Her Bad Mother

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I Was Drinking When I Wrote This

*Edited below! Because this post wasn't quite long enough!

If you were cruising the mom-and-dad-o-sphere this past weekend, you no doubt became aware of the crime against sanity that was last week's Today Show discussion on mothers who tipple (a discussion that included our very own Melissa and Stefanie). Apparently, mothers who drink alcohol in front of their children - any drink, any amount - are compromising the well-being of those children. From what I understand - not having seen the episode - we're not talking martini binges or raging alcoholism here. We're talking wine-coolers during playdates, a beer in the backyard, cocktails before dinner. We're talking about the ordinary indulgences of a normal adult life.

Again, to be clear, I didn't see the episode. I wouldn't have known about it if discussion of it hadn't exploded in our corner of the blogosphere, and everything that I do know about it has been gleaned from that (excellent) discussion. You can watch it, if you like, here. I simply can't bring myself to watch; I'm certain that my head would explode from the nonsense of it all.

In any case, I don't want to debate, here, the merits of the argument on either side. I was prepared to dismiss the discussion entirely; it was just, I thought, one more absurd scuffle in the ongoing effort to stir up controversy around and about moms. Ignore it, I thought. Let it die. But it's been nagging at me, causing me to stare out of windows and furrow my brow and pick at my fingernails until my husband asks, are you worrying again? Yes, I've been worrying. But why?

Why why why... well, to begin, because this is not just about stirring up controversy on slow news days; this is not just another salvo in the so-called Mommy Wars. This kind of suggestion - that mothers need to watch their behaviour, that the terms of motherhood are a public concern, that we need, as a society, to keep watch on how mothering is done for the sake of the children - is a very old, very powerful, very dangerous suggestion. It is one that, if it evolves from suggestion to idea to value or norm or (god help us) policy, never brings any good to women.

The ancient Romans had a word for feminine virtue: pudicitia. They distinguished feminine virtue, pudicitia, from masculine virtue, virtu (which, if you're interested, means, literally, manliness): virtu was public, and spirited; pudicitia was private, and reserved. Pudicitia was modesty, piety, devotion to home; to be pudica was to follow a carefully prescribed set of norms and values that served the greater interest of home and family. This, according to the Romans, was absolutely integral to the well-being of the state - not least because children were understood to be future citizens. Any negative influence might corrupt these future citizens, and any such corruption would aim straight at the heart of the community. For this reason (among others relating to the integrity of home and family v.v. the larger community), the behaviour of women as wives and mothers needed to be circumscribed and constrained. Tightly constrained. And it wasn't law that effected the tightest constraints - it was social pressure. (This, many commentators have said, was the particular genius of the Roman republic.)

Talking about the treatment of women under the Romans might seem to be just so much pedantic digging on my part - it was, after all, a very long time ago, and a very different social and political culture. But the example of the Romans - and their understanding of the necessary distinctions between public and private virtue, and the health of the private (the family) as necessary to the health of the public - had a tremendous influence on modern political thought, on republican political thought. And it should be clear to anyone who follows debates about motherhood that a very strong whiff of these ideas lingers over our heads.

We speak in slightly different terms, of course. For us, it's all about what is best for the children, qua children: is stay-at-home-motherhood best for the children? Are happy, fulfilled parents - working or otherwise - best for the children? This is all fine, as matters of debate - for the most part, I think, reasonable people agree that happy, secure families can come in a variety of forms. There's no real danger of anyone seriously suggesting that women be made to stay home, because it's clear to reasonable people that stay-at-home-motherhood isn't necessary to the well-being of children nor to the integrity of the family. Phew.

But doesn't it become a slightly different story - a slightly more dangerous story - when we wander into the specifics of the behaviour of motherhood? We wouldn't seriously propose that all families organize themselves in the exact same way, regardless of our personal opinions concerning the merits and disadvantages of SAH/WAH/WAH models, because we recognize that every family faces different circumstances, has different needs, etc. etc. There's plenty of space to get relativist about the big questions. But when it comes to the little questions - should mothers (and it is, always, always mothers; that's another issue entirely) avoid specific behaviours, avoid exposing their children to certain influences? - I think that we are more inclined to get prescriptively judgmental (mothers should do this, should not do that). And when certain judgments achieve some broad concensus, they may well become social pressures.

It's tempting to dismiss this particular, and hopefully marginal, judgment - the purported risk to children posed by mothers sipping chardonnay at playdates - as harmless. No reasonable adult would agree that responsible consumption of alcohol corrupts children, right? But this argument got airtime - Today Show airtime - and it was, from I understand, flogged pretty seriously, and 'reasonable' arguments ignored or dismissed. And therein lays a problem: 'reason' gets suspended, sometimes, when we talk about what's best for children. There's such emotive force to the question, does this put our children at risk? Don't we all feel, deeply, in our guts, that when there's any question of possible danger to children, we need to set aside issues of our own personal interests and preferences and address that question as fully as possible? That the safety and well-being of our children trumps any other concern - including the concern to protect our own quote-unquote right to do what we want? What if it could be demonstrated that exposure to moderate drinking has a negative effect upon children? What then? Mightn't we all close ranks and tut-tut-tut those women who persist in selfishly pursuing their own pleasures at cost to their children?

Women who buy Bratz Dolls for their daughters are, for example, amply tutted in certain circles. I have certainly been guilty of tutting on the issue of the sexualization of young children because I take it to be self-evident that toys and ads and such that promote early sexuality are potentially harmful to children. I'll admit, under pressure, that in my heart of hearts I wish that there would be stronger social pressure against this. I wish that mothers would feel socially constrained to not dress little girls up in tarty outfits. But isn't this just so much hypocrisy, given my frustration with those who would tut-tut social drinkers? If the difference is only that I feel strongly that I am right in my opinions (that I am convinced that mine are not opinions, but expressions of fact), and that those opinions should prevail, isn't there something illiberal - anti-liberal - about my position?

Isn't there, maybe, a slippery slope from my argument that tarty clothes and Bratz Dolls for toddlers are potentially harmful to the argument that mothers should watch how they themselves dress? How many sexual partners they should have, if they are not married or partnered? How much physical affection a parent couple should demonstrate in front of their children? Doesn't the line between what I think is reasonable and what I think is absurd in matters of social judgment threaten to run pretty short?

My main point is this: in prescriptively judging each other, in insisting upon certain sanctities in the realm of motherhood and the family, we risk enclosing ourselves much more securely than any Roman ever imagined. This is what alarms me about the Today Show propogating its judgment against mothers indulging in a little social drinking. But I'm also alarmed by the possibility that I might be complicit in exactly this sort of judgment: that however much I might bleat my own defense - I'm not saying that mothers who buy Bratz dolls for their kids are BAD; I'm just saying that I wouldn't do it myself (she said as she slurped her martini) - I am, end of the day, judging, and, maybe, quietly wishing that everyone would make judgments a little bit more in line with my own.

And that, my friends, is what drives me to drink. Sic semper tyrannus.

*Late-breaking edit. Joy said this in the comments: "if we say 'mothers should not judge one another. period.' doesn't that have a certain flattening effect? doesn't this type of moral relativism deflate activism and debate and not allow us to critique one another or certain ideals?" Yes, and yes - there was a whole digression in this post, at one point, on whether a certain variety of judgment is desirable and even necessary, but the post was already - ahem - long enough. So I guess that there'll have to be a part two. But in the meantime, what do you think? Shouldn't some space be preserved for judgment (even, or perhaps especially, for judgments we don't like), just to keep debate alive?

60 Comments:

Anonymous mayberry said...

Pass the martinis, because I'll cop to being judgmental in exactly the way you describe. I think we all are.

2:01 PM  
Blogger NotSoSage said...

Ah, you anticipated one of the words I'd set aside for Word Wise Wednesday: virtue.

And, yes, we all do this (judge, not drink...although I do drink), I think, and I think I knew, going in, that every decision I made was likely to be scrutinised and blamed for all of Mme L's future (inevitable) "wrong" decisions. It doesn't mean that I don't get frustrated with that, it just means that it's not unexpected.

I wasn't aware of the controversy and I am exerting an incredible force of will power by not following the links. As a student of epidemiology, I spend a lot of time critiquing research such as that which (I'm assuming) started this whole kerfluffle. However, for the time being, my critique should be limited to my thesis. So, off I go!

2:19 PM  
Anonymous GeekLady said...

I have an obscene number of different thoughts on this topic fluttering around in my head, now, thankyouverymuch.

For now, I think I'll confine myself two comments.

1. K-12 teachers are already subjected to this kind of public censure, especially in small towns. They are... strongly encouraged to never be seen in public purchasing or consuming alcohol. In fact, my mother-in-law (HS teacher) gets quite nervous when I decide to order a beer with my dinner!

2. In my opinion the difference between Bratz dolls and parental alcohol consumption is that Bratz exclusively model (and promote) one specific type of behavior as appropriate, whereas alcohol consumption is behavior-neutral - it is only an action. It is the consumer that is the model, and who may be modeling responsible or irresponsible behavior as appropriate.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

Well, yes, what you said, Miss Her Bad Mother. :)

I could barely blog in any kind of coherent way that Today show and subsequent issues disturbed me on so many levels.

I think the point is, in this as in most things: it varies by person and situation and we must trust in the best judgment of the individual involved.

We must trust in the best judgment and we must trust that most parents are doing their best to do their best.

But somehow, for some reason, so many can't seem to do that.

The concept of "we can both be doing it right for *ourselves*" appears transcendental.

BTW, liked the Roman reference. I also ref'd Rome, albeit a bit more scathingly.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

Hmmmm. It is a slippery slope, and I admit to being judgmental in the way you describe at the end of the post (in the most well-intentioned but still judgmental of ways).

So pass that pitcher of margaritas. I'll join you for a drink.

3:03 PM  
Blogger something blue said...

I had to watch the segment. It is horrific. It sets women back to the 1950's.

Europeans would laugh at the way North Americans make a big deal over a glass of wine. Studies have shown that having a glass of wine is a healthy choice.

It is common for people in the work force to have an alcoholic beverage at a lunch meeting. It is often expected that coworkers partake in cocktails in social settings. They are not cast aside as making bad judgments in a situation that could affect their career.

3:12 PM  
Blogger bubandpie said...

I really don't think that the lesson to take from all this is that all parenting-related judgments are wrong and anti-feminist.

The problem isn't with judging - it's with butt-covering. Based on Melissa's description of how the information she was getting kept evolving, I suspect that the Today Show started out planning to do a balanced piece, and then the paranoia took over: If we acknowledge the harmlessness of moderate drinking, someone obviously suggested, and then a child dies while in the care of a dead-drunk mother who claims to have been influenced by the show, then it's all our worst PR nightmares come true.

I've been struggling with this issue as I try to put together the parenting course I'm running: my impulse is to do what I always do: admit to my own failures, try to reduce the burden of guilt on others, lower the bar to a reasonable level, etc. And I am doing that. But I'm also realizing that I can't be naive: the women in my course face a high risk of having their children removed by social services because of alcohol-, drug-, and boyfriend-related problems. And some of them have significant enough mental handicaps that I can't be sure that they'll recognize all the subtleties of a reasonable argument.

I'm NOT going in there each week to hand out a bunch of nevers and alwayses and don'ts. But I can see where the temptation comes from to do that.

3:55 PM  
Blogger MotherBumper said...

I've been following this moms-who-drink "issue" since the piece aired and it scares me how much crap was shovelled during the segment. Doesn't the media have anything better to discuss or is this one of the countless distractions to keep us from the real issues - but I digress. I just finished reading The Handmaid's Tale and these media spots make me shiver. The judgment of a few seems to become the opinion of the masses which in turn sets us (women) back so far that I'm not sure what century we are headed towards. Isn't this how Gilead started -a few archaic opinions of Serena Joy? Gah, I'm taking myself too seriously... I need a drink ;)

3:55 PM  
Anonymous mimi said...

Excellent post. That said, clearly I am going to hell and my children are ruined. If only I'd know that drinking a beer in front of them would do that... ;)

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Exiled to Canada said...

I hesitate to weigh in on either side simply because my family has some serious problems with alcohol and I am most likely biased in my views. As the child of an alcoholic father, I have to say that I really don't ever drink in front of our little guy unless it is a glass of wine with a dinner out at a restaurant. Too many bad memories and I really don't want him thinking that drinking alcohol is harmless. BUT, that is my decision based on my direct experiences from childhood and I realize it should NOT be extrapolated onto others. There are plenty of people out there who can have a drink and leave it at that (myself included thankfully). If the piece is saying that all drinking is bad, then that is really a problem.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous dorothy said...

I got way sucked into this discussion today, and I have to say this is the most interesting response I've seen yet. I think you've put your finger on why the conversation was bothering me. I thought about it all day, trying to figure out why I care what Meredith Veira thinks - but it's precisely this need to control people's behavior that has gone past the point of "downright harmful" - say abuse - and back to "not the way I want you to behave." The way it was, say, during the witch trials.

I did watch the clip after reading Melissa's blog, and while she didn't lie, she did tell it from her point of view. I'm pretty firmly on Melissa's side, but I see why they pitted them against each other (good TV), and I see that Melissa was up a media-trained person who wanted to eat her for lunch. The psychologist had good points, but they were good points if we are talking about alcoholism, not social drinking. I think it's easy to bring up a good point and then try to slap it on something unrelated.

Red Herring


In argument, something designed to divert an opponent's attention from the central issue. If a herring is dragged across a trail that hounds are following, it throws them off the scent.

5:10 PM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

Yes. Yes and Yes.. as they say.

Mainly all of it is so anti-Roman. At times I long to escape "modern" North America... What I call the New Old World. Prescriptive judgement begone.

I want to parent topless!

In other words.. would this happen in Europe? On any other continent save this in fact??

6:00 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Martinis forever, bratz dolls never! (sorry, protesting hippie days flashaback there)

I think geeklady hit the nail on the head in her distinction between bratz modeling what is inherently, at least my opinion what is inappropriate" behaviour, and drinking is something which can be appropriate or inappropriate dependent on the circumstances. Add me to the long list of kids who witnessed responsible consumption of alcohol as a kid, (actually, who as a kid helped her parents MAKE wine) and plan to model the same for my children.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous mothergoosemouse said...

I'll take social pressure over legislation any day.

I suppose I feel comfortable enough to make fun of this whole cocktail to-do because I manage to alienate just about everyone on some level anyway... ;-)

7:46 PM  
Anonymous joy said...

first--happy birthday. mine's coming up in a week or so (blog one).
second. wowza! a doozy.

i had such a similar story--laughed at it, bemoaned at how idiotic it all was, and then slowly all through yesterday it started to get to me. by 9 pm i was forced, i say FORCED to quaff a glass of chard.

i want to chew on this one a bit. i love everything you say here, and it's got my brain whirring softly.

if we say "mothers should not judge one another. period." doesn't that have a certain flattening effect? doesn't this type of moral relativism deflate activism and debate and not allow us to critique one another or certain ideals? (I don't know the answer, and I am not sure if this is moral relativism)

in addition, i completely agree about the Mommy Wars machine and how we need to resist it, but on the other hand, we can't let go of our differences (in opinion, experience, ideals) in the pursuit of some sort of commonality (which would be futile anyway). I would say that consciously resisting media-contorted (and OLD, as you say) versions of who we are (or should be) is absolutely all right (and this very much includes Bratz dolls).

So keep on judging, is what I say. But invite debate (as you always do).
I know you loves a debate--is there a debate with a side, without a judgment really?

awesome post. (I love it when you get all classical rhetoric on us)

7:53 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

"If we say "mothers should not judge one another. period." doesn't that have a certain flattening effect? doesn't this type of moral relativism deflate activism and debate and not allow us to critique one another or certain ideals? (I don't know the answer, and I am not sure if this is moral relativism)"

This, Joy, is another post entirely - one that I've been wanting to write since the Motherlode conference - judgment *does* have an important place. I actually deleted from this post a line about the *desirability* of judgment, because it was going to drag me into, like, ten more paragraphs. It's where the argument goes, tho', isn't it? And what do we do with THAT?

8:03 PM  
Blogger Lisa b said...

Oh I don't know if I am up to the standards of debate with you and Joy but I vote for judgement if only because I am a judging beotch. I am not even interested in debating some mothers whom I judge. I think they are wrong and they no doubt think I am.
I think what both you and Joy bring up have merit in terms of academic debate but I don't know if that has anything to do with what is going on in this media activity. I read Melissa's account and it sounds as though she was totally set up.
And for the record I would love a drink at a playdate.

8:52 PM  
Blogger e-mommie said...

Honestly... Anu stay-at-home mom, or "Pedagogy and Didactics Childhood specialist", as I like to put it, that claims that does not feel like having a drink once in a while, even in front of their children, should be investigated by the FBI and CIA because may become a serial killer or terrorist soon!!!
Come on!!! People that don't agree with this, is as a friend put it this morning, people that maybe don't even have friends to drink with. :) SALUD!

9:24 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

I managed to stay out of the fray until I walked into preschool today and the article from the Today Show website was posted on the bulletin board. What the heck does that mean?

9:28 PM  
Blogger Lena said...

I don't think the benefit of judgment is necessarily for the sake of keeping debate going, but more importantly to stand for something as thinking women.

Our judgment - our opinions - are what make up the value system we pass onto our children.

Our judgments are basically our collective conclusions about life. Conclusions which make us who we are.

The REAL issue is HOW these judgments are conveyed. Are we attcking each other? Are we presuming to know the details of strangers' lives? Are we reserving judgment when it serves no other purpose than to demean another woman/mother?

We will always disagree and we should. Motherhood is a democracy.

That I will drink to! ;)

10:01 PM  
Blogger Mad Hatter said...

For me it's not so much a matter of judgement but an open willingness to engage in debate. I can hate Bratz dolls 'til the cows come home but as long as I am willing to argue and defend my position AND I am willing to listen to counter argument, then we have a productive society. Oh, and I only want to have these arguments with other people who also have an investment in these issues--I don't need 18-yr-old boys telling me what right or wrong about parenting a toddler.

Having said that, the problem with the Today show and with many media outlets is that they deal in polarized polemics rather than debate--as such the judgments become sweeping and widely influential.

10:03 PM  
Anonymous GeekLady said...

Mothergoosemouse, the problem lies in that currently (at least in the US) social pressure tends to manifest as attempted legislation.

While it is... tempting, I think it's probably wrong to try and legislate the stupid out of people. Not to mention futile.

One of our postdocs is from France, and I took the last 5 minutes of my lunch to ask for her opinion. Once she understood what I was trying to ask, (and believe me, it was like trying to ask someone what it was like to grow up in a place where the sky is blue!), she laughed and said "We are not completely crazy."

10:11 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

I haven't watched the TV clip because I think it'd drive me up a wall. I don't drink because alcohol isn't particularly appealing to me by taste. I've also seen what it can do to ruin a person's life, so I have a reluctance to acquire the taste for wine or beer.

However, I think it's healthier for a child to see alcohol in a social situation, like an adult drinking wine with dinner, than to grow up wishing for forbidden fruit and becoming a college binge drinker.

Great, thoughtful post.

11:40 PM  
Blogger lildb said...

wellsh, I shtink thersh a huuugggees gifference beweteen

*hic*

jidging and enacsthing law.s

*hic*

shocial debate keepsh keeple, erm, peeple , aware of whasht they zhould or shhouldn't doo az parentrsh. its makeshz them peepk over therr shoulderssh ands ponder whhether the shitutiation at hand izs being manazed corrently.

*hic*

the linze, in my

*hic*

onopinion, neads to be drawn at the creartion of laws supporting/denying thesze judgsemshents.

alsho, I would like more shome of thish really good tsasty drinksh.


*snore*

12:16 AM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

So much that forms our opinions is formed in our upbringing. My stepfather was a big pothead. I'm 40. To this day I can't stand men who smoke pot. My husband doesn't smoke it ever and I know I wouldn't have married him if he did. I have smoked pot, it's not like I think it's poison but I didn't like the unsafe feeling of having a father who was high all the time. This is my experience. So I've formed judgements from them. As far as alcohol, never a problem in my house. I've never seen my mother drunk or father for that matter. I like to drink. I like a drink every night sometimes. I don't think it makes me an alcoholic and my daughter's never even seen me buzzed. So judge. Judge away. You have your right. But I know I'm not doing anything wrong. P.S. I will be back on the today show this Friday to discuss it furthur. Tune in if you DARE.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

I agree with Mad Hatter.

Judgment is, in my opinion, unconstructive criticism. It implies close-minded-ness to me. When we encourage judgment, I believe we discourage open discussion, debate and reflection.

In general, I think if you approach someone and say, "I cannot believe you let your kid play with Bratz dolls! You are perpetuating anti-feminist stereotypes and encouraging rude behavior!" or even more simply, "Drinking in front of kids, while caring for kids is WRONG!"

That's not much of a debate-stimulator to me. In fact, it's not even a conversation stimulator to me. It's pretty much a walk away quickly stimulator.

In my Underwater Basketcase 101 post I talked about the difference between dissection (which is what I think ended up happening on the Today show) versus discussion.

This is probably to some degree semantics.

But while I'm 100% for discussion, I'm not so much for dissection in general. And while I'm keen on mindful choices---which means reflection and often some debate---not so much on judgment.

HBM, I look forward to your judgment post!

7:53 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Here's the thing about the Romans - the most powerful constraint on women was NOT law: it was mores, the norms and values that dictate terms of behaviour. They stayed virtuous because that's what was valued in their society. Later philosophers, examining the principles of republicanism, argued that this sort of constraint by mores is desirable, because it holds behaviour in check more effectively. But more insidiously.

8:12 AM  
Blogger jchevais said...

This is another moment that I'm glad to live in Europe. Golly. What I love?... That I can ask my kids to get me a beer with no complex.

Every time that I return to Canada for a visit, I'm astounded by the American television "news" programs:

"Find out WHY you NEED to KNOW how this COULD KILL YOU!"

"Your LIFE MAY be in DANGER. We'll talk to an EXPERT."

"Is YOUR WIFE/HUSBAND CHEATING ON YOU? Find out the WARNING SIGNS!"

"You may think they're friendly but EGGS are HIDING their TRUE NATURE from YOU!"

An alarmist society in the making. I'm actually surprised that more people aren't twitching in the corner.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Queso said...

Great post. And it's interesting to think about it in a global context.

Take the drinking issue. The Today Show's view on it (I would saw take on it, but I did watch the segment before all the commentary, it was slanted, and I like to saw View because of Meredith's former job and all. Ha!) was, very simply categorized, typically American...compared to European...where wine is a beverage, not an enemy; and pub culture is family-centered. But then compare it to Middle Eastern culture, the American view is so extrememly loose, radical.

In the end, we're bringing our understanding of something and trying to force fit it on someone else.

Maybe if we talk about it, we think about it. I love your Bratz example. I hadn't thought about it like that.

But it seems to me, we should all do (me included) (Today Show hosts included) more listening as we talk to each other.

9:58 AM  
Blogger jen said...

huh, bad, i'm sorry, what did you say? i couldn't quite hear you with a double fisted martini in both hands.....


nicely done.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous binkytown said...

This is definately two fold; Judging mothers who judge us for not agreeing with our choices is counter productive, but there are things that we should call out that are detrimental. I just don't think having A drink while your children are around is one of them.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Gwen said...

All these big academic words like "polemic" and ummm yeah, "polemic" scare me a little--okay, a LOT--but what the hell, I'll jump in anyway.

I've been thinking about the whole judgment thing lately, and the slippery slope it is, not that I could articulate it as well as you did, HBM, and what I tell myself is that the judgments I make in my head are for my own good, for the good of my family, to better understand our values and how I'm going to implement them. I'm not sure if this is what Lena meant, but I'm just going to say it is.

Deciding that I would prefer my children not to have a Bratz doll for whatever reasons seem right to me isn't at all the same as dissing on someone else for making a different choice. I can actually see reasons why the Bratz doll could be attractive to families with different backgrounds than mine. And none of the children I know who have them are running around half naked, soliciting the neighborhood boys by the swingsets. Some of these things have power because we give it to them, by our own judgments, I think (although I can see how you could argue that point).

A part of me believes that the both the finger pointing and the defensiveness occurs because we aren't always so sure of our own positions or we struggle with feeling okay about a difficult job that we can only ever hope to do "good enough." Most of the bloggers I read are not people who can be easily satisfied with being only "good enough." So to take what we've been told is the most important work we'll have and then to accept that we can't excel at it, that there's no overachieving in parenting, well, that's a difficult pill to swallow. Maybe it goes down easier with a glass of "well, at least I'm doing it better than *she* is."

I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on when or if judgment--at least public judgment, the kind you share with the offending party--is okay. Maybe you can convince me that it is.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

Thanks, I'm glad for your post. I think I've finally thought of what I want to say about this and it's that while we should and ought to welcome debate and differences, things always seem to go awry when we make assumptions about someone else's motivations. Clearly, the assumption in the segment is that mommy's are drinking because they can't handle motherhood well enough without alcohol. This is calling into question their character, their strength as women - not to mentioning calling into question their intelligence and love for their kids.
I'm not sure that my wish other people who stop making, buying, selling Bratz dolls is quite the same- it's a commercial enterprise pushed on all of us by a culture some of us may be more critical of it than others - I know that not everyone I know and love agrees with me on this point - My best thought on mom's who might stuff like that for their kids is that they don't see what I see when I look at it - maybe that's insulting, b/c I do assume that if they saw it my way they'd agree, but I'm pretty far from insinuating that they aren't up to the task of mothering, that they don't have what it takes psychologically to do this really hard thing well, or that they love their kids less than I love mine.
It may be that the assumption in our culture is that one needs a reason to drink - people rarely ask this question elsewhere - it may have come from educating ourselves and our young about the dangers of addiction or underage drinking, or whatever, but it is in our consciousness collectively. The assumption is harming our perception of ourselves as a society: we can't be trusted, we can't be moderate. Creating a world for our kids where "temptations" are "too hard to resist" can make them scared of the world of choices that will spread itself out like a buffet as they become young adults. They may think they aren't capable of making those healthy choices so touted on morning TV shows - I'm fairly sure that's not the message I want to send to my three boys and I am so happy to not be alone in that ...feeling grateful for all you sane souls after a moment of Today show insanity!

11:13 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

What really upset me the most is the polarizing effect of the Today Show segment. They took the angle of a black and white debate - alcoholic or no alcohol at all - despite Melissa trying to bring them back to reality and discuss the very real grey areas inbetween.

I think the biggest problem with our society is the refusal to see the grey areas between black and white, and this is where judgement becomes a problem. It's one thing to debate where problems start in that grey area, but it's another thing entirely to close out any discussion of a middle-ground and see a person's behavior as only right or wrong.

To make it worse, mothers in the US (and maybe Canada, I don't know?) start out from a weak point. We're automatically assumed to be guilty of being bad mothers until we prove ourselves otherwise. A few bad moms spoil it for everyone - now we're told, "Well, I'm just looking out for your children. After all, this other mom ended up doing this awful thing, and you could easily end up just like her if people didn't call you on your actions."

I think the crazy judgements being passed on mothers would not be so rampant if we assumed a mother was a good mother until she proved otherwise.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Queen Haline said...

No matter how Pollyanna anyone wishes to be, the reality is that it is in human nature to judge. It is how one expresses their judgement that is the problem, not the very act of judging itself. IMO.

It is funny that a Today Show episode started you off on this track. On the message boards for parents of donor insemination children there was a huge row last week about a Today Show segment in which a lady from the "right" called those of us who have procreated without the help of a partner selfish - suggesting that our children will never be mentally healthy as a result.

That, my friend, is judging!

I wrote a bit about it today.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Christina - EXcellent point. I'll have to take it up in my follow-up post. And Queen Haline - yours is an even better example than the drinking one, because it shows how scary judgment can get, what it looks like when society judges things like the biology or sexuality of parents. I'll check out your post, for sure.

12:44 PM  
Blogger creative-type dad said...

Man, there should be some congressional declared "War on Mommy Wars".

Why can't everybody just save their judgments for more important things, like the the crazy people who eat their babies and put their kids in beauty pageants, instead of stuff like this.

I miss those days...

1:26 PM  
Blogger toyfoto said...

I think you are right on the money when you wonder if judging women as a societal predisposition (or even a deliberate construct by social framers) is the capital on which greater society barters.

In general, I don't have any problems with people bashing each other over the heads with who's way is the best way, primarily because I tend to think that most reasonable people understand that we are all different and in need of different solutions to similar problems.

But, having said that, I can't help but come back to a feeling that we are all so FEARFUL of our decisions, of the world around us and the potential for screwing up that we are merely projecting that fear onto others.

I know kids who are good, thoughtful kids who played with and outgrew Bratz dolls. I don't have a problem with pornography as objectifying women. I believe women have an equal say in objectifying themselves.

But I do have a problem with things of this nature because I really believe this is some non-issue made enormous by some corporate behemoth looking for ratings.

I do not believe this show did any damage whatsoever to the women who were interviewed, and if anything showed that the the idea that they are to be held to some higher standard presumably because their jobs as mother's superscedes their needs as humans, collapsed on itself.

I seriously feel good about this. I feel as if the tide is turning for us; now all we have to do is stop justifying our decisions and we will have made it to the top of the mountain.

1:33 PM  
Blogger something blue said...

The judgment that I have is only on the media for portraying the role of the mother as holier than thou and uptight. It seems mothers are to have high ideals, carry a large guilt load and remain slightly removed from modern society. (Certainly it appears that there should be an airline for mothers only.)

However whether another mother has a drink in front of their child, chooses breastfeeding or formula, or even lets their children play with toys that are not in my house, that is their decision. I have the ability to choose my own ideals and remain open to friendship with everyone.

I think this is about acceptance and respect rather than judging. We can debate and choose different ideas.

I admit I'm likely to have more friends that share the same values. However if we do have the same reasoning it is often because we are open minded and logical. However I do value differences and others who have the ability to express new ideas because that is more interesting than being clones.

I always welcome debate but when judgment comes with hatred, I tend to back away. I think the media has a way of turning these types of wars into ways that women attack each other. These battles are a waste of time and energy. Can't we agree that we don't want to raise our children exactly like everyone else?

2:55 PM  
Blogger mamalang said...

Hi I'm a bad mom...My kids have Bratz dolls, I've had a few drinks in front of them in their lifetime, and I work outside the home. Somehow, amazingly, they are normal, healthy, well adjusted children growing into productive adults. Amazing how that works huh? I hate those Bratz dolls, but I also realized that if I refused to have a discussion about them, refused to let them in my house (realize I have older girls - 8 and 13), then I've given them more power. If I help choose them and discuss why I don't like them with my girls, then that power isn't so great. If I point out that the only place you see people dressed like that is in videos, that normal people do not dress like that on a regular basis, they learn. As one poster said, they have the power they do because we've given it to them. This can be applied to anything in life. I also don't drink very often, because I just don't like them much. But I work hard to teach my children that most things in life are okay, as long as you enjoy them in moderation.

3:13 PM  
Anonymous AdventureDad said...

I don't think drinking alcohol in front of the children is a big deal. I think I'm a dedicated parent but have a glass of wine every night. I hardly think that's what determines a good parent from a bad parent. I try to include my kids in everything I do and talk to them about everything. I think that's the best way to give them a good start in life.

I find that people who haven't been around much (traveled, lived in other countries, hang out with a diverse crows of friends, etc) tend to be more clueless and much more restrictive with their kids. Instead of embracing social interaction they try to restrict their kids instead. And we all know what happens during the teenage years with restricted kids.

It's overall an interesting subject but I must really question how anyone can have a couple of kids, work hard, and make it though teh day without a couple of drinks??:-))

AD

4:22 PM  
Anonymous crunchy carpets said...

Here is my take on it...in case anyone is interested....

http://crunchycarpets.com/archives/50

4:39 PM  
Anonymous crunchy carpets said...

Oh and what I noticed and feel is that there is a big difference between a 'official' playdate..something set up for your kids and just getting together with friends who happen to be moms or parents...ie for drinks or a bbq.

The impression I got from some of the people who got really hot and bothered about it all were women who seemed more concerned with social networking than playdates for their children.

I also think the Today show made a bit about a non issue and totally ambushed Melissa...no matter how I feel about her take on the whole thing....

It turned from some wine a playdates to boozy moms whooping it up.

big difference.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Lydia said...

Wow HBM, every post of yours I read makes me want to meet you more! (in a non-threatening, non-stalking way)(eek!)

I have to agree that we give power to objects or behavior by our reaction to them. My son knows Mommy and Daddy have a beer or a glass of wine in the evening. My parents did not drink at all. I don't see how either way of parenting is better or worse!

If a "bad word" slips out of my mouth and my son repeats it, I don't react. The bad word doesn't get repeated, because I didn't give it the power by reacting.

If a child sees alcohol, or even a Bratz doll as noting special, I think power won't be given to it, and therefore it won't be "a problem".

JMO.

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Exiled to Canada said...

Um, why was there no discussion of Dads who drink in front of their kids? Is the Dad who comes home from work and has a beer less of a danger to his children than a Mom who has a beer at a play date? I still think the whole stink was royally stupid and certainly lowers my opinion of the Today and Meredith substantially. But if we're going to attack Moms who drink, why aren't we attacking parents who drink? It's a fairly sexist debate on top of everything else. My Mom didn't drink n front of me, my Dad did to excess and that left a lasting impression on me. Are his actions somehow less harmful because he's a man? Very poor "journalism" on their part, extremely disappointing.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Haley-O said...

I think this whole debate is ludicrous. Another example of when the judging goes too far. It's soooo welcoming, encouraging negative judgement. That's it -- we can have judging, but not so negative, please? :) Constructive judging. Yes, that's what it should be. Critical thinking, in other words. Never a bad thing if constructive, etc.

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Ruth said...

I think that these spirited debates don't usually happen about Dads because it wouldn't go anywhere. They don't care enough about the judgment of others to buzz about it and fan it into a "social consciousness" flame.

As far as judging others goes, I like the Bible - it basically says you get what you dish (take that, you hypocrites out there!) and that you should judge something by the way it turns out and not before.

My Mom (and Dad) drank in front of us occasionally, usually during special times like Thanksgiving or a party. But there was always plenty of beer left over, noone got sloshed and we knew they didn't care and had it under control. They never drank when we were hanging out casually as a family. They had a row of liquor bottles up high where we could see them, not reach them and we saw the dust accumulate. None of us were damaged by their drinking.

Why sweat it? The kids will inevitably see where our priorities lie "and that, my friends, makes all the difference in the world".

10:38 PM  
Blogger Rachel Briggs said...

I live in the UK and prabably we have a different approach in Europe to this! That is, a lighter way of seeing it, which is not so alarmist! What's important, in my humble view, is balance and ove when raising your children, a sense of respect and openness which a glass of wine isn't going to "damage"!

Cheers!

10:39 AM  
Blogger Rachel Briggs said...

p.s. sorry for the "typos" - I am new to this and pressed "send" too soon!

10:42 AM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

My mind feels as though it's swishing around in the washing machine after reading this. Whoo! Reminds me of that Liz Phair song "Love/Hate": "What's good for one oppresses the other . . . ."

12:41 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I'm sick of the judging as well - which means I am sick of myself, because I rank right up there with the Queen of Judgment herself (who I think may be my SIL, but I digress).

The Bratz thing - I refuse to buy the kids them. Unfortunately, they get them for gifts. What turned me off was the one who was wearing a THONG two years ago. Holy hell, man! But you're right - those products, plus the clothes that are out nowadays, are contributing to it all. My husband's relative gives us her 6 year old daughter's clothes...I can't believe the bras and bikinis and other clothes that are in this thing. My kids look like they're from the 1800's compared to some of the other kids in their classes. Plus giving the kids cell phones and laptops at the age of 6? Come on.

Uh oh. There's the judging again.

Raising my glass to you. :)

3:22 PM  
Blogger ewe are here said...

It's interesting living in the UK / Europe. Having a glass of wine or two around your kids isn't the big 'issue' it is back home. Kind of nice.

As for judging other parents (not just moms), I try really hard not to do that. But I do think there should be 'discussion' once in a while...

Great post. Glad I finally managed to sit down and read it!

6:45 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

I have about sixty thousand thoughts on this running through my head, but the first and foremost thought is very simple, and it relates to Mommy Wars as a whole:
The reason we criticize and judge those around us is to feel bigger, better, more important or smarter than someone. We wish to feel superior. End of line. Full stop.
Therefore, wouldn't it make the most sense to take in the negative commentary about ourselves or our friends and loved ones, process it against our own moral compass, and discard that which doesn't jibe? Because frankly, there will always be some person with an inferiority complex out there trying to make themselves feel bigger by belittling others.
Down With Mommy Wars!

7:04 PM  
Blogger Scattered Mom said...

I just have to say this much...

I have a friend who is an incredible mother, who I admire and respect, who allows her daughter to have Bratz dolls. As she has said, they ARE, after all, only a doll-not a moral compass. One doll alone isn't going to encourage that sort of behavior, it's the behavior that the parents model and what sort of relationship they have with their daughter that makes the biggest impact.

I personally am not sure if I would buy them or not if I had a daughter.

Drinking? I think that this whole issue is being blown out of proportion. I doubt that having a glass of wine while the kids play really is anything new-and seriously, it makes me wonder why nobody has mentioned the Dad that watches the kids and has a few beers. I don't see the difference.

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Emily said...

I've been following this debate thru Melissa's website (Suburbanbliss) and watched The Today show.

I have friends who drink & friends who don't. It doesn't bother me if they do/don't drink in front of their kids. I'm not going to judge them.

My biggest "beef" is what about Chuck-E-Cheese...? They serve alcohol to parents. Sporting events serve alcohol. Lots of family-oriented events serve alcohol.

10:18 PM  
Blogger soleclaw said...

Just watched the segment, and wasn't aware of this controversy at all until I read about it here. You basically hit the nail on the head. And, whether we like to admit it or not, it really is a relative issue. What works for one may not work for the other.

I think the segment on the Today Show should have been longer, as one commenter mentioned a lot of info got "shovelled". It seemed as though the "expert" was bashing the mother/blogger who was there. I found myself wanting to interject so many times and then it was over. The piece made all the mothers sipping their wine seem like alcoholics, and one would assume they have drinks at all their playdates. I'm sure that isn't the case, however.

1:37 AM  
Blogger PunditMom said...

While the debate on this question may be ludicrous, I agree with HBM about the concern over the larger issue -- finding ways to to societally lecture mothers about "appropriate" behavior.

There's still a pretty large segment of society that believes women should only have certain rights and be limited to certain types of behavior. When some of those ideas get national play, it sets us all back.

Call me crazy, but I want R. to see me drinking a glass of wine sometimes (whether it's with dinner or with another mom) and learn that that works when there is moderation and responsibility.

And HBM, dont' get me started on the Bratz Dolls!

10:03 AM  
Blogger just me said...

yo.

i grew up knowing that 5:30 was cocktail time, and frequently was told "no, don't drink that cranberry juice. It's mommy's. It's got alchohol in it."


and i'm fine.
...i mean...relatively.

4:47 PM  
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1:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm horrified that the majority of folks think it's okay to get f&^%ed up in front of the kids....a glass is still alcohol, still a substance, still mind numbing. To do that in front of your kids when they depend on you if god forbid there was crisis, and rationalize it because Mommy (or Daddy) wants to get lit, it's pathetic.

We all judge, get over it. But don't get hammered in front of the kids. They deserve better.

9:53 PM  

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