Real Mothers: Excerpt from “House Rules” by Jodi Picoult

In Jodi’s latest novel, House Rules, the mother of a fairly high-functioning Asperger’s patient wrestles with the emotional fallout of raising a special-needs child. Feeling alternately isolated, overwhelmed, and fearful of the future, Emma struggles to fashion some semblance of a life from the shards of disappointed hopes.

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who has a special-needs child with an attachment disorder. “You know, I really don’t like to admit this. I’m his mother … an yet sometimes, I’m not sure I LOVE him. I don’t feel loving. It’s just too hard.” She paused, waiting for me to react with the revulsion she fully expected.

I didn’t. Truth is,  understood all too well how a child can push a parent’s buttons so effectively, so relentlessly, that warm and fuzzy thoughts completely elude that parent. Others look on, horrified and disapproving. But the stifling, the frustration, the discouragement … It’s hard not to give up hope that it will ever get better than this.

Midway through “House Rules,” however, I came across this excerpt that was so inspiring I just had to share it here, to encourage you to buy the book. The mother in the story, Emma, is a newspaper columnist who has two boys, including one with Asperger’s Syndrome (a condition on the autism spectrum). She writes:

It is tempting to believe that all mothers wake up feeling freh every morning, never raise their voices, only cook organic food, and are equally at ease with the CEO and the PTA.

Here’s the secret: Those mothers don’t exist. Most of us — even if we’d never confess — are suffering through the raisin bran in the hopes of a glimpse of that magic ring. …

Real mothers wonder why experts who write for Parents and Good Housekeeping — and, I dare say it, the Burlington Press — seem to have their acts together all the time when they themselves can barely keep thei heads above the stormy seas of parenthood.

Real mothers don’t just listen with humble embarrassment to the elderly lady who offers unsolicited advice in the checkout line when a child is throwing a tantrum. We take the child, dump him in the lady’s cart, and say, “Great. Maybe you can do a better job.”

Real mohers know that it’s okay to eat cold pizza for breakfast.

Real mothers admit it is easier to fail at this job than to succeed.

If parenting is the box of raising bran, then real mothers know the ratio of flakes to fun is severely imbalanced. For every moment that your child confides in you, or tells you that he loves you, or does something unprompted to protect his brother … there are many more moments of chaos, error, and self-doubt….

Real mothers worry that other mothers will find that magic ring, whereas they’ll be looking and looking for ages.

Rest easy, real mothers. The very fact that you worry about being a good mom means that you already are one.

Thanks, Jodi. I needed that today.

“House Rules” is available through, and was published in 2010 by Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster. This excerpt has been used by permission of the publisher.

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