Sisterhood Blog

The Rise of the Unhappy Mommy Narrative

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share
Stephanie Rausser
Ayelet Waldman: The woman who began the conversation on maternal ambivalence.

So where have all the happy young mothers gone? Did you never really exist? Or are you afraid to speak up these days against the chorus of people insisting that young children bring far more stress and trouble than happiness?

Either way, I never hear from you anymore.

Over the last few years, as my husband and I have been moving towards starting a family of our own, the only word that seems to be rising up from the cave of early motherhood seem to be “help!”

The current conversation had its unofficial start when Ayelet Waldman peeled the curtain up on maternal ambivalence in a now-infamous New York Times essay in 2005, and then later her 2009 book “Bad Mother.” When I first read Waldman on motherhood I thought, bravo — it’s about time moms speak frankly and with some nuance about motherhood.

But then, over the past few years, the bad mothers became sad mothers. Last June Jennifer Senior wrote a widely read (1.5 million hits!) and hotly debated story for New York magazine called “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting,” which she is also turning into a book. This was followed last October with psychoanalyst Barbara Almond’s book “The Monster Within: The Hidden Side of Motherhood,” about the dark sides of motherhood.

Then, late last month, the Wall Street Journal had a piece entitled “So Cute, So Hard on a Marriage: After Baby, Men and Women Are Unhappy in Different Ways; Pushing Pre-Emptive Steps,” which explained:

Numerous studies have shown that a couples’ satisfaction with their marriage takes a nose dive after the first child is born. Sleepless nights and fights over whose turn it is to change diapers can leach the fun out of a relationship.

Now, a growing number of mental-health professionals are advising couples to undergo pre-baby counseling to hash out marital minefields such as divvying up baby-related responsibilities, money issues and expectations for sex and social lives.

Well, I am going to be honest, all this unhappy parent talk is scaring the you-know-what out of me. I lie in bed at night, nervous that young motherhood, a period in my life that I had always looked forward to, will only bring me grief. I can usually relax myself by thinking of my not-yet-one-year-old nephews, whose presences infuse a room with a sense of calm and purpose unlike anything else. (I am fully aware that that might be a Pollyanna-ish read on things, but it is nonetheless appealing, particularly set against the panic-ridden alternative when trying to fall asleep at night.)

I can’t help but wonder why this unhappy mom narrative is so predominant these days, and imagine that I am not the only who feels terrified by it. Young motherhood is fraught enough as it is, especially considering the pathetically little amount of support we get in the U.S., and all these horror stories are only making it seem all the more bewildering and unmanageable.

So, readers, do you have stories to tell? Ones that soften up some of the corners of the unhappy mom angle that has been endlessly repeated in coverage of new parents over the last few years? If so, please share. (Your Jewish grandchildren are depending on you!)


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Parenting, Motherhood

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.