The Rise of the Bad Mom: Why We Need to Become One

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Bad Moms is a 2016 American comedy film directed and written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. The film stars Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Annie Mumolo, Jay Hernandez, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Christina Applegate. photo: Studio / Graphic Artist

Last night a group of friends and I from my parenting group, Geeklings and Parental Units, went to see the new movie Bad Moms. Our theater was packed with moms there to enjoy a well deserved night out. Beyond the hilarious fantasy scenes of moms acting badly and the over the top PTA divisions, there was a deeper issue at play. Without giving away too much, at one point in the story Mila Kunis’ character has a revelation that she needed to get her family off the perfection merry-go-round. She gives a heartfelt plea to the school population asking everyone to do less and to be ok with being Bad Moms.

If you Google Bad Mom or look up #momfail you will find pages of links on every platform of social media. Funny blogs and posts by honest moms and their struggles. The movie’s website even has a place where you can go upload your funniest Bad Mom picture. #Badmommoments. There is so much funny in these real life struggles but the humor is also based in pain and served up as a Bad Mom cocktail of stress, self loathing and loss of identity.

Even before the movie, there’s been a theory bouncing around in my head as to why the term Bad Mom has become so popular. All kidding aside, what if we need the title of Bad Mom to counterbalance the myth of the perfect mom? Embracing all sides as a way to sooth the sting of judgment and release the pressure we heap on ourselves. The idea began to piece together for me after realizing there is so much I couldn’t see when I was knee-deep in the trenches of new motherhood. Looking back with a bit of distance now, here is what my experience taught me about mom struggle.

Martin Schoeller photographed four mothers who subscribe to attachment parenting for this week's cover of TIME.
Martin Schoeller photographed four mothers who subscribe to attachment parenting for this cover of TIME. Photo:

Our daughter was born in 2011. This put my husband and me smack in the height of the mom-labeling wars. Tensions were high between stay at home and working moms. Other parenting philosophies were also causing division. Do you remember the May 2012 TIME magazine cover that circulated over every blog and afternoon talk show? (GeekMom remembers!) Provocative for sure, the image showing an older boy still breast-feeding asking readers if they are “Mom Enough.” It was the rise of attachment parenting awareness.

What exactly is attachment parenting? According to Wikipedia:

Attachment parenting is a parenting philosophy that proposes methods which aim to promote the attachment of mother and infant not only by maximal maternal empathy and responsiveness but also by continuous bodily closeness and touch. The term ‘attachment parenting’ has been coined by the American pediatrician William Sears.”

The theory has been around for a while but why was this and so many other parenting theories taking off at this point? Looking back at generations before us, moms only had their own mothers and Doctor Spock *not the Star Trek one* to refer to when questions arose. We now have whole sections in bookstores devoted to the topic. Not to mention the endless amount of professional and personal blogs offering advice to tiger moms and free range moms alike. The argument could be raised that the need to be ‘Super Mom’ coincided with the rise in mothers who dropped out of their careers choosing instead to raise their families. The competitive nature of higher education and training to succeed in the workplace now transferred to the job of motherhood. Working moms just like the main character in the movie may harbor so much ‘mom guilt’ they overcompensate by trying to keep up or surpass expectations. The results felt like a perfect storm, creating a hostile motherhood environment with nobody living up to being “Mom Enough.”

The battle of “Meta-Moms” began. Crunchy vs. STEM, cry-it-out vs. co-sleepers, and bottle vs. breast. Camps divided and online groups formed. Defending what kind of mom we are took precedent over remembering that we all love our kids and just want them to have a bright and happy family life and future.

I had a difficult relationship with identifying just what type of mom I was mostly because of my difficult start. Let me point out the transition from being a couple to being a family is massive. I completely understand why new parents reach for any help they can get. I support and accept all my fellow parent’s choices. I do however think the idea that there is just one way, the best way, to parent is in the very least aggravating and even at the most, dangerous. This holds true especially to those of us who suffered postpartum depression or who are  just trying to find their way in a new world of parenting.

Am I a Bad Mom? Photo: Melody Mooney

If you look quickly at my picture, it could be said that this mom is a drunk, look at her face, look at that drink in her hand. She isn’t wearing her baby and is that a bottle in her stroller? She only has one child? She is a lazy selfish mom. She is a Bad Mom. These are examples of judgments I started hearing other moms say which frankly shocked me and left my idea of motherhood solidarity shaken.

Looking even closer, things are almost always not what they seem. My own postpartum story is probably on the extreme side. My journey to motherhood started back in 2003 and took us through multiple miscarriages including a late-term devastating loss. Finally figuring out it was a chromosomal issue on my husband’s side and almost ten years later we became pregnant. I then went from being treated and watched closely as “high risk” to end of pregnancy bed rest. Luckily our closely-observed delivery went as easily as it could and brought forth our daughter. She was our dream come true. After an extended stay in the hospital for my own health issues dreams of my own were quickly disappearing due to sleep deprivation. I was failing at breastfeeding and what I thought was attaching. Somewhere in the haze of it all I suffered a mini stroke. I didn’t find out about the stroke until months later though. I got treated first for the physical after effects of facial paralysis thought to have been brought on by Bell’s Palsy. The more serious emotional and mental side effects like losing my sense of humor and ability to do simple math went untreated and were chalked up to just being a new mom.

The truth is I was lost and I was struggling. Breastfeeding would result in my tears as Ella screamed in frustration and rejection. I did not know then that my body had been in shock and the simple act of producing enough milk to feed her was impossible. Lactation specialists who saw a hundred moms a day told me to give up and give her a bottle. La Leche moms would tell me I would be giving my baby poison formula. They said I was not breastfeeding the right way. Still trying, I pumped to get just a drop or two. This went on for 3 months. I was falling farther into depression.

Reaching out to other moms, I was told that wearing her would solve all my problems. I tried this only to have an agitated baby screaming to be set free. Did she sense something was wrong with my body? Did she just hate being confined? The final blow to my confidence came when a wearer told me I just need to learn the right way to wear her and needed a much more expensive sling. I tied and knotted and loop-de-looped but never found the magic. I was convinced that I was a Bad Mom, I was ashamed. I was alone. I saw other moms having loving relationships with their chosen parenting philosophies. Moms who went back to work and social lives. I was stuck in survival mode and felt as if the Harry Potter Dementors had taken hold of me.

How could I be a Bad Mom? All I wanted for years was to have a child. It took a hard year but something deep in me knew I needed to get up and change things for my family’s sake and for myself. If I was going to have a title, let it be “GeekMom”. I started a group to find other geeky parents. Having to be responsible, to be present, and to have to get advice and help from others saved me. My humor began to return, I even made a funny meetup event called “Screw you Farmer’s Market”. Explaining my disappointment that my fantasy of wearing Ella while picking out organic food to puree for her had never come true. This was my first shot at embracing my Bad Mom side.

Cut to the present: four years later at forty-six I am now an Old Mom of a child going into Kindergarten. Taking on things like early menopause and school dress codes. Seeing much more humor in things but still having a hard time forgiving my body. I have many friends who burned out, who curse Dr. Sears or whatever book or family pressures they followed into thinking they could be super moms. Some are just getting on that road with pressures entering school aged years and the demands. I think back to something I read about parenting being “a marathon, not a sprint.” I vowed to slow down because stressed out moms create stressed out kids and by extension tense families.

This leads us back to the movie’s message: it is time we embrace and take back the term Bad Mom. Stop the shaming, the judging, and forgive ourselves when we think we fall short. The movie ends with the actresses having revealing discussions with their own mothers. These little Bad Mom confessions are mixed with laughter and mutual understanding by mother and daughter. There’s tearing up and giving respect to each other knowing just how hard and wonderful the job is. There were tears shed in our theater too.

Saying goodbye to my mom friends and driving home from the movie, my thoughts turned to the hope we see more moments of forgiving and sharing our struggle. We are, after all, stronger together. Tighter bonds will form when we come clean and share all our mom moments: the good, ugly, and the bad.

We are strong, we are amazing even when we get it wrong. We are #moms.

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10 thoughts on “The Rise of the Bad Mom: Why We Need to Become One

  1. There is no single way to raise kids, but there are bad behaviours and bad parents. I would never call someone a bad mom simply because they are not able to breast feed their kid. Bad parents are those that do not care about their kids, not those that can’t meet stupid Facebook expectations. I find it really moronic to use an adjective such as “bad” for this.

    BTW, I really hate when people judge others. It is so insulting. At the same time, there is someone who judges, and someone that cares about that judgement. That second part is their own fault.

    1. Thank you for your input.

      There are most certainly ne abusive parents.

      The movie and my post does not condone or encourage actual neglect.

      I am speaking more to current mom culture and how to navigate it.

      I think that when you are a new mom, it is the most vulnerable time.

      We tend to be defined by our peers and entering an entirely unkmown world is difficult when you loose who you are and your confidence.

      I never shame moms who I see struggling. I have hugged total stranger moms at the park who have that sleep deprived 1000 yard stare.

      Looking at things now, I can see where my part in buying into it all happened. Humor helps and taking back the bad mom name is part of taking back control.

  2. Great article, Melody.

    Tears. Seriously tears are rolling from reading your beautiful piece.

  3. I tried to never lose sight of what my job as a parent really was…. to raise my children to adults that not only could function in our society, but contribute positively to it. It was not my job to be their friend, it wasn’t about them liking me… it was all about them developing the tools they would need to live a good life in this crazy world of ours. Those tools included being able to see the wonder of the natural world, knowing how and when to cut loose and be a little crazy, and when you just have to put your head down, no matter what, just keep going. I sound cold?? Hard even??? I might be cold and hard, I believe that there is a time for everything even letting the dying die. I was threatened with losing my children when I fought a hospital system for my baby girl’s right to die… no more surgeries, no more trial treatments, just no more… Hard? Oh yeah, when it is about my children I am tough as nails, but cold…. I guess you would have to ask my children that. Forget what other people believe, grab on to the things that make sense to you and just do the very best you can. Maybe you too can someday have little versions of your children running around happily telling everyone they see that you are THEIR evil Grandma!

  4. Thanks for this wonderful article! I had my first child when I was 40, and I could not breastfeed. Like you, the lactation consultant just said, “there’s no shame in feeding her formula.” I didn’t get too wrapped up in “doing the right thing,” as the kid needed to eat. I didn’t volunteer this information to others, but I’m middle-aged and not too tolerant of the snark. (That means I’m dealing with perimenopause, along with raising a young child!)

  5. Hello there !
    I didn’t realize you wrote the article until I saw your picture..and was hey!! I know that mom ! Beautiful piece…and needed on so many level.
    For the update on our side, Charles is starting Kindergarten, all the issues I had as a first time mom turned out to be caused by a mild Autism diagnosis which is leading us to homeschool under a Charter next year.

    For what it’s worth, on the few time we met (I am the French mom you met twice a very long time ago), I always thought you were a great mom, very active, always doing something interesting with Ella.

    You’re doing great!

    1. Chloe, so nice reconnect! You are very kind and were there in those early geekling playdates. They meant so much to me. I hope this year goes beautifully for Charles and you.
      Lets keep in touch.


  6. My first son just recently graduated from high school. The one thing I tell all new moms is that you can make all the moves that feel right to you or all the moves you are told are the right ones to make, and someday, they will become teenagers with their own desires and thoughts and messes and you just hope you gave them the right tools to make it through them. Looking back on what I did with my sons as babies really seems insignificant when I see the things we went through in grade school and middle school and high school. Everyone tries their best and it is so hard to let go of feeling like you are doing something wrong. My sons are smart and healthy and beautiful and funny and I did not breast feed and sometimes I fed them fast food and sometimes I cleaned up their messes after them instead of making them do it. But we talk, a lot, and I make opportunities to talk with them. And we have fun and do things together and enjoy each other. No one ruins their kids because there is a day you realize they are making their own choices and you just hope you’ve given them the tools to make the right ones or that you are able to guide them through cleaning up the wrong ones.

  7. Great article! Thanks so much for sharing your heartfelt experiences. I too am on “old mom” who waited a long time for my little one and then felt like a failure when none of my preconceived ideas seemed to work out – including not being able to breastfeed. I couldn’t produce either. I really appreciate posts like this because they remind us all we’re not alone in these struggles.

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