TBR: How Not To Be A Perfect Mother

Today’s book is a light-hearted guide to parenting infants and toddlers, How Not To Be A Perfect Mother, by Libby Purves.  It’s a slim paperback, and I’ve been reading it on the metro to and from work, and getting lots of looks because it keeps making me laugh out loud.

Purves understands the key truths of child-rearing, which are:

  • No advice works for everyone; kids are all different.
  • Whatever you do, someone will think (and probably tell you) you’re doing it wrong.  So you might as well do it the way you want to.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.

The specific advice in the book isn’t really the point (although it’s generally sensible).  What’s wonderful is Purves’ calm perspective — her confidence that neither the stains on your child’s clothing nor your fervent desire that he’d just go somewhere else for a few minutes so you can finish the chapter make you any less of a good mother.  Perhaps my favorite suggestion is the game of crawling on mommy (or "mummy" as Purves writes) as an activity:

"It has survived, with the first child, well beyond the first birthday, since he can now pretend I am a wrecked locomotive, and go round tapping my wheels with a foam-rubber hammer.  The baby pretends I am a horse.  I, meanwhile, can pretend that I am on a beach in Corfu.  All three of us are happy."

The book isn’t perfect — fathers are viewed as very welcome assistants, but not much more, and the comments about car seats are sorely out of date (the book was first published in 1986) — but it’s a lot of fun.

I wish I could say the same about two other books I’ve picked up that were clearly sold to the publishers as short self-depricating humor about imperfect moms, but both of them were total wastes.  The problem with If all else fails, lower your expections, by Susan Murphy, is that it wasn’t funny.  The targets were obvious, the strokes broad.  But it was better than Confessions of a Slacker Mom by Muffy Mead-Ferro, which was plain out annoying.  Mead-Ferro pretends to be "confessing," but she seems smugly convinced that she is actually a perfect mom, far superior to those who buy lots of toys or gadgets, or try to childproof their houses.  She’s the Andy Rooney of parenting, meeting all modern inventions with a scornful statement to the effect that "my mother didn’t have that on the Wyoming prarie and I turned out ok."  She even mentions a childhood friend whose arm was blown off in a dynamite accident but who "went on to live a scandalously great life."  Oh, and she’s not funny either.  Stick with Purves.

4 Responses to “TBR: How Not To Be A Perfect Mother”

  1. The MOM Says:

    It’s amazing how many books about parenthood strive for humor, but come up way short. It’s a rare but wonderful thing to find one that can make you laugh out loud. Sniff…I miss Erma Bombeck.

  2. dawn Says:

    THANK YOU for the anti-Muffy entry. She got listed in Chinaberry and I actually wrote them and said please please please take her out. Sure, the message that we’re the experts on our own kids needs to be said but she’s annoying, mean, self-righteous and as you said NOT FUNNY.
    I just got the galleys for her book about being a slacker wife and I didn’t even bother to glance through it. Straight into the Goodwill box it went!!!

  3. Erika Wentworth Says:

    Try The Three Martini Playdate by Christine Meillor. It’s VERY funny and oh so true.

  4. Cynical Mom Says:

    I’m so glad to see that I’m not the only one who didn’t like “Confessions of a slacker mom”. One comment that stuck with me was her disdain for mothers for whom scrapbooking is a hobby, and how that just creates egotistical children. Eesh.

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