Books / Culture

The Good Mother Myth – An interview with Avital Norman

Deborah Goldstein talked with Avital Norman, Joy Ladin and Candace Walsh about the anthology, “The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality“, which seeks to deconstruct the myth of the “good mother.”  You can purchase the book through Amazon.com.

The following interview with editor, Avital Norman, is the first of a three-part series.


The Good Mother MythDeborah: How did you get the idea for this fantastic collection of essays?

Avital: I’d been writing about parenting – motherhood specifically – for the last few years. I’d gotten tired of the way motherhood has been treated in the media – as either a sanitized version of motherhood, this idealized version to live up to, or an amalgamation of cautionary tales. The pinnacle of that was when Time Magazine came out with their “Are you Mom Enough?” cover with the picture of the woman with her three-year-old son standing up on top of a chair nursing. That pushed me over the edge. These were the stories getting space in the media outlets when we could have been focusing on issues that were affecting mothers on a day-to-day, on the ground basis. I realized that just my  voice wasn’t doing much to help change the dynamic so I thought an anthology would be a great way to get more voices out into the ether and the book was born.

Deborah: What has feedback been like for you from mothers or media?

Avital: People have latched onto this book, whether it’s a couple of essays that hit home or the collection as a whole. I’ve been hearing some positive things both from critics and readers and a lot of women want to tell me stories now. I have gotten a little bit of push back from people – not really women but from folks who are worried that I’m propping up bad mothering or saying that women don’t need to be good mothers. People are quick to miss the point there. That’s not what the book’s about.

Deborah: Was there anything you learned that you weren’t anticipating?

Avital: A lot of people who submitted were people I knew from my writing circles and I didn’t know all of their stories. I knew them as writers – some were friends – but a lot of them dug deep and brought me to places and into parts of their lives I didn’t know and I really appreciated and respected that. What I really appreciated and was reaffirmed to me was the power of a good story and the power of good story telling.

Deborah: After reading all the essays, I felt I could connect to everybody on some level, which is what motherhood is all about – this ability to connect that was really inspiring and uplifting. At the same time, I felt a little sad. T.F. Charlton wrote about “internalized shame,” and that came across to me in every story, which is what makes us think of ourselves as “not good mothers.” Sad that so many of us have those voices in our heads. Can we eradicate this internal shame or is that an inevitable part of motherhood given that we’re our worst critics?

Avital: I hope that the more voices there are, people will see the differences but will also see the similarities so we can get over those judgments a little bit more. But I think it’s really hard. I don’t think we’ll ever escape our internal critics or judgment in general. People like to judge – whether it’s our mothering, jobs, anything – but my idea with getting more voices out there is to show that there isn’t one ideal when it comes to motherhood and that we’re all different and I do think there’s power in telling stories and it does start to break things down. When my son was younger, it was an impromptu “tell us your birth stories whether they were traumatic or not” – just to talk about them and normalize them without judgment. I had an epidural or I didn’t and what are those larger ramifications of the crunchy birth or medicalized birth systems and being able to tell stories and feel acceptance and things like that. I hope this is another step in that direction.

Deborah: Regarding your story and having one child, did you get positive feedback or catharsis in writing that story? Did it help you to move on a little bit having shared it?

Avital: What’s funny is that the people close to me who said those things still say them. I don’t know if they haven’t read the essay or they figured “she’s not talking about me,” but what’s been great is I’ve had a lot of people connect with that essay and say they’ve been there too or they were only children and “don’t worry about it” and they turned out great. I’m not worried about how my son’s going to turn out. I think he’s fine. But it’s always nice to hear that reassurance and that camaraderie between other parents of onlys.

Deborah: That’s another benefit of sharing these essays. People get the connection and saying “me too” and “don’t worry” and “we’re all in this together” is really powerful.


Avital NormanAvital Norman is a former teacher and lifelong learner turned freelance writer. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Bamboo Family Magazine, The New York Times, CNN, HLNtv.com, RH Reality Check, Offbeat Mama, and more. In addition to her blog, The Mamafesto, Avital has a regular series, “The Femisphere,” for Ms. Magazine’s site, as well as a regular feminist parenting column, “Mommie Dearest,” for The Frisky. Based in Western Massachusetts with her husband and six-and-a-half-year old son, Avital considers herself a play-at-home mama who enjoys digging in her urban garden, hosting dance parties in her kitchen, tweeting (@TheMamafesto), and searching for the perfect cup of Chai.

PHOTO CREDITS: THE GOOD MOTHER MYTH

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3 Comments

  1. Esther Wifler says:

    I’m going out RIGHT NOW to buy this book. I am topsy turvy in a divorce and while have had lots of support from community, I’ve experienced some not-so-supportive comments and lectures from unexpected quarters. I feel a bit isolated and then a bit euphoric but through it all i ask myself if i am screwing up my kids, doing enough for them, etc etc.

    (gets in car and drives to Barnes and Noble).

    This is a fabulous series and thank you! Love this sight.

    • BUT WAIT…we’ll be doing a giveaway after the last in our series!! Buy the book IF you don’t win one.

      Good luck with all topsy turvy things!

  2. Pingback: The Good Mother Myth - An interview with Candace Walsh - VillageQ

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