On Our Shelves Now
A psychologist who evaluates the fitness of parents when their children have been removed from their custody finds herself reassessing her own mothering when her son falls victim to the opioid crisis.
Psychologist and expert witness Dr. Sharon Lamb evaluates parents, particularly in high-stakes cases concerning the termination of parental rights. The conclusions she reaches can mean that some children are returned home from foster homes. Others are freed for adoption. Well-trained, Lamb generally can decide what’s in the best interests of the child. But when her son’s struggle with opioid addiction comes to light, she starts to doubt her right to make judgments about other mothers.
As an expert, a professor, and a mother, Lamb gives voice to the near impossible standards demanded by a society prone to blame mothers when anything befalls their children. She describes vividly the plight of individual parents, mothers in particular, struggling with addiction and mental illness and trying to make stable homes for their kids amid the economic and emotional turmoil of their lives—all in the context of the opioid epidemic that has ravaged her home state of Vermont. In her office, during visits with their children, and in the family court, the parents we meet wait anxiously for Lamb’s verdict: Have they turned their lives around under child welfare’s watchful eye? Do they understand their children’s needs? In short, are they good enough? But what is good enough? Lamb turns that question on herself in the midst of her gradual realization of her son’s opioid addiction. Amazed at her own denial, feeling powerless to help him, Lamb confronts the heartache she can bring into the lives of others and her power to tear families apart.
About the Author
Sharon Lamb, EdD, PhD, ABPP, is a professor of counseling psychology at UMass Boston. An experienced clinician, she sees children, adolescents, and adults at her therapy office in Shelburne, Vermont. She’s the author, editor, and coauthor of many books and articles about children, women, and trauma. Visit her online at sharonlamb.com and on Twitter at @drsharonlamb.
“The writing is engaging, and Lamb’s professionalism is evident, but what mostly shines through is her empathy, sympathy, and deep concern for her clients, both children and adults . . . . This honest look at how society judges parents, mothers in particular, deserves a wide audience.”
—Booklist, Starred Review
“She maintains an open-hearted compassion toward mothers battling similar addictions. At the same time, she shows just how tough some decisions can be when lives are on the line. In a concise book, Lamb ably demonstrates the challenges and pitfalls of passing judgment in such an imperfect world.”
“This is the sort of book that begs to be read all at once, in a trance partly fueled by the egotistical longing to see ourselves, our own childhoods and less-than-good-enough mothering, reflected in Lamb’s analysis. With the perfect ratio of warmth and X-ACTO precision, Lamb cuts to the tender pink of everything that can go awry in the parent-child covenant.”
“The Not Good Enough Mother is an essential read for juvenile law practitioners and will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.”
—Vermont Bar Journal
“In surefooted prose informed by experienced skepticism and personal humility, psychologist Sharon Lamb guides us through the moral and emotional ambiguities of judging the fitness of other women—and herself—to mother, in a culture a that mobilizes guilt and shame, and an economy that offers little support. The Not Good Enough Mother is both intimate and political, bracingly intelligent and deeply moving.”
—Judith Levine, author of Harmful to Minors
“Sharon Lamb shares with us what she knows about child placement and custody, telling heartbreaking stories about the children and parents she has evaluated, trying always to be fair and kind to all. With wisdom and empathy, she reflects on these most complex of questions about attachment, parenting, and rights. This book increased my moral imagination. I encourage all who truly wish to understand the lives affected by custody decisions to read this important book.”
“No armchair academic or desk-bound psychologist (though richly credentialed in both fields), Lamb has worked in homes, courtrooms, and clinics; she returns to give us a treasury of intimate reportage, carefully wrought wisdom, self-awareness, and fierce truth telling that pours light into the most neglected passageways of parents and their children. The Not Good Enough Mother places Lamb in the diagnostic company of Robert Coles and Karen Horney, and recalls the writerly precision of Joan Didion. A superb and important new book.”
—Ron Powers, author of No One Cares About Crazy People
“Sharon Lamb’s The Not Good Enough Mother is a chilling and brutally honest account of how mothers, even with the best of intentions, fail their children. Lamb draws deft portraits of parents who love their children but who fail them in responsibility, in accountability, in addiction, in mental illness. One comes away from this book a better parent for having read it.”
—Lauren Slater, author of Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother
“I sped through Sharon Lamb’s book in two days, even waking up at night to read, so compelled was I by its combination of case studies of parents, often once opiate-addicted or violent, whose parenting capacities Lamb needs to evaluate for the courts and her own story of having a son who turns out to struggle with opiates himself. What will keep me thinking about the book are the heartrending issues of forgiveness, empathy, guilt, responsibility, and judgment Lamb probes.”
—Debra Spark, author of The Unknown Caller
“Beautiful and wrenching; Lamb’s book refuses any easy formulations. It’s a book I expect to have a long shelf life, and a long life in readers’ minds and hearts after that.”
—Devon Jersild, author of Happy Hours