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And the media loves to provide wall-to-wall coverage of the most extreme examples. In , 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. At CNN, Nancy Grace obsesses over "tot moms" mothers of toddlers who kill or let their children get kidnapped.
And mothers -- especially mothers of celebrities or celebrity mothers -- are likely to be vilified for lesser crimes.
Lindsay Lohan's mother, Dina, was disparaged for partying with her daughter as if she were a peer, not a parent. Kathy Hilton was blamed for her lax parenting when her daughter Paris' sex tape was leaked. And perhaps the ultimate example is Britney Spears, deemed such a bad mother that her sons were taken away from her and given to her ex-husband Kevin Federline -- his regular presence on the Vegas strip-club circuit not as questionable as her shaved head or incoherent ramblings.
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: 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: 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: 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.
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. 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 s and s 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.
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