Was I a Good Mother?

Every mom alive wants to ask what her child truly thinks of her. But only the bravest would dare. Here, one writer (and single parent) goes for the gold

by Anne Lamott
bird and legos imaage
Photograph: Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

In 1993, when Anne Lamott published Operating Instructions, her best-selling book on first-time parenting, she thought she had a handle on how to raise a child—no small feat for a single mother whose boyfriend was no longer in the picture. But once her son, Sam Lamott, now 22, had a child of his own, she found herself wondering how clueless she’d really been. Certain juicy revelations on that score can be found in the new book Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son (Riverhead), cowritten by her and Sam. But a mother’s thirst for knowledge (OK, desperate need for approval) is never satisfied, so we asked Annie, as she calls herself, to sit down with her boy and ask some of the questions in her teeming maternal brain. And Sam has a question or two for her, too.

ANNIE We both promised to be honest. So tell me, what drove you crazy about my parenting, besides the obsessive worrying? That I overhelped you with your homework?

SAM You didn’t actually help me that much.

ANNIE I didn’t?

SAM No, you would just start yelling about how tired you were and why had I gotten started so late and how it was your bedtime.

ANNIE Did I do anything that was actually helpful?

SAM Well, playing with Legos on the floor and then at higher elevations, like tables and workbenches, when I got bigger. Also, you always treated me as an adult and told me what we needed to do and what you were expecting of me—you were honest with me. I knew roughly what was coming in and going out financially and that we were expecting a check soon but things were a little tight right now, so we were going to be careful. And what I could expect from you when you were on deadline or we were going on book tour. You were very clear when I needed to be on my best behavior, like if an interviewer was going to be around. Plus, you told me pretty early on that Santa wasn’t real but that the love was. And that I should totally keep this to myself. I did, too.

ANNIE You’ve said before that my gift to you as a single mother was that I never trashed your dad, so when you first met him when you were seven, you could come up with your own relationship.

SAM Yeah, a kid just always isgoing to reach out and want to be with the other parent and know where the other parent is coming from. Kids are not stupid. They know their mother’s side is just one side. So if the mom has built up a bad story or does a lot of smack talk and then the dad turns out to be a human being, not a bad guy, it makes the kid doubt the mother. Plus, it makes the kid doubt himself, for believing the mom. When you took me to Canada to meet my dad for the first time, I knew neither of you had any idea what to expect, since you hadn’t seen each other for seven years. So, Mom, you could have been all self-righteous, and Dad could have gotten cold feet. But the power of sucking it up and doing what’s best for the kid, that’s the best thing a parent could ever do. Hey—shouldn’t I be asking you some questions?

ANNIE I guess so.

SAM You’ve always had to be the “grownup” in the family. But do you ever feel out of control, like you’re losing it?

Originally published in the April 2012 issue

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