Her Bad Mother

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wonder Girl Rides Again

I've been trying all week to craft a post about my sister and Tanner, about how they're struggling right now, about how they keep taking blows, about how they keep taking blows but never stop moving forward, never stop pursuing happiness, never stop pursuing life. I wanted to craft a post about how my sister recently made the most difficult decision that a parent could ever possibly make, the decision to allow Tanner's life to be shortened, probably significantly, so that it might be a better life. But the words just don't come, because I just don't know how she did it, how she found that courage to do what is absolutely certainly the right thing, but also absolutely certainly the hardest thing. And so I don't know how to talk about it, write about it, make sense of it. Not without crying so hard that the tears blur my vision and make my head ache. Not yet, anyway.


Today is one of those days when I just love my children so much that my breath catches in my throat and my stomach hurts and tears prick at the corner of my eyes and I just feel all, you know, clenchy and overwhelmed by the feeling, the conviction, that this, this is what people mean when they talk about miracles and wonder.

Because they fly, they really do fly, and they take my heart with them when they soar.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ecce Mater

Okay, look - and I feel called upon to address this because there are some people out there who are not getting it - when I call myself a bad mother, I do not mean that I condone the neglect or abuse of children. I do not mean that I neglect or abuse my kids. I do not mean that I or anyone should celebrate these things. I mean, seriously.

What I mean is this: I do some things, many things, that would, when held against dominant (mainstream, media) narratives and representations of the Good Mother, appear to be bad. I do some things that are by any measure bad. But I am human, all-too-human, and my inability to be perfect is part of my make-up. And I believe that my quirks and foibles and imperfections as a mother - as a human being - are what make me a wonderfully flawed, perfectly imperfect mother for my children. And I also believe that sharing the stories of my quirks and foibles and imperfections does some small service in encouraging other mothers - other parents - to accept and embrace their own flaws and imperfections, their own quote-unquote badness.

Which is to say, by celebrating badness I am not celebrating a race to the bottom of the parenting barrel. I am not suggesting that it is 'cooler' to give your children cookies for breakfast or to let them watch three hours of television or to publicly proclaim your need for Ativan. I'm not trying to conflate cookies-for-breakfast with failing to provide care for your children or use of anti-anxiety medication with drug or alcohol abuse. I'm simply describing my reality, and struggling to accept myself as the wonderfully flawed parent that I am, not despite my flaws, but because of my flaws, because of the total package that I am. And I am calling that package bad because that is what I have been called by some and would be called by others and I want to seize it and claim it and redefine it as my own and apply it to my own particular, quirky brand of flawed wonderfulness. I want to take the power of judgment and labeling away from anyone would use it against me, so that I can say, whenever someone points their finger and whispers, bad, BAD, I can cry out, loudly, I know I am but what are you?

And I want you to do the same. I don't care what you call it. That's the point, after all: if we all refuse to acknowledge the supremacy of the Good (good with a capital g, good in scare quotes) Mother and the imperative to pursue 'Good' at all costs, then we liberate ourselves to model ourselves however we like, to celebrate ourselves according to whatever measures we choose, and to call ourselves whatever we want.

I choose to call myself Bad. Proudly.

(And then I go steadfastly forward and post a - cleverly edited, but still - picture of my child peeing. Standing up. In the park. WIN.)

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Monday, June 8, 2009

The Bad Mother Manifesto

There is a spectre haunting the parenting community - the spectre of the Bad Mother...*

My name is Catherine, and I am a bad mother. I (mostly) do not have my tongue in my cheek when I say that. I am a Bad Mother.

I am a bad mother according to most 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.

I have thought that perhaps I am not at all cut out for this motherhood thing.

I have thought that I am a bad mother. I know that I am bad mother, in so many of the ways that matter to the people who worry about how and why women should be good mothers, and in most of the ways that don't matter to anyone at all other than me at three o' clock in the morning after a particularly long, ego-smashing day.


I reject entirely the idea that I should be a good mother in any manner other than those that matter to me: that I take care of the basic needs of my children, that I love my children well, that I make certain that my children know that they are loved well, that I ensure that a day never passes in which I do not not hug or kiss my children or tell them that I love them, and that I ensure that a day never passes in which they - and I - laugh out loud at least once.

I reject entirely the idea that there can be any community consensus about what - beyond the provision of love and care - constitutes a good mother. I reject entirely the idea that we can or should judge each other as mothers, beyond the obvious and most basic standards of care, and even then, I reject entirely the idea that any one of us is so perfect that she could throw the first stone without hesitation.

I reject entirely the idea that mothers should worry about what it means to be a good mother in any respect beyond loving and protecting and providing for their children.

I reject entirely the idea I should worry, and yet worry I do. I worry because everywhere I look, at every turn, at every corner, in every magazine and on every television show and in every discussion, everywhere, about the what-why-how of motherhood, is the Good Mother.

The Good Mother - the idea of the Good Mother, the theoretical and aesthetic model of what it means to mother well - is the true spectre, the spectre that has haunted mothers since God first smacked our hands for being too graspy and ejected us from the Garden and hollered at us to go forward and to give birth in pain and alone and to mother in anxiety and alone and to basically just angst out for every second of our lives. The idea of the Good Mother has kept us in our place, has kept us cowering, alone, behind the veil; our important work - our critically important work - kept hidden behind the walls of the household; our lives and our stories and our history kept secret, kept quiet, because Good Mothers are private, are modest, are pudicae, because Good Mothers tell no tales. Devoted Good Mothers listen only to community edicts about what the Good Mother looks like and then devote themselves, silently, to the work of emulating the Good Mother. They do not share their failures. They do not share their struggles. They do not tell stories about the dark and the difficulty and the anxiety and the impossibility of keeping one's cool in the dead of night when the baby is shrieking and the toddler is crying and one hasn't slept in weeks. They do not talk about shutting the door and ignoring the cries. They do not talk about intrusive thoughts. They do not talk about repeating the words fuck I hate this fuck I hate this like so many Hail Marys, like a meditation upon frustration, like a mantra of failure. They do not talk about these things, out loud.

They keep their silence, and look to the Good Mother, hoping that she will provide guidance, hoping that in her lays the way of all maternal truth and happiness. They look in vain.

The Good Mother is everywhere, all at once, and she looks like everything, and nothing. She stays at home; she goes to work. She attachment-parents; she's Babywise. She home-schools; she Montessoris. She vaccinates; she doesn't vaccinate. She follows a schedule; she lets her kids run free-range. She co-sleeps; she wouldn't dare co-sleep. She would never spank; she's a strict disciplinarian. She's an Alpha Mom; she's a Slacker Mom; she's a Hipster Mom; she's a Christian Mom; she's a Hipster-Christian-Alpha Mom who slacks off in the summers. She's Everymom; She's NoMom. She brooks no disagreement: if you argue with her, you start a Mommy War. But the wars are futile and pointless because the combatants are all fighting on the same side, her side, which is no side, and in the end we just batter each other until we are dumb and we give up and retire to our camps, bloody and bruised and determined to just keep it to ourselves next time and so it ends as it always does, in silence, with none of us saying what we really want to say, what we really need to say, which is this: who the fuck cares?

Who is anybody to tell us whether we are good mothers? Who the fuck knows what a good mother is anyway? And why can't we say this out loud, why can't we just live our motherhood out loud and proclaim our diversity to ourselves and to each other and to the world and declare the idea of the Good Mother - the all-encompassing, do-no-wrong, one-size-fits-all perfect model of the Good Mother, the Uber-Mom who has been witnessed by none of us - dead? We do not need her, we don't, we really don't.

The only persons who can measure our mother-worthiness are our children, and even they are unreliable.

All that we have, then, is this: the measure of our hearts and the measure of our eyes and our ears and our good sense. Do we love our children as best we can? Do we keep them, as best we can, healthy in mind and body? Do we make sure that they laugh? Do they smile in our presence?

That is enough. That must be enough. And if that is not good enough - if there remain those who would insist that there is more to mothering well, that I must do more, that we must do more, that the community must do more to police, to enforce, to uphold the rule of the Good Mother - then, well, I shall remain - loudly, proudly, publicly - Bad.

Are you a Bad Mother? Which is to ask - regardless of whether or not you identify with, or struggle with, the idea of being 'Bad' - are you a regular old ordinary flawed-but-awesome REAL mom? Are you just tired of the pressure to be 'Good'? Then join me. We'll unite and take over.

*(with apologies to Karl Marx, and, parenthetically, to Friedrich Nietzsche and Niccolo Machiavelli, all of whom would doubtless regard my appropriation of their modes of argument for the purposes of defending the liberation of mothers from old modes and orders of virtue as terribly, terribly amusing and, I would hope, somewhat charming, in a contrary sort of way.)