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Bad Is As Bad Does

If you’re at all familiar with my personal blog, Her Bad Mother, you’ll know that I don’t really mean it when I call myself a bad mother. But you’ll also know that I kind of do mean it. You’ll also probably know that I’m a little complicated.

Here’s the thing: I’m obviously not a ‘bad mother,’ in the context in which ‘bad motherhood’ is conventionally understood. I’m actually what most people think of as a pretty darn good mother; I mean, I’m obviously fascinated by my kids, and obviously madly in maternal love with them, and even if I do bitch about the work of motherhood sometimes, I think that it’s pretty clear that I’m happy being a mom, and that I’m reflective about motherhood. All of which is good, right? On the other hand, I absolutely am a bad mother according to the standards of some people. Here’s how I’ve explained it in the past:

I am a bad mother according to many of the 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.

Which, yeah. For some people, any one of those things might make me a bad mother. Take all of them together, and the ‘bad mother’ moniker doesn’t seem so tongue in cheek.

But that’s the point, really. Find me a mother who doesn’t do a single thing that someone else might find objectionable, and I’ll show you a fiction. The truly good mother, the ideal mother, the perfect Platonic form of Mother, does not exist in this or any other reality. We are, all of us, in comparison with the theoretical, ideal Good Mother, bad mothers, because we all of us do things that someone else considers bad – or, at the least, not good. For every pious attachment parent, there’s an equally pious Ferberizer. For every mom who swears by disposable diapers, there’s another mother who thinks that disposable diapers are the very edge of the slippery slope that will lead your child to be a climate change denier. For every mom that hand-mills her own organic baby food, there’s another mother who thinks that she’s over-functioning. For every mom who keeps a perfectly clean home, there’s another who’s convinced that over-cleaning is a sure way to prevent your children from developing healthy immune systems. No matter what you’re doing, someone thinks that you’re doing it wrong.

So. We’re all bad mothers. Better to own it, and think about it, and challenge it, I think, than to go on insisting upon our goodness. Our goodness isn’t in question. Love your kids? Take care of them? You’re good. It’s the bad – or what we think of as the bad, or want to label or debate as bad – that’s more interesting.

I’m not sure how you label giving your baby a redneck pacifier. Not ‘good’, anyway.

So let’s talk about that, why don’t we?

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