Mixed feelings about motherhood—uncertainty over having a child, fears of pregnancy and childbirth, or negative thoughts about one’s own children—are not just hard to discuss, they are a powerful social taboo. In this beautifully written book, Barbara Almond brings this troubling issue to light. She uncovers the roots of ambivalence, tells how it manifests in lives of women and their children, and describes a spectrum of maternal behavior—from normal feelings to highly disturbed mothering. In a society where perfection in parenting is the unattainable ideal, this compassionate book also shows how women can affect positive change in their lives.
Psychoanalyst Almond (The Therapeutic Narrative) uses her decades-long interest in maternal ambivalence to study how individual uncertainty or insecurity can manifest itself in forms of inadequate motherhood or fears of "monstrous offspring." Relying heavily on extreme case studies, Almond explores the parent-child relationships that often detour in what she considers Oedipal periods. Citing cases from her own practice and public figures Almond's relentless judgment of women and even marital sexual behavior throughout her analysis of bad mothering is disconcerting. She relies too heavily on extreme examples such as implicitly "narcissistic" Angelina Jolie and Nadya Suleman, casually comparing the latter to the overwhelmed nursery rhyme mother from "The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe." All of her analyses seem to culminate in Andrea Yates' horrific act of murdering her five children. Throughout the explication of case studies, Almond includes literary interpretations centering on incest and mother-hatred of classic horror stories such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Dracula. While an interesting premise, Almond's reliance on severe cases and an inordinate obsession with incest reduces the potential impact on ordinary stressed mothers looking for understanding and relief.