Friday, June 5, 2009

Why the bad mother trend is not good

At the risk of appearing terribly outdated and completely out of step with what the media has apparently identified as the latest trend sweeping the mom crowd, I'd like to step up and declare something publicly.

I am a good mom.

Shocking isn't it?

I don't think so either, but having been inundated these last several months by the idea that the "in" thing is to declare yourself as a bad parent, the rebel in me just wanted to be clear about how I feel.

And, for the record, I feel really very irritated.

I'm irritated that once again the latest in "how moms feel" has been identified as a brand-new trend, ripe for the picking by a seemingly endless parade of "parenting issues" reporters who fill ever-expanding lifestyle sections of media outlets with breathless prattle about new maternal archetypes.


There's the news that a compilation of the popular Bad Parent columns over at Babble will be made into a book, there's Ayelet Waldman's much-publicized new book, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace and today there was this story in my local paper in which the director of the Association for Research on Mothering at York University (really!) cheerily quips " "If you're not a bad mom now, then you're a bad mom."

Double blech.

To be clear, I'm not taking issue with Her Bad Mother, the existence of which predates this latest frenzy to identify and make a buck off how moms are feeling . Catherine Connors is a real life friend and an astonishingly talented writer and I will consider any publicity she and her brilliant blog gets from this bandwagon to be the silver lining in a dark and sorry media cloud.

What I'm taking issue with is the endless push by the media to track, monitor and commodify trends among all segments in society and most especially the lucrative mommy crowd. It's big business. Trends create controversy, trends sell stories and books and trends provide jobs for pundits. Identifying trends also allow us to peg whole segments of society, take their measure, sum them up, add a big, red bow and walk away thinking we know how people tick.

But the thing is, we don't. All we've done is helped a very few people figure out how to sell something to other people who pride themselves on chasing trends. And when we participate in this we participate in the attempt to turn every damn thing into a "trend" and to marginalize the voices of people with experiences that differ from what's being reported.

Maybe I shouldn't care what the latest lifestyle headlines read, but damnit this is my history too that's being written and this bad mom trend is just another in a long line of trends that future generations will look back on and use to try and understand my experience and the experiences of my generation.

And it's not my experience. I don't think I'm alone in declaring that I'm not a bad mom and I have no desire to identify myself as a bad mom. In fact, I'm a very good mom and I'm proud of it. I have my struggles, like everyone, and while I might occasionally write about them in a humorous fashion, I'm not interested in endlessly tapping the vein of faux self deprecation for shock value or cheap laughs or sympathy.

Or to be trendy.

I understand that the "bad mom" trend is meant to be a backlash against the old "perfect mom" trend or what the above-linked Toronto Star article calls "impossible standards" for parents but guess what?

I think the so-called "widespread pressure" to be a perfect mom and the old trend of "impossible parenting standards" are nothing but made-up media constructs too. I've never felt societal pressure to be a perfect mom and no one has ever asked or, to my knowledge ever expected, me to conform to impossible standards. And also? I've asked around and none of my friends have either. Instead we all just vaguely recall the media prattling on about some kind of supermom phenomenon.

Whatever. I've written about this media beast before with regards to the much-ballyhooed and, in my opinion largely made-up, "mommy wars".

I think we owe it to the next generation of women to refuse to conform to the labels the media would stick on us, whether they say bad mom, supermom, helicopter mom, free-range mom or whatever damn mom sells papers and books next week.

When I was coming of age as a woman I read the Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan and The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. Those books helped me find my way and establish my identity by providing thought-provoking, reasoned, philosophical discourse about the lives and struggles of women who had gone before me.

It bothers me that the next generation of women may well take my measure by studying media trends and reading a compilation of Bad Parent columns.

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MarĂ­a said...

I get what you're saying. I think I ran across a blog the other day which was in that realm of 'bad mommy' and was basically just anecdotes of the things she does wrong. It seemed...contrived? I dunno.

Me, I blog what I want, like I always have. No purpose other than writing and having people react, like every other writer/blogger out there. For 6 years now. I don't wanna get swept up in this wave either. I don't like the stigma of it.

caramama said...

Amen, Mama! I'm so with you on all of this!

And I'm a pretty good mom. I have good moments, bad moments and all sorts of moments in between. It's called being a mom. No, it's called being human!

Amy said...

You took the words right out of my post! This is AWESOME.

I have a draft about how I'm ok with my mostly traditional set up. Hubby makes WAY more money, the kids are happy and life is pretty settled and thankthelord non-controversial. We're good parents and that's boring perhaps but I'm ok with that.

Bird's Eye View Photography said...

This is the first I have heard about it and I have to say I am not impressed with the idea at all.

Burgh Baby said...


I am SO over the "let's compete to see which one of us is the worst mom." It's one thing to share anecdotes from our less proud moments in a way that is along the lines of, "it happens to the best of us," but lately it's gotten way past that.

Michelle said...

Once again, another commodity is being sold to people who are already spending way too much.
I completely agree with you.

Mr Lady said...

You know what? I am a fantastic mom, too, and I'm happy to say that. :)

BusyDad said...

Very insightful. It is so widely thrown around that you think that moms will begin feeding their kids ho ho's and fritos for dinner once a week just so they can keep their bad mom cred going. Ironically, the "great dad" trend runs in parallel to that within our pop culture consciousness. Which makes me proud to be a meh dad who has his moments. Trend buckin. That's the name of the game.

OHmommy said...

Thank you.

The_EmilyB said...

Jesus, this is the best we can do for trends? As a soon to be new mom I haven't heard too much hype about it but I have to say the whole idea pisses me off. To me a bad mother is someone who abuses, neglects or damages her child in some way. Most moms, from what I can tell, are just doing the best they can.

And who's defining good mom and bad mom behaviour anyway? Is letting your pre-teens have a glass of watered down wine at a family celebration bad? Is helicopter parenting good? We need to decide the standards for ourselves and then make it happen as best we can - to hell with whether its trendy or not.

Flea said...

I hadn't heard of this bad mommy trend, but I'm culturally inept. Dang. I have a lot of catching up to do. Does this require that I beat my children daily and feed them nothing but Mountain Dew and fried chicken? That sounds expensive. Could I just feed them white bread and coffee instead? We always have coffee on hand.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Thoughtful and well-put as usual.

I have had a post in my mind for some time about how I would do any job I was given to do (parenting and homemaking included) well. Would a woman brag about being a bad doctor or a bad executive? I'm just afraid it might be too preachy.

Kayris said...

I hadn't heard about the book of Babble columns. What's funniest about THAT is that many of those columns aren't really about "bad" parenting, like the recent column on letting kids choose their own clothes.

I agree that it seems to be one of two extremes. Either competition about who is more awesome, or women crowing, "I suck worse than you!" Ridiculous.

Zoeyjane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Redneck Mommy said...

in endlessly tapping the vein of faux self deprecation for shock value or cheap laughs or sympathy.

You just completely and entirely summed up my blog.

I'm okay with that though.

Because I am not my blog.

And I don't need the media, my blog or anyone else to tell me I am a good mom.

Because I'm not.

I'm a fantastic mom.

Zoeyjane said...

Absofreakinglutely. You put that so well. Those of us that may shoot ourselves down online, most of us didn't - and continue to not - do it for trendiness. When I started the mommy-blogging three years ago, I was convinced that people would string me up.

I echo what both Maria and MrLady said: I write for me, not a trend, and despite how often I might not feel like it, I'm a good mom and I'm okay with that - even if it's uncool.

{I just left that with the wrong log-in. Whoops!}

Maria Melee said...

I agree.

It's important for us to feel like we don't need to be perfect. And it's important for us to admit our mistakes and insecurities.

But making it cool to suck? No. Every mom I know WANTS to be good but is WILLING to admit that sometimes we fail, and that is HARD, not awesome.

Blog said...


I'm naturally perfectionistic and self-deprecating, but I would never say I was a BAD MOM. And I would NEVER be proud to say that. I do my best EVERY DAY (to the point of exhaustion) to be a good mom. And that's not because anyone has put pressure on me. I want my kids to have the best possible day, every day. That's pretty much my goal every day. It doesn't always happen, no. But, I try. I think that makes me a good mother.

Pop and Ice said...

I couldn't give much cred to the "Bad Mom" movement except that it seemed gimmicky. I am a good Mom, but I am also a very tired Mom at times and don't do all the things I should. So I'm not perfect Mom. But I'm certainly more than Good Enough Mom and I have taken care of my kids in ways that my ex couldn't due to time constraints. But I do understand his constraints and he makes it perfectly clear how much he cares for his kids and appreciates the work that I do to keep them as healthy and functioning as possible.

Natasha said...

I'm going to dare to disagree here and say that moms feeling pressure to be perfect is not a mere media construct. Perhaps "perfect" is overstating things but I would say that I definitely feel more pressure than my mother did to be educated and to weigh out every decision. I thought Brandie made some good points in the Toronto Star article about the things we moms analyse and consider that our moms did not.

That said, I agree with everything you said about the media jumping on a "bad moms" trend... except that I disagree (ha- again!) that the media is making it up. It's something I've been noticing for a while in the blogosphere. For a while now it has not been cool to openly pat oneself on the back for excellent mothering, even in a matter-of-fact way. Some of the most popular mom bloggers take part in what you you nailed as "endlessly tapping the vein of faux self deprecation for shock value or cheap laughs or sympathy". YESSSS.

Take Dooce for example. She regularly jokes about letting the cocaine and hookers babysit her daughter and ya, it's funny but it's also constant. She constantly makes herself sound like a bad mother... until she writes her monthly letters to Leta when THEN the real, good mom is allowed to come out without having to worry about what people might say about her bragging about how great her child or her mothering is. The fact that she's no longer talking to blog readers but is talking to Leta is her out.

Many mom bloggers have found their schtick and faux self-deprecation is exactly it and it usurps the need for good writing. Not that I'm going to name names.

Anonymous said...

I read an article today about the 'bad mom' trend and I had exactly the same reaction. Really, what trend? What backlash? Only I was probably less articulate not nearly so awesome as you were here.

Being a mom is hard, we all struggle. But that doesn't make us bad mothers. To suggest it does, even tongue-in-cheek, is to buy into an ideal that I think does no one any service. We're all just human, doing our best.

Leanne said...

I read the article too. And yep, I'm not just a good Mom, I'm a GREAT Mom - like you. And I'm okay with what I am so I don't care what any article says, they're just trying to sell papers anyway.

Mandy said...

Another fantastic post. The bad parenting bandwagon is definitely one I don't strive to be on. Or respect.

Al_Pal said...

Awesome post.
First time reader.
I'm an auntie. :P

Here via twitter.

Karen MEG said...

Trendy is what trendy does... all perfectly constructed for the masses, as you have so amazingly written about here. You are bang on, as usual.

Yay, you.

I'm just a mom, I'm just winging it. My kids like me some of the time and love me all of the time.

And that's good enough for me. (at least most of the time ;)

Jennifer said...

I think you're very lucky to not have felt pressure to be the perfect mom. It seems that I always seem to find that ONE person who tries to make me feel badly about something (sugar that I feed my kids, scheduling my kids, not enrolling/enrolling my kid in the "right" school....) I know that on my personal blog I do write about the struggles I have with being a good enough parent and I do poke fun at myself sometimes (a lot?).

This is NOT to say that I, in anyway, disagree with your post. I just hope that when I do joke about my sucktitude as a parent, people see it as a way to say, "hey, I do that, too!" We're normal!"

I have seen a huge onslaught of blogs that are ONLY written to talk about how bad they are and how that is a cool thing. I get irritated by these because, like Maria stated above, they seem contrived.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I do sometimes talk about the silly things I do, my insecurities, but I *hope* they don't seem contrived or like I'm hopping on a bandwagon.

Excellent, excellent post.

Avitable said...

I think embracing the fact that every mom fucks up and nobody is a perfect mom, no matter how much they strive to be, is a good thing. Because anyone who thinks that they're doing everything right is a fucking moron. And the people who are holier-than-thou and put forth this impression of being a perfect mother with perfect children are usually the ones whose kids turn into serial killers and sociopaths.

The mothers who are willing to talk about everything, warts and all, are usually the ones who are outstanding parents, because they're smart enough to know that they're flawed.

Rachel said...


Maria and Jennifer, IMO, said it perfectly.

I write because I want to share and I write for me and for my kids (someday when they can read and care)

I write the stories about being a 'fail mom' but they're just that.. they're stories about the days that I mess up or when I wish that I handled things differently.

I know and see, exactly what you're talking about. It's eye catching, and people love train wrecks.
Hopefully, it is over soon.

Marinka said...

The perfect supermom may be a fictional construct, but it's a very potent one. I don't have a problem with the "bad mother" concept, actually. I think it's important for moms to aim at something lower than perfection for their own sake and their children's.
I think what happens on blogs is different--often it's a persona, a style and not a completely accurate reflection of parenthood.

I think I'm a good enough mother. I adore my kids, but sometimes I wish they'd just shut up and go to sleep already.

Bridget said...

I agree with you, too.

I think we sometimes focus on what type of mommy we are and forget to actually just be a plain old mommy. One who loves her kids and wants to keep them happy and healthy.

karengreeners said...

I'm a pretty freakin awesome mom. And I work hard to be.

It is sometimes hard to feel, as a mother, like anything much more than a chump demographic, able to be marketed to in whatever new and creative ways pr and ad firms come up with. You're trendy! You're hip! You're total suckers! Buy our trendy, hip products and you'll be better (bad) mothers!

Whatever. If anybody ever decides that moms that have tattoos and practice extended breastfeeding and non-medicated births are the next hot trend, than I'll be in trouble. Until then, I won't believe the hype. Gotta go bake some muffins, because I actually enjoy doing that kind of thing.

Backpacking Dad said...

Some of this post sounds like blaming trees for logging.

Media trend=stupid, manipulative, dishonest. As it always does.

The 'bad mom' style of confessional writing? This is not a target for the criticism against media selling a lifestyle product. Some people are being tricked into thinking being a 'bad mom' is something to pursue rather than to admit, but I doubt it's the bloggers. Nor are they the ones doing the tricking. With possibly some exceptions (but I don't know of any among the blogs I read) they are confessions, not sermons.

Jen said...

I really hope this is a short-lived trend and truly doesn't influence any impressionable first-time moms. While there is definitely danger in trying to be the "perfect" mom, I don't see any purpose in going doing the opposite.

I do the best I can for my kids day in and day out, but there are times that I fail them and I just hope that in the end all the good outweighs the few bad moments.

Great post!

Romi said...

Hi - thanks for this thoughtful post. As the founder of and the editor of True Mom Confessions: Real Moms Get Real, I can take some credit for perpetuating and yes, benefitting from the media's need to classify all this real talk about motherhood as a new "bad mommy trend."

But just for the record, I never intended anything I started or continue to do online or off, to encourage the notion that "we're bad and proud of it." I believe this was a headline in the Wall Street Journal which gave me something to show my kids and friends in the business community but ultimately rolled my site/book/general belief into a media created construct that I don't necessarily agree with.

I certainly don't think were 1) bad or 2) bad and proud of it.

it was my goal when I started an anonymous confessional to simply let women say things they were afraid to say outloud for fear of judgment and criticsm. I was espousing uncensored honesty, not bragging about being a "bad" mom. Sadly, we need labels so we can better understand things - so if the conversation about good/perfect motherhood was about anything but that, the pendulum swung to the other side of good, which until there's another name for it, will always be bad.

In the end, I think the message behind the label of the "bad mother" is a good one - we're all lowering the bar a bit and chipping away at an age old "perfect mother" myth that doesn't work for anyone. I hope my daughters - and all the new mothers out there - will set different, more realistic expectations for themselves and see us bad mothers as good role models. In this case - bad might be the new good.

Kit Kat said...

I agree that the media tends to focus way too much on trends. Trends tend to be cyclical and hard to quantify. So every few years you hear the same trends over and over again.

As far as the "bad mommy" stuff: I think that it started in part as a response to the pressure to be the perfect parent. I know I feel like I could be a better parent, so it's good to hear that other women struggle too. I don't think that most of these confessions are really about bad parents, just honest ones. I don't think I'm a bad parent and definitely don't strive to be one. I just want to be the best parent I can, and I know I'll make mistakes along the way.

jh said...

Great post, thanks for standing up against such commodification. I really love your blog and learn something every time I read it. Thank you.

Boda Weight Loss Blog

Unknown said...

Yay for the good Moms (which I believe constitutes the majority of us!) And you're right, this whole "bad mom" thing is absolutely ridiculous. Let's change the trend!

Kyla said...

I think the bad parenting trend was a tongue in cheek response to the perfection that was being peddled to us, but has now become something of the same ilk. Funny how that happens.

They want all of us in a box. A perfect box, a bad doesn't matter, as long as we are boxed in.

Jaina said...

Media is absolutely ridiculous. This is a fabulous post Kelly. Thank you for this. :)

dogwooddiarist said...

This post is just so thought-provoking, but somewhat unsettling to me.

I find media trends fascinating -- to me they present a kind of chicken and egg problem. I have seen blogging as an opportunity to examine and break down the some of the oversimplified labels of the media; I wonder if bloggers don't gain collective momenturm being trend buckers, who then become trendsetters and finally, trendmongers.

One observation of yours that struck me was this:
"And when we participate in [the commodification of trends] we participate in the attempt to turn every damn thing into a "trend" and to marginalize the voices of people with experiences that differ from what's being reported."

In what ways do we marginalize people with different experiences? Is this the same as saying that the media reports on stupid trite topics and ignores the truly newsworthy in our society?

Then NYTimes blog "Motherlode" by Lisa Belkin is a little guilty of what I think you're talking about. She uses her high profile to leverage issues that are sometimes, to my mind, a little sensationalist and silly. And many readers rightly take her to task for presenting idiotic theories/opinions on parenting. On the other hand, it is her detractors that make her blog fantastic -- often the comments are superb and far reaching in their criticism. I wish these blogs would allow comment threads, but none of them seem to.

Finally, I don't really concur in the idea that the "perfect mother" standard is a media construct. If it is, I also see it all around me and am made somewhat insecure by it. The old method of passing down parenting wisdom from generation to generation is gone, for the better perhaps, but still, the field is left wide open. And like like most disciplines that are becoming increasingly specialized, parenting is turning into a subject for which you need a Phd. Hence a lot of the nonsense and the perfectionism.

Thanks for raising our consciousness in this matter of the media and parenting trends. You have really hit the nail on the head when you note the trap so many fall into of "endlessly tapping the vein of faux self deprecation for shock value or cheap laughs or sympathy." This is "trendiness" in its worst form.

melissa said...

there are so many "trends" out there. i always write a post on my opinion. but this bad mommy trend...
i didn't feel the need to say a word. it's ridiculous. it's one thing to say that i am a great mom but i've made some mistakes along the way. but THAT doesn't make me a bad mom. it makes me human.
i'm a mom and a step mom. i'm really good at being a mom. i love being a mom. i'm awesome at being inconsistent. i'm awesome at screaming at them to get my point across. i could go on and on.
i won't.
you're right.
this whole post...terrific.

Jane of Seagull Fountain said...

Great take on the media angle. I couldn't agree more that the "Good/Perfect Mother" stereotype is mostly a media construct and that (most?) thinking mom's are suspicious enough of that to not need a Bad Mother Manifesto (though I, too, respect Catherine's abilities and views).

Also -- that extremism and false binaries drowns out the authentic, struggling day-to-day, individual voices that are all over the map.

Dana said...

I came over from another post, it seems the bad mommy topic is spreading like weeds.

I use to think that certain parenting mistakes I made might classify me as a bad mother.

But the more I think about it, the more realize I am a good mom, not perfect of course, but I do my best. And those mistakes helped me learn valuable lessons.

I think we all do the best job we can. Or at least we try.

Out-Numbered said...

It weird. When I started writing my blog, I had no clue there was a blogging community out there. I write for me and as me. Don't care who throws me in what category. It's funny though, you never really hear about any of this stuff in the dad blog community. I hope we're immune. Great post. It's my first time here. I'll be back...

Estherar said...

Great post. One of the things I take on over at my own blog is the "Who the hell said Good Mommies have to do X?" propositions - X being stuff like babywearing, breastfeeding until the kid's in college - or at all, never CIO, and that sort of thing. Once you take a look at what passes for evidence X makes for better isn't quite as clear as the parenting tomes make it out to be.

I'm a Good Mommy 'cause my kids tell me so...most of the time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this thought provoking post. Yes, it seems we are constantly being peered at by the world of marketers who are so quick to pick up a catch phrase (like 'bad mother') and run with it in order to up sales.

I think you're right, labels, no matter how liberating they were intended to be, restrict people rather than provide them with freedom.

Now a mother of two young boys, I am constantly dismayed at the objectification of mothers. It seems that feminism is dead in a bad, bad way. We are never given any slack. If we're not 'yummy', we're 'bad'. We seem to be the most labelled, most toyed with group of people. I guess it's because there is potentially so much money to be made of us.

But more than that, we're seen as a category rather than individuals. I'm not good, I'm not bad, I do the best I can in any given moment and sometimes that's AMAZING and sometimes that's not great. But I can't do much else. meaning of 'bad mother.'

The labels that are assigned to mothers assume that we can change in order to suit whatever whim of mothering style is currently in fashion. I just want to be a carer, protector, teacher of my children. In whatever way that plays out.

Thanks for the post.

Flea said...

Damn my ADD. I'm reading all the comments and there's a thought rolling around in here somewhere. Something to do with all things in moderation.

As to perfection, if we take chaos theory seriously, we need to keep the bar pretty high, since sitting still and settling for mediocre actually takes us backward. We lie to ourselves when we tell ourselves continually that any old effort we make will just have to be okay.

That said, there are situations and lives where struggling to make do will just have to be enough. Okay. I get that. I lived there once. For a long time. We ate mac'n;cheese all the time. Wore Goodwill clothes. It was horrible. I was depressed. Home was an awful place. But my kids were pretty darn happy and didn't usually know the difference. And that was because, even though I was miserable, I was determined that my kids wouldn't be. IT WAS HARD WORK, DAMMIT.

So what I'm saying is that there's no such thing as perfect. There IS such a thing as a bad mother. Abusive mother. Horrible parents are all over the place. I'm not one of them. And not because I kicked back and pretended I was okay. But because I worked at it. Not for some ideal. Not because I compared myself with anyone.

Here's what it boiled down to. I worked to be a great mom because I LOVE MY KIDS. I was the mom they needed me to be. Not the mom I, or anyone else, needed me to be.

Sorry to step up to the box here.

Stacey said...

I quite enjoy the self depracating humour of a bad mummy blog, but then I also laugh at Dads being hit in the groin with a baseball bat on Funniest Home Videos.
I don't object to the trend itself, but I do object to it being identified as a trend by those who will use and abuse for their own gain.

Loukia said...

Well written post, well said. I consider myself a good mom to my two boys, too. I talk about both the wonders of parenthood and the challenges, but overall, I love this job and think I'm doing a damn good job at it, too!

TheWeirdGirl said...

I like this post on the whole, but that perfect mommy standard is not just media created. I listen to moms put each other down all the time for these niggling things that in the grand scheme will make your kids no smarter, happier or better.

That being said, I don't love the bad mommy trend either. There are enough bad parents out there without adding more.

I think what you need, and what half of these bad parents are trying to convey (albeit poorly) is the idea of relaxed parenting, on which there are several good books. I recommend Break Free of Parenting Pressures, as a guide.

On the whole what you get half the time with the media is a blowing out of proportion. I don't think most parents set out to be bad ones.