Her Bad Mother

Monday, March 27, 2006

A mommy by any other name would still smell like spit-up

(This is not the Dull and Pedantic Post that I warned about in my last post. No, this is an entirely new Pedantic Post that may, in fact, also be Dull. And Long. LOOOONG. Consider yourself warned.)

(But! There are pictures!)

The debate about what Women-Who-Are-Mothers-Who-Not-So-Incidentally-Blog should call themselves rages on. Apparently, to refer to one’s blogger self as a Mommy is, in some circles, considered jejune. Mommies, after all, are not taken seriously, and so any blogger looking for a serious audience ought to avoid the sticky taint of such a juvenile term and refer to themselves as Mom, Mother or Parent.

To be honest, my reaction when this topic first hit my blogdar was: you’re kidding me, right? RIGHT? Who (expletive, expletive) cares? And then, more expletives, sotto voce.

But then I gave it a second thought, in part because other literate and thoughtful WWAMWNSIBs had something to say about it, and I pay attention to literate and thoughtful people. (Not so much to ignorant dipshits, but then I try to avoid such persons as much in the blogosphere as I do in real life.) Why does it matter what we call ourselves?

I'm not fully certain why it matters to the blogging public, although I agree with others that it has something to do with securing respect in the public space that is the parenting blogosphere. There's weight attached to the terminology used in parenting, and the names that we use to identify ourselves as parents carry a tremendous share of that weight. In an environment where language is the primary means of identifying and characterizing ourselves and our peers, what we call ourselves takes on an enormous significance. You don't like women who call themselves mommies? You might not like me, then, even if you've never read a word of my blog. Does that matter to me? Absolutely.

But beyond its obvious relevance to my desire to be liked (please oh please, blubber), why does this matter to me? And why do I call myself what I do?

What I said today at Kristen’s site, in a comment to her thoughtful post on the topic:

I’m still trying to figure out what my thoughts are on this subject. In part, I think, because I am still trying to figure out my thoughts on being called a mommy, a mom, a breeder or whatever. At 4 months, Baby isn’t calling me anything yet, but I imagine that when she does it will be ‘Mommy.’ (If she calls me ‘Mother’ immediately, or refers to me by my given name, I'll take that as just weird.) So I usually think of my new identity as Mommy. But I’m sensitive to it being perceived as less serious than other identities I might have.

And I’ve also spent far too long in academia to be insensitive to the Politics of Naming. In fact, I would say that I am now so sensitive to such politics that I develop a rash when exposed. I once participated in a meeting at the university to discuss the formation of a women’s caucus within our department. The entire meeting was spent debating whether it would be alienating to women to even call the group a caucus because, you know, COCK-US. The penile reference might Intimidate and undermine the Inclusivity of the Group. I never went back.

I’ve gone a little off-track here. What I wanted to get across was the following: a) I usually get hives and so run off in pursuit of salve when the politics of language rears its ugly head, but b) I recognize that it *can* be a part of important and necessary discussions… It is in this case (important and necessary, that is), because what we call ourselves as mothers has everything to do with how we identify ourselves as mothers, and that happens both individually and collectively…

So how do I identify myself? That question is so loaded for me that it almost put me off writing this post. The fast, dirty and painful answer is that I have very little idea who I am in this new life. I've addressed the question of my greater existential turmoil elsewhere, and will no doubt do so again (because I know that you all burn, burn to read about it.) But what I can say, right now, is this: I’m a Mommy. For now, for today, for better or for worse, I. Am. A. Mommy.



Ceci n'est pas une Mother

Why not Mom, Mother or Parent? I do use those terms, sometimes. But not often, because they all carry connotations that don’t, or don’t yet, comfortably apply to me.

Why not Mom? It’s what I call my own mother. I view it as indicative of a greater maturity in one’s role as the maternal parent, and also of a more mature relationship between parent and child. Or of a completely immature relationship that has nonetheless advanced to later stages (as in ‘gawd, MOM, stop embarrassing me!’ spat through the braces of a livid 14-year-old.) Some day I’ll be a Mom. But I’m not there yet. It may be the case that calling myself a Mom would earn me more respect as a parent or as a blogger. But, again – Not There Yet.

Why not Mother? This is more complicated. The maturity issue, referred to above, obviously applies here. But there's more to it than that. I refer to myself on this blog as Her Bad Mother, and not Her Bad Mommy (the Google hits would be too disturbing, and in any case, there’s a story behind HBM), but the 'Bad' detracts from the seriousness of 'Mother.' This, obviously, is part of the intent of the moniker. Although I am A Mother, I cannot refer to myself simply as ‘Mother’ with a straight face. And, not without thinking about nuns, the movie ‘Psycho,’ and expletive-laden hyphenations. I can talk about motherhood, mothering, and about being Her Mother and a mother generally, so long as we’re sticking to the abstract third-person. But I can’t call myself Mother, at least not as a proper name. And I can’t imagine my own daughter ever calling me Mother in anything other than a voice of outright exasperation.

Why not Parent? I don't really mind the term 'parent' to describe myself. It's safe, I'll say that. I use it in discussions with my doctor and other professional support persons. But 'parent,' to me, has the same feel as the term ‘partner,’ when used to describe a husband, wife, co-breeder, whatever. It’s devoid of any personality. It tells me nothing about the person being described. Which is, I suppose, the point. But I’m not entirely comfortable with de-gendering parent roles: parenthood is gendered, even when it’s Dad at home and Mom at work and/or when Daddy is the softie pushover and Mommy the hard-ass and/or whatever. Fathers are boys and mothers are girls, and this is true even when there are two of either in one household. But that’s a whole other post.

I like knowing whether the person at hand is male or female, and – here’s the rub – whether they describe themselves as Mommy/Daddy, Mom/Dad or Mother/Father. Even if our respective understandings of those terms differ, your use of one or the other or all of them tells me something about you. Not, I want to stress, as fodder for the Great Filter of Judgment – my preferred fodder for the Filter are demonstrations of stupidity, extreme illiteracy and blatant disregard for norms of civility. (And maybe, also, acid-washed denim. And camel toes.) I’ll always make every effort to avoid judging a parent by how they refer to themselves. We all have our reasons for identifying ourselves the way that we do. The interesting question is, why? Why do you call yourself a Mommy? A Dad? A Bitch with Baby? A Dude with Diaper Bag?

Right now I usually refer to myself as a Mommy. ‘Mommy’ resonates with me because it connotes immaturity. I am absolutely an immature mother. I’ve never done this before. New motherhood baffles me, so I can’t pretend to be anything other than a total neophyte. ‘Mommy’ also resonates with me because this stage of parenthood strikes me as a profoundly ridiculous enterprise. Not ridiculous in the sense of unimportant, but ridiculous in the classical sense of inspiring laughter (following the Latin ridere, to laugh). It's silly. I’m tripping all over myself as I find my mother-legs, and this is a silly, risible thing to behold. It’s clumsy, crazy, goofy Seussian parenting and I’m not going to – can’t – cloak it in a veil of seriousness. So I refer to myself the way my immediate live audience would, and will, refer to me – as Mommy. Say it with a giggle.

Giggle, dammit.


If you’ve looked at more than one post on my blog, you’ll know that I sometimes mock my own Mommyness. But you'll know too, I hope, that I also take that Mommyness very seriously. I hope that you’ll take me seriously. But to do this, I think, you have to appreciate that I am, and why I am, a Mommy.

I’ll do the same for you, whatever you call yourself.


Word.

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And! Thanks to the super and amazing Blog Makeover Diva for the fantabulous makeover of Bad Mother Headquarters! Check her out!

21 Comments:

Blogger Christina said...

Awesome. Loved it!

10:29 PM  
Anonymous Kristen said...

The new look? Fabulous!

And your commentary? Even bettah.

Aside from your cuuuttiee, I have to say that I believe that people don't just call themselves something and not care. You choose your own label - you choose how people say your name - you choose how people refer to you because words matter.

I'm with you on the mommy thing - I'm young, new, fumbling. I don't have a strong reaction to the word mommy like some folks - however, I do react strongly when people use it negatively and discard what I've done or written because they think it fits into some category they've created in their own heads.

Then again, maybe I don't want them to read my stuff anyway...

10:37 PM  
Anonymous Kristen said...

Darnit. I posted this LOONNNG fabulous response for naught. Blogger ate it.

Bastards.

Generally, I think language matters. People choose how you say their name, titles, etc. and I think there is something to be said about how you are referred to as a parental unit.

I feel like a mommy - young, new, clueless... and honestly, I don't have a strong reaction to it - more so a strong reaction to people who write me off because they think ill of mommies from a prior negative experience.

But, then who cares if they read me anyway if they think like that?

PS Love the duds and the cutttie.

Erase this if my other one went through...

10:40 PM  
Blogger something blue said...

You're rocking the Mommyness. That was very well put. I believe you may have inspired some lingering thoughts for me to post on.

Your sweetie is so precious!

Also it is very cheery around here. This new design is looking mighty fine.

11:38 PM  
Blogger sunshine scribe said...

Nice blog make over and I loved the mutha sucka t-shirt!

I read this topic posted on some other blogs and I have to admit I just didn’t GET it. What’s more, I couldn’t imagine that it mattered. I mean, why should I care about these semantics?

However, your insightful dissection of this debate made me see it in a different light and care enough to finally have an opinion. I too refer to myself using a variety of titles (mommy, mom, mother, parent, whatever). But I THINK of myself as a mommy -- for that is what my son calls me. I agree with your perspective about maturity and experience and I haven’t really earned my stripes to be his “mom” yet. I am still a mommy.

Your comment about the “cock-us” made me laugh because I work for a grassroots feminist organization where language is uber-important. It is suffocating sometimes and you have to tip toe around every sentence to insure political correctness and inclusively. Blogging and being a mom is a place where I don’t want to do that. Where I don’t have to do that.

Sure my childless friends think “mommy” is a silly term that would equate with calling myself a cutie pie or something equally saccharine. But these are the same people who will be calling themselves that one day when they cross over to the other side. The side where they'll talk and writ about only baby and diapers and spit up. The side of overwhelming but wonderful parenthood/mommyhood/motherhood.

4:17 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Chicky said...

Wow, an argument in support of "Mommy"... That's hard to come by these days. After this post I am now a disciple of the church of HBM!

Personally, I'm Mama. I have a very hard time calling myself "Mommy" if only because I didn't refer to my own mother as "Mommy" for very long - she was always "Mom". To me Mama has that sweet baby touch to it and I'm holding on to all things baby as long as I can.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so enjoying your blog! I absolutely love this post! Didn't realize titles are so important?!
I should re-work my blog to be the mommy, doula, lactivist vbac-tivist rantings of a woman huh?
Thank you for your lovely writings! The pictures are absolutely adorable too...
K

11:43 AM  
Blogger Bahar said...

wow.

I love how you write. I am also a big fan of the WonderBaby now.

You ladies rock!

11:48 AM  
Blogger petite gourmand said...

I'm just mama...I kinda like it.
if it's good enough for Ellen's mama
it's good enough for me.
you are lucky to have the time to write such a long and insightful blog, you must have a good little napper on your hands.
she is extremely cute by the way.
and love the "mutha sucka" onesie.
too funny.

12:31 PM  
Blogger petite gourmand said...

I'm just "mama" at the moment.
hey if it's good enough for Ellen's mama, it's good enough for me.
I don't think being called mommy would bother me though,
yummy mummy is another story.
same with M.I.L.F. that's just plain wrong...
You must have a good little sleeper on your hands to be able to write such a long and insightful blog..lucky you.
your daughter is incredibly cute,
and could the "mutha sucka" tee be any cooler?

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just "mama"
hey if it's good enough for ellen's mama, it's good enough for me.
I don't have a problem with the term "mommy" though.
yummy mummy is a whole other story.
or M.I.L.F is just plain wrong...
you must have a good little sleeper on your hands to enable you to write such a long and "insightful" blog...
lucky you.

12:54 PM  
Blogger petite gourmand said...

oops sorry for the double post.
too much caffeine today.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

I just don't get it. I really don't. Why does it matter what I choose to call myself?

I'm a mother, yes. I call myself Mummy when I'm talking to my baby, just like I call my husband Daddy. Does that make me any more vapid than I was before my daughter came into my life? Um. No, not really. Does it detract from the value of what I think and feel? Nope. Not even a little bit. So, I am a Mummy, and I have a blog.

If the fact that I call myself Mummy makes you judge me, and not want to hear what I have to say, then I don't necessarily want you to be readng what I have to say anyways.

2:03 PM  
Blogger tania (urban_mommy) said...

I really think its comes down to the level of emotion you are willing to wear in public. For me, "mommy" is swimming in emotion and so that is exactly what I hope my little boy calls me. But when I'm in circles where babies are not the focus or parenthood is practically a foreign concept, I extract all the warm fuzzies and go with a simple description: I am a parent, I am a mother. On the blogs, I prefer to emote. That is part of the appeal.
On the other hand, maybe its not for us decide what we are called. My 2 week old son has a very agressive grandmother already lobbying to ensure he calls her by the title she deems to be best. Her attempts to control what my son calls her (and thus, as she sees it, assign to her all the qualities she believes are represented in the title) creep me out. It doesn't seem right to oblige kids to use names just so we get our desired reflection. What about what they want to project onto us? There's got to be room for that too, no?

2:12 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Jenn - I agree that it shouldn't matter. The fact that it does matter to some people bugs the crap out of me. But I'm not really interested, at the moment, in figuring that one out. What I'm interested in is why *I* call myself what I do and why that matters to *me.* Once upon a time I would have choked on the thought that I might refer to myself in the third person as 'Mommy.' Now I love it. Wassup widdat?

Baby love. Puts pink fuzzy edges on the toughest of us (even we still wear black and put Baby in punk onesies).

Urban Mommy - you're right that it's not up to us what our children call us, ultimately, tho' I do think that we influence that (I do, after all, march around the house blathering on about Mommy this and Mommy that, so I figure she's going to pick up on that. Or, she's going to call me and everybody/everything else in her world Dude. Because, you know, that gets said a lot too.)

I'll be happy with whatever she calls me, so long as she does it - as I know she will - with love. But I'm calling myself Mommy, for now, and wearin' it proud.

(petite gourmand - WonderBaby does have one good long nap every day. But it still takes me a whole day, off and on in 15 minute bursts, whenever I can grab them, to get a post up.

3:57 PM  
Blogger my3sons said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Jezer said...

I'm the Mama here, with all that the name implies--the soother, the supper-maker, the kisser of boo-boos great and small, and the one to remind the boy to tack a "ma'am" onto the backside of that "no" (I mean, I will as soon as he starts saying 'no'--it's a Southern thing, you know).

I personally love how you've treated the etymology of our titles, and I like the notion that we might "grow into" more mature titles as we and our babies mature. I think the "Mom" days will be fun, but I'm not so much looking forward to the "Mother" or "Muh-therrrr" moments, which will undoubtedly be coupled with much rolling of eyes.

As always, E is absolutely beautiful. Won't it be a gas when our babies actually call us by name (be it Mommy, Mama, Mom, Mother, or whatever)?

9:40 PM  
Blogger scarbie doll said...

Wow, hit a nerve here, huh? As if we need to add this to our other stresses as Mommies. What you are referred to, or what you refer to yourself as, really depends on a lot of things. What you called your own parents perhaps. What comes naturally to you once you are a parent. What comes naturally to your child.

My husband really wants to be called Papa, because he claims it sounds more European. But when a child's natural instinct is to say the sound Dadadada all day... well, his tune has changed. Plus I can't for the life of me remember to call him Papa instead of Daddy (what I call my own father) in front of Nate.

I like to be called Mama (as in Hot), but 9 times out of 10 I will find myself saying something like, "Yes! That's Mommy's nose!" Interestingly enough, I'm the only one Nate doesn't call by name. He just sorta grunts and whines in my general direction.

And for the record, no one ever refers to me as MILF, except me. I can't help it, it makes me laugh. MILF is like this imaginary character that appears during imaginary sex, of course, because who has the energy for the real stuff? Random hand jobs, however, those I can give in my sleep ;)

There was a point in here somewhere... Oh yeah. If someone would judge you because you call yourself a mommy, much like judging some based on their stroller, they are not worth your time. You are one funny mutha.

11:11 PM  
Blogger ninepounddictator said...

I like being called mommy. It makes me feel special.
Sometimes the dictator calls me "becca" which I also think is cute....

Like your new look...very much

12:19 AM  
Blogger my3sons said...

Ok, I'm revising my comment having read through the links to the original debate. Not so much time during the day for this (see Moniker)but 3rd son didn't get the memo about sleeping through the night at 7 months and so after the 2 AM feed, baby blissfully sleeps again. Me? not so much. Is it too early to make a pot of coffee and call it morning? I digress.

SO, yes, I get called it all, Emmmmmama, Mama, Mommy and Mom and I love it and yes, jezer, it is a TOTAL gas.

I think the Mommy naysayers have just never had the honour of being a Mommy or felt the joy when your child actually starts saying it.

HBMutha: Insightful post, as always. Sweet precious photos of that Wonderbaby.

6:29 AM  
Blogger ninepounddictator said...

Ok, I did see that blog tag thing - what is it? I'm slightly naive when it comes to these things....what am I supposed to do with it? Is it like a game of tag? Explain!!!

By the way, where did you get your babe's shirt! I love it

1:04 PM  

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