Her Bad Mother

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Bad Mother Manifesto

There is a spectre haunting the parenting community - the spectre of the Bad Mother...*

My name is Catherine, and I am a bad mother. I (mostly) do not have my tongue in my cheek when I say that. I am a Bad Mother.

I am a bad mother according to most measurements established by the popular Western understanding of what constitutes a good mother. I use disposable diapers. I let my children watch more television than I'd ever publicly admit. I let them have cookies for breakfast. I let them stay up too late. I don't follow a schedule. I don't go to playgroups. I stopped breastfeeding because I was tired of it. I co-slept with my son. I didn't co-sleep with my daughter. I have been treated for depression. I stopped my treatment for depression. I am entirely too attached to Ativan.

I have left my children alone in the bathtub. I have spanked my daughter. I have turned my back on my crying son. I have had intrusive thoughts. I drink. I curse. I have put my own needs first. I have thought that I love my husband more than my children. I have had moments of resenting my children. I have thought that motherhood is boring. I document all of these things and lay them bare for the world to see. I have been called an exploitative mother. I have wondered whether that might be true.

I have thought that perhaps I am not at all cut out for this motherhood thing.

I have thought that I am a bad mother. I know that I am bad mother, in so many of the ways that matter to the people who worry about how and why women should be good mothers, and in most of the ways that don't matter to anyone at all other than me at three o' clock in the morning after a particularly long, ego-smashing day.


I reject entirely the idea that I should be a good mother in any manner other than those that matter to me: that I take care of the basic needs of my children, that I love my children well, that I make certain that my children know that they are loved well, that I ensure that a day never passes in which I do not not hug or kiss my children or tell them that I love them, and that I ensure that a day never passes in which they - and I - laugh out loud at least once.

I reject entirely the idea that there can be any community consensus about what - beyond the provision of love and care - constitutes a good mother. I reject entirely the idea that we can or should judge each other as mothers, beyond the obvious and most basic standards of care, and even then, I reject entirely the idea that any one of us is so perfect that she could throw the first stone without hesitation.

I reject entirely the idea that mothers should worry about what it means to be a good mother in any respect beyond loving and protecting and providing for their children.

I reject entirely the idea I should worry, and yet worry I do. I worry because everywhere I look, at every turn, at every corner, in every magazine and on every television show and in every discussion, everywhere, about the what-why-how of motherhood, is the Good Mother.

The Good Mother - the idea of the Good Mother, the theoretical and aesthetic model of what it means to mother well - is the true spectre, the spectre that has haunted mothers since God first smacked our hands for being too graspy and ejected us from the Garden and hollered at us to go forward and to give birth in pain and alone and to mother in anxiety and alone and to basically just angst out for every second of our lives. The idea of the Good Mother has kept us in our place, has kept us cowering, alone, behind the veil; our important work - our critically important work - kept hidden behind the walls of the household; our lives and our stories and our history kept secret, kept quiet, because Good Mothers are private, are modest, are pudicae, because Good Mothers tell no tales. Devoted Good Mothers listen only to community edicts about what the Good Mother looks like and then devote themselves, silently, to the work of emulating the Good Mother. They do not share their failures. They do not share their struggles. They do not tell stories about the dark and the difficulty and the anxiety and the impossibility of keeping one's cool in the dead of night when the baby is shrieking and the toddler is crying and one hasn't slept in weeks. They do not talk about shutting the door and ignoring the cries. They do not talk about intrusive thoughts. They do not talk about repeating the words fuck I hate this fuck I hate this like so many Hail Marys, like a meditation upon frustration, like a mantra of failure. They do not talk about these things, out loud.

They keep their silence, and look to the Good Mother, hoping that she will provide guidance, hoping that in her lays the way of all maternal truth and happiness. They look in vain.

The Good Mother is everywhere, all at once, and she looks like everything, and nothing. She stays at home; she goes to work. She attachment-parents; she's Babywise. She home-schools; she Montessoris. She vaccinates; she doesn't vaccinate. She follows a schedule; she lets her kids run free-range. She co-sleeps; she wouldn't dare co-sleep. She would never spank; she's a strict disciplinarian. She's an Alpha Mom; she's a Slacker Mom; she's a Hipster Mom; she's a Christian Mom; she's a Hipster-Christian-Alpha Mom who slacks off in the summers. She's Everymom; She's NoMom. She brooks no disagreement: if you argue with her, you start a Mommy War. But the wars are futile and pointless because the combatants are all fighting on the same side, her side, which is no side, and in the end we just batter each other until we are dumb and we give up and retire to our camps, bloody and bruised and determined to just keep it to ourselves next time and so it ends as it always does, in silence, with none of us saying what we really want to say, what we really need to say, which is this: who the fuck cares?

Who is anybody to tell us whether we are good mothers? Who the fuck knows what a good mother is anyway? And why can't we say this out loud, why can't we just live our motherhood out loud and proclaim our diversity to ourselves and to each other and to the world and declare the idea of the Good Mother - the all-encompassing, do-no-wrong, one-size-fits-all perfect model of the Good Mother, the Uber-Mom who has been witnessed by none of us - dead? We do not need her, we don't, we really don't.

The only persons who can measure our mother-worthiness are our children, and even they are unreliable.

All that we have, then, is this: the measure of our hearts and the measure of our eyes and our ears and our good sense. Do we love our children as best we can? Do we keep them, as best we can, healthy in mind and body? Do we make sure that they laugh? Do they smile in our presence?

That is enough. That must be enough. And if that is not good enough - if there remain those who would insist that there is more to mothering well, that I must do more, that we must do more, that the community must do more to police, to enforce, to uphold the rule of the Good Mother - then, well, I shall remain - loudly, proudly, publicly - Bad.

Are you a Bad Mother? Which is to ask - regardless of whether or not you identify with, or struggle with, the idea of being 'Bad' - are you a regular old ordinary flawed-but-awesome REAL mom? Are you just tired of the pressure to be 'Good'? Then join me. We'll unite and take over.

*(with apologies to Karl Marx, and, parenthetically, to Friedrich Nietzsche and Niccolo Machiavelli, all of whom would doubtless regard my appropriation of their modes of argument for the purposes of defending the liberation of mothers from old modes and orders of virtue as terribly, terribly amusing and, I would hope, somewhat charming, in a contrary sort of way.)



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Anonymous Rita said...

I feel so much better after reading this.I thought I was a good mom I love my children more than life ,but my oldest daughter seems to think I didn't fill the good mother profile.I was beating myself up you made me fel better, I am glad I am not the only one who isn't in the good mom profile.This is one of the best posts I have ever read Thanks again

9:24 AM  
Blogger Ms. Knitpicky said...

Fuck yeah. Does anything else really need to be said?

I've found some of the most vocal, judgemental, and aggressive pushers of the Good Mother are, in fact, men. Good Enough really is good enough.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know I'm late with this, and I haven't read the other comments, but I just wanted to say that I LOVE how you made the "Good Mother" both spank and never spank and co sleep and never co sleep and stay at home and go to work. YES! I so don't get the "mommy wars." I think they arise from the deep insecurity of knowing that we're all making mistakes and saddling our kids with baggage in spite of all our efforts, but from a strange unwillingness to admit this. It's a way of distancing ourselves, the way when we read of some kid going to a school and shooting his classmates, we look for clues of a trouble home-life--it helps us sleep at night cuz it won't happen to us. But all the "mommywars" do is derive us of much-needed support.
Anyway, rambling here, but I really enjoyed your post. I guess I'm a Bad Mother too--my daughter would certainly agree!

5:35 PM  
Blogger Crazy Mother said...

i call myself a crazy mother.

it pretty much means the same thing. :D

8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoa, reading the comments from this post was a little like riding a coal car into the mine...they kept getting darker and darker.

My screen name should tell you where I stand on all of this, but the truth is, as much as I love blogging, I can only take parenting blogs (the Bad and the Good) in small doses. It's fun to visit other people's worlds and opinions, but ultimately if you're buying anything hook, line and sinker, you're not being true to yourself. And for me, being true to myself allows me to be the best mama I can be for my munchkins.

Then again, it is 2 AM and I am a pregnant insomniac, so what the hell do I know? Oh, and that comment from the "husband of a good mother" 20 or so back? *blink, blink*

4:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved this entry and love your blog. SO true and so honest. Finally, another mother I can relate to.

12:57 AM  
Blogger Redd said...

Thank you!
Thank you for giving us real moms a voice. We shouldn't be afraid to be who were are. Our kids are loved and healthy and fuck everyone else!

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


We're all flawed, it's what makes us human.

3:01 PM  
Anonymous Catherine S said...

I totally agree with pretty much everything Catherine said here. The jist of the matter is that if you cosleep, not cosleep, spank, not spank, feed all organic, feed non-organic, AP, CIO, schedule, no schedule, work, not work, etc etc etc ad nauseaum, there is always some asshat somewhere who thinks you are doing it wrong. Fuck that and fuck listening to judgemental assholes. Yes, it is okay to sometimes put myself first. I refuse to be a martyr to the good parenting cause. If that pisses off you so called "good" parents, that makes me pleased as fucking punch.

4:08 PM  
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