Soccer moms with vodka – the new bad mom blogs

by on April 24, 2009  •  In Uncategorized

From The American Prospect, an essay on the trials of making space for real mom moments in an apple pie culture:

A mother tells her child that Häagen Dazs is a special medicine for mommies because she doesn't want to share. Another purposely ruins her daughter's favorite T-shirt with red nail polish. One joins Weight Watchers so she has a place to go by herself once a week. Another mom admits, "I can't wait to wean my daughter so I can get stoned again."

These are some of the "mommy misdemeanors" revealed in the book True Mom Confessions, published this month. In the introduction, author Romi Lassally explains that she launched in 2007 as a forum for women to share their transgressions. "Online, under the veil of anonymity and with 24/7 accessibility, I believed that the conversation about the REAL and not the IDEAL of motherhood could flourish," she writes. The book is a compendium of Lassally's favorite admissions, which pour in daily from all over the country.

Welcome to bad-mom culture, in which women don't just own up to their maternal shortcomings — they flaunt them. Moms have been publicly admitting to their mixed feelings about motherhood at least since 1976, when Adrienne Rich compared herself to a monster in the feminist classic Of Woman Born. …But with the advent of confessional culture and the ascension of blogs and virtual message boards, bad-mom culture and its gleeful impropriety have flourished.

This is evident even from the names of the Web's many mommybloggers. With their almost macho grandstanding, each one is more rebellious-sounding than the next. A Suburban Mom: Notes from an Asylum and Psycho Supermom make much of their own craziness. Other mothers tout their questionable habits, as with Adventures of Leelo and his Potty-Mouthed Mom and Martini Mom (tagline: "Like a soccer mom …with vodka"). A recent post on Bad Mom — not to be confused with Bad Mummy or Bad Mutha Blogger — states, "It seems like my house will never, ever be completely clean & orderly," requests, "Call me in for dinner when you're done, please?," and features a photo of a coffee mug next to a beer.

In some ways, these maternal rebels are simply reacting to the very real anxiety that women have always felt about being perceived as bad mothers. Though there is a smattering of bad-dad Web sites, the idea is practically redundant: Most any sitcom father makes clear that paternal figures are supposed to be a little bit bad, an antidote to the steadfast mom. A bad mother? Now that's a scandal.

And the media loves to provide wall-to-wall coverage of the most extreme examples. In 1995, newspapers and television shows covered the case of Susan Smith, the mentally ill woman who drove her car into a lake with her two sons in the back seat; this year, they covered Leatrice Brewer, a mother who claimed that she drowned her three children because she believed they were victims of a voodoo attack. …

It's clear that Leatrice Brewer and Susan Smith were bad moms — so mentally unhinged they were a threat to their children — but most of the time, the parameters are fuzzy. Our society is constantly seeking ways to rate mothers: The Internet provides an endless number of articles, blog posts, and quizzes asking: "Are you a bad mom?" "Is Britney a bad mom?" "Does Facebook make you a bad mom?" That these are questions is telling. And in a culture in which you can be branded a bad mother for spending too much time on Facebook, it makes sense that women are reacting by defiantly blogging under names like White Trash Mom (tagline: "Perfect moms don't exist, real motherhood is messy"). It's not just a reclamation but a preemptive strike: Better to call yourself a bad mom and beat the naysayers to the punch. And best if you can follow it up with a flippant "so what?"

It's an adolescent retort, but that's part of the point. Bad-mom culture allows women who have become the ultimate good girls — responsible, nurturing, caregiving — to claim the bad-girl traits of individuality, sexuality, and youth that motherhood threatens to take away. Sometimes, pathos peeks out from behind the bravura. The mommyblogger at Fear and Parenting in Las Vegas, who has just purchased a new car that's grown-woman practical, not teenage-girl flashy, worries if she is bad enough: "I can still be one tarty Honda-driving Ballet Mom. Right?" she asks.

There is a feminist impulse in these mothers' desire to tell the truth about their life — a belief that simple honesty can perhaps change the outdated and impossible ideals of motherhood. These moms aren't just bad; they're mad — about how society treats them, about the ideal they are forced to live up to, about the parenting experiences that they still feel they aren't allowed to talk about openly. To the women telling these gross-out tales of babies' bodily functions and domestic incompetence, all while dropping copious references to their need for a drink, participating in bad-mom culture is a political act.

"In telling these stories, and in recognizing these stories as legitimate and important," writes Canadian blogger Her Bad Mother, "we are sharing — we are making public, we are lifting the veil on — the experience of motherhood and demanding that it be taken seriously as something that contributes to–that is, arguably, the backbone of–civil society … We are telling each other that there is community in parenthood, and that such community should be sought out and embraced."

That sense of community is what a lot of mommybloggers are striving for. They are trying to create a place that provides catharsis and a respite from guilt. When one woman blogs about being mad at her husband for not spending enough time with the kids or about lying to her son about the time so she can put him to bed early, five women write in the comments section that they have done the same thing or something equally bad or that it's not that bad at all. (Saying "I'm a bad mom" to the mommyblogger community is a little like telling your best friend "I'm fat.") At last count, there were over 50 responses to Her Bad Mother's self-described "rant." "YES! Yes to everything you just said!!! Amazingly written, it's like you took the words right out of my mouth and then made them so much better," wrote a commenter named Amy.

That's the kind of support you'd expect to hear in what is essentially a virtual consciousness-raising group. But just as the "personal is political" feminists of the 1960s and 1970s were criticized for their focus on white, middle-class issues, the same could be said of the online communities where bad-mom culture flourishes today. For women of color and working-class women, the stereotype of being a bad mother may connote not a tongue-in-cheek drink during a play date but long-held stereotypes about so-called "welfare queens" and absentee parenting. It's hard to deny the vast gulf between the stay-at-home mom who feels mild guilt when she serves the occasional microwave dinner to her kids and the single mother with two jobs whose kids come home to an empty house and frozen dinners most nights. But those working-class moms aren't blogging several times a day–or at all. And so the self-christened "bad mommies" remain largely unconcerned with the class divide.

When mommybloggers do try to step outside of their comfort zone, blogging not about getting away from the kids for a weekend in Vegas but about more serious issues, they are often vilified for it. One mother recently told me that after writing a single sentence about putting her daughter on medication for attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder, she could not believe the vicious comments she received arguing that she was "poisoning" the child rather than dealing with her behavioral issues. Certainly, message boards — where posts are truly anonymous — make clear the limits of just how bad a mom is allowed to be. A recent post on from a mother who claims she wishes she had an abortion did not go over well. A group of commenters discussing the woman who recently gave birth to octuplets devolved into accusations and name-calling, with one commenter posting: "Go back to school and learn to read before you comment because you seriously look stupid."

On a superficial level, bad mommies decry the maternal ideal, but they, too, have their own hierarchy of mommy goodness. And when one of them steps over the line on any number of topics — by writing about giving her child medication or not breastfeeding or wishing she had had an abortion — bloggers who claim to flout the distinctions between "good moms" and "bad moms" often retaliate, censoring other women and reinforcing this ranking system instead. That's when a community that sees its purpose as making space for mothers to tell the truth about their lives can feel as stultifying as the world they are trying to replace.


3 Responses to Soccer moms with vodka – the new bad mom blogs

  1. Paula Brooks May 3, 2009 at 10:04 AM

    AH… finally some REAL family values

  2. Nioki September 18, 2009 at 6:54 PM

    WOW! thanks. I just googled “motherhood and vodka” hoping there was someone else out there. It looks like I found a whole community. I appreciate greatly your comments on the “out” group self censoring…I actually wondered how my REAL truth would carry over with this hard core crowd…i mean let’s not get tooooo honest right? scary. and the class issues! yes!! thank you.

  3. Ashleigh November 5, 2009 at 3:28 PM

    While I am all in favor of us moms being realistic about our inability to fulfill the impossible “perfect” mother role and therefore encourage one another, I don’t agree with using this dialogue as a way to lower our standards. yes, we’re real people and are often overwhelmed by the weight of our responsibilities (the future character of our society no less) That being said, there is a difference between a messy house where children’s needs are met unconventionally and ungracefully at times- and a dysfunctional one in which mom neglects her responsibilities out of principal, or worse yet “bad-mommy” alter-ego ideology. I see nothing therapeutic for ourselves or anyone else in vying for the worst mom blog spot in that sense.

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