A lot of the people I regularly spend time with are, like me, without children (whether that was the plan or not), but I have many friends from different chapters of my life who do have kids–as many as four. I see their photos online, on their blogs or Flickr streams or their Facebook pages or whatever. Cute stuff.
And, starting a couple weeks ago, I started to see a lot of FB statuses that went something like this: “Mama Bear can’t wait for school to start again so I she can have some peace and quiet. Does that make me a bad mom?’ Or “I Have Kids let her girls stay up watching cartoons until late o’clock so she could get some stuff done! Bad Momma!” Or “Mrs. Chaos is a bad mother. She didn’t make a special lunch for Little Darling’s first Day of school.”
Obviously, these statements are tongue-in-cheek, intended to skewer the very idea of the Bad Mommy, like the funny/smart mommy-blog Her Bad Mother. After all, their self-proclaimed peccadillos are minor. I’ve never seen a post that would actually make me think someone is a bad mother. There are no comments like “Resentful Lady just slapped the crust off her toddler. Does that make her a bad mommy?” or “Party Gal is leaving the kids with Larry the Dubious Boyfriend while she’s off to Vegas for her Bad Mommies Weekend! Ta!’ Such women would probably not choose to announce these things in public.
But the fact that I see these low-level confessions regularly, and witnessed a particularly heavy spate of them at back-to-school time makes me think they’re not only tongue-in-cheek; there is some real concern among young mothers (mothers in their early 30s or younger and/or mothers of young children) about being a “bad mother” simply by not loving every single waking moment of your life as a parent.
I’m sure some of this sort of posting is about seeking affirmation from one’s peers. Certainly, after such posts, a flurry of comments appear reassuring Mom that she is not, after all, a Bad Mother for doing X or not doing Y, along with the occasional “but I’m even worse!” admission thrown in for good measure. Mom invariably responds with gratitude and further details of her so-called infraction. It’s a virtual kaffeeklatsch. I get that.
But I think there are a few other things going on here. It may be that my mom-friends make their maternal “sins” a matter of public record as a way of assuaging their private guilt, or that they want to head off criticism from others by pointing out their failings first. But really, this performance of confessing to Bad Mothering is a way, I believe, to prove that one is actually a Good Mother. A Good Mother questions herself. A Good Mother knows that she could always do more. A Good Mother recognizes her errors and endeavors to improve. Not like those Bad Mothers, who are thoughtless and eg0-driven and who probably don’t really love their children. A Good Mother just needs a little break every once in a while, and a place to vent feelings that Good Mothers aren’t supposed to have.
Let me be clear: I’m not mocking my friends’ insecurities about their mothering nor hinting that their parental skills are in any way subpar. Nor am I trying to re-incite the Mommy Wars (saints and angels protect us). What I’m doing is wondering aloud about a trend, among a certain subset of moms, of commenting in this passive-aggressive way about their failings as mothers.
I don’t have kids, so all I can do is wonder aloud. But I bring this up because I see parallels in other groups of women–childfree, career-focused people like me (who worry about dropping one or more of the many balls we’re constantly juggling), college-age women like my students (who preface their in-class comments with “I might be wrong” or “well, I’m not sure, but…” at least 80% of the time), even women like my mother (a woman with a Masters + 30 and a nearly 40 years of teaching special education students, who has told me half a dozen time in the last several months how she never could have gotten a PhD; my brother and I are just so much smarter than she is, etc.). We’re all going through the same rituals of disclaiming our work, undercutting our efforts, and asking forgiveness for sins we never committed. Knocking ourselves down and hanging ourselves out to dry over things that almost nobody else cares about. We’re asking, constantly: Am I Bad Wife? A Bad Student? A Bad Employee? A Bad Friend? We’re begging: “please don’t be mad.”
I’m not immune to this, either. I’ve been struggling not to preface this post with a little comment about how unripe my thoughts are on this subject, how I’m trying to suss them out in words now, how tired I am from the upheaval of the last month, et cetera. (Am I a Bad Blogger?) Though I’ve written previous posts on not being sorry, women are coached to please and placate, and it manifests in nearly every aspect of our lives. Since mothers are arguably held to an even higher standard, it makes sense that they would feel an even greater need to disclaim and qualify and self-flagellate, to prove that at least they know better and are appropriately ashamed of their failings. (This is all feeling very Catholic to me…)
Of course I’m not just talking to the mothers out there, although I’d be interested to hear from our mom-readers about this behavior. Do you see or hear it? Do you perpetuate it? And for those who aren’t mothers: how often do you ask forgiveness for for (likely imagined or at least teeny-weeny) missteps? Are you aware that you do it? And most importantly, for all our readers: how do we stop it? How do we unlearn this behavior?