hope for a “new narrative” of motherhood?
My biggest hope is that mainstream media recognizes that there isn’t this monolith of motherhood. There’s not one voice, one story that represents motherhood for everyone, so we need to stop acting like there is and measuring everyone up against this mythical yardstick. It would be phenomenal if corporate media was able to share stories related to motherhood without immediately defaulting to the “mommy wars” angle. It would also be amazing to hear more, underrepresented voices sharing their stories and versions of their motherhood. Overall, I would love to see a more diverse, inclusive narrative of motherhood that does not judge based on age, race, sexual preference, biology, class, and more. Imagine how much more interesting the story of motherhood would be?
To learn more about the book, you can visit The Good Mother Myth website, Seal Press, or Avital’s own site. You can also submit your own thoughts on “good” mothering and have them published on the Good Mother Myth site. Be sure to enter our giveaway, too!
Photos: Avital Norman Nathman