The ‘Bad Mommy’ Craze. Keepin’ it Real or Competitive Sport?

mama-to-mamaBabble does it. Oprah’s in on it. Heather Armstrong at is the queen of it. It’s the ‘Bad Mommy’ phenomenon, where ordinary loving moms go to great lengths to dig deep into their souls and share all the thoughtless, destructive, dangerous, and just plain stupid stuff they’ve exposed their children to. Google ‘bad mommy’ and you won’t believe how many blogs come up.

I have to say I get it. We were all waiting for the other shoe to drop — as in the reaction to all those years of perfect parenting standards. Toughing out drug-free childbirth, breastfeeding through toddlerhood, straining organic homemade baby food, researching uber-educational playthings, volunteering in the classroom, stepping in on those school projects … all while holding down a job or two was just a bit too much.

Expectations reached gargantuan proportions for those of us who cut our teeth on feminism and the myth that we could have it all. We tried to make up for all the things we watched our mothers miss out on, while proving that we could not only nurture our young at the same time, but do it better with more emotional connection. Phew! Huge burden.

Our younger sisters watched us try to pull this off and screamed “NOT FOR US”, and rightly so. They decided that it’s really OK to have a glass of wine and some adult conversation while the kids in the play group do their kid thing. They scheduled ‘date nights’ with their husbands, knowing that what’s good for the marriage nurtures the kids as well. They demanded epidurals and opted out of rooming-in with their newborns to get that last bit of rest before months of deadening fatigue set in.

I applaud this balance, but I have a feeling the pendulum may have swung too far. Now we seem to have created a new competitive sport. A can-you-top-this game where points are scored by coming up with the most outrageous example of bad parenting by the highly educated, child-focused crowd.

Confessions abound. There’s the mom who announces that her 4-year-old daughter has no bedtime and goes to sleep whenever she wants. There’s the family who have decided on “un-schooling” (definition still unclear) their kindergarten age child because it makes it easier to live their eclectic, untraditional lives and hang out late at the neighborhood saloon since they don’t have to worry about waking up early for school. And, of course, there are lots of variations on the “my kid loves junk food and it’s A-OK with me” theme.

Let’s face it, none of these stories rise to the level of child endangerment and no one’s running to the phone to call Child Protective Services, but there seems to be some kind of catharsis and self-cleansing that comes with telling our dirty little mommy secrets. Maybe we’re just rejecting the unreachable standard of perfection that’s been set, or maybe we’re trying to stake out new territory. Here’s something almost any mom can excel at … screwing it up!

I sure haven’t figured it out, but it just doesn’t feel right to strive for the low bar. Our kids are watching … are we teaching them to be honest or to reach for the funky at the expense of the excellent? The truth is, making mistakes is a big part of parenting. Copping to them and apologizing to your kids helps them see you as human and models good behavior. But I’m not sure that extends to glorifying them.

So send in your comments and let us know what you think about the ‘bad mommy’ movement. We all have our stories. I’m saving mine up for later.

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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