Why 'Bad Parent'? An explanation of Babble's popular column. By Ada Calhoun.

Editor’s Note: Why “Bad Parent”?

The origin of Babble’s most popular column. by Ada Calhoun

May 29, 2009




Today we’re running a few pieces on the “Bad Parent” front – an interview with Home Game’s Michael Lewis; our very own Bad Parent Matrix, with apologies to New York magazine; and a wise essay by one of our beloved writers, Katie Allison Granju on the problem with the “cult of the bad mother” – so we thought we’d answer a question we get a lot: Why is the “Bad Parent” column called that? Are we really calling these writers (or anyone who does what they do) bad parents?

We launched in December 2006 with the goal of providing new parents like us with a magazine that was smart and funny, honest and original – in short, like nothing we were finding as we sought catharsis and reassurance during pregnancy and early parenthood. In service to this idea, one of the first regular columns we launched with was called “Bad Parent.”

The first “Bad Parent,” by Jennifer Baumgardner, was called “How to Do Everything Wrong.” It was like ten Bad Parents rolled into one (sample line: “Pregnancy: Spend a week believing you have gestational diabetes, but later it’s discovered that it was the glass of Mountain Dew you drank just before the blood test”). It cracked us all up, and made us tear up at the end, when Jennifer disclosed that in spite of all her supposedly terrible choices, she had a wonderful, healthy, sane child whom she loved and who loved her.

As the months went by, we started to see that our “Bad Parent” columns got more traffic and more comments than anything else. Sometimes, the stories inspire condemnation: “Call CPS on this woman!” Sometimes praise: “I wish I had the courage to try this.” Sometimes sympathy: “Hang in there.” And always plenty of identifications: “OMG, I do this too!!!”

It turned out we’d identified the one thing all parents need a steady dose of, more than advice about teething, more than a shower, sometimes even more than a full night’s sleep: evidence that they are not nearly as bad as they think they are, and that there are plenty of people out there just as conflicted.

Another reason why we think this column has become so popular is that it points out how absurd the “bad parent” designation is. As soon as you make a choice, you are by someone’s judgment a bad parent. It’s amazing how little it takes to provoke a heated discussion: “I threw away my kid’s art!” “I didn’t babyproof!” “I didn’t breastfeed!

In a different era, the reaction might be, “So?” But these days, they’re fighting words. Each choice is so loaded that the feedback boards light up every time.

Whether it’s resenting a stay-at-home spouse, overindulging sons, or contemplating giving away the family pets, all our so-called Bad Parents have done something they have mixed feelings about, or that they know would make them unpopular with some of the parents on their playground.

And yet, the wisdom and humor they bring to their topics reveal them to be anything but bad parents by the traditional definition. They’re really thinking about their parenting styles, and they’re making choices that are right for their family, even if they offend the sensibilities of other parents. In our unscientific survey, we’ve found that people with the self-awareness and humility to call themselves “bad parents” tend to be happier and calmer than those who strive for unreachable perfection or who aggressively pass judgment on others. So here’s to less judgment and more self-mockery, and to the pursuit of parenthood more “bad” than truly bad.

Read our Bad Parent archives here. Read Katie Allison Granju’s article about “bad mothers” here.

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