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What If You’re Not A Good Mom, But Nobody Wants To Be The One To Tell You?

What If You’re Not A Good Mom, But Nobody Wants To Be The One To Tell You?

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Photo by Mr. Right-Click

I don’t think, as some do, that people who blog about their kids are, by definition, bad parents. Obviously. Because, if I believed that, I wouldn’t be a blogger, or I wouldn’t ever blog about my son. I do believe that you can blog responsibly about your experience as a parent without doing damage to your children, and I believe it is up to the individual to decide how they are going to manage this. And, also, people who just want to find fault in every non-flattering depiction of parenthood they read should really just suck it. Because what world are they living in, anyway?

What does bother me, though, is the default assumption that one’s favorite bloggers must be good parents, regardless of whatever they do or say to suggest the contrary. That people seem to need to believe that so-and-so is a “good mom,” and that they need to pop up in comment sections asserting that the blog author is “still a good mom,” despite whatever happened, despite whatever cocktails they are always drinking, despite whatever resentment and annoyance they regularly express about their child, despite despite despite. Perhaps it is because they cannot stomach the fact that they would support and admire somebody that wasn’t a good parent? Or, because they don’t have anything else to say?

What if they’re not good moms, but nobody wants to be the one to tell them that? Or–worse–what if they aren’t good moms, but nobody knows what a good mom looks like anymore?

When Mini was a newborn, I breastfed him for about two months and we both had an awful time of it. He had all kinds of stomach problems, and it was very hard just to get him to nurse with any regularity. I had to use nipple shields to get him to do it, and trick him with pumped milk inside the nipple shield, and all the while he would turn red and scream in agony after a few seconds of nursing. I went to see a lactation consultant (yes we have these on the West Coast, we’re hippy dippy like that), who made me feel like even more of a failure for not being good at breastfeeding my son, and for using pumped milk sometimes, and for the nipple shield, et cetera. Eventually, Mr. Right-Click had to tell her–forcefully, in no uncertain terms, that I was not going to be breastfeeding anymore and to leave me the fuck alone and stop making me feel guilty, because we had discovered that Mini had a protein intolerance, and needed special hypoallergenic formula that cost $27 a can. The drama of the boob was my first bonafide failure as a mother, and it came so soon in my maternal career that I was certain I was destined to be a parenting disaster.

Before we figured the protein intolerance issue out, I tried giving Mini some soy formula because I thought the problem was the milk itself, that it was some kind of lactose intolerance. So one day, I gave him a bottle of soy formula, and OH HOLY CHRIST LORD did that go badly. I had to carry him into the pediatrician’s office while he was screaming his little head off, and he didn’t stop until it was totally out of his body, the poor thing. Also, remember that this was a period in which I had little to no sleep and was already beating myself up over failing at long-term breastfeeding. I sent a text to Mr. Right-Click in the aftermath of the soy formula fiasco, once I had calmed Mini down, that said:

I really hurt Mini with that formula.

But when I sent the text message to Mr. Right-Click’s phone, I accidentally sent it to my sister-in-law as well. I guess because I was so tired or something. Or maybe it was some kind of unconscious thing, I don’t know. So my sister-in-law calls and leaves me a message, in which she was very supportive, and said, among other things, “You’re a good mom.” I only bring this up because, at the time, so new to motherhood and my brain so fried, fraught with failure at breastfeeding–which in Southern California is indicative of not loving your child enough, basically–my thought was, “Well, how does she know that? I’ve only been a mom a few months and I’m already failing? What, exactly, is it, that makes me a good mom?”

Well, time would pass, and the drama of the breastfeeding failure would fade into the background, and I would learn that being a mother is fraught with choices about how to best parent your child, and that everybody has an opinion, and that there are no easy choices anymore. I would not call it wisdom, but I would call it developing a familiarity with the concept of things not always being able to go according to plan. Letting go of some control. Accepting that you will have to do things, sometimes, that you thought only a bad parent would do, before you were a parent yourself. Like feeding your newborn formula, which you swore you’d make it your personal mission never to do.

So I get that sometimes people want to be a little more liberal in their definition of what good parenting is. And, in general, I support this idea in its abstract form. This is why I don’t get all political about breastfeeding or even talk about it with new moms. Because it’s really not as simple as just-do-it sometimes. But when you’re having your lights shut off because you cannot afford to pay the bill, and yet you employ a nanny, an assistant, and a “home manager,” whatever the fuck that is, for $50,000 a year–don’t you think at that point that we can step in and say, in this case, maybe you’re not being a good mom?

Because not everyone is a good parent. Some people are naturally good at it, and others aren’t. Some might be OK at it under certain circumstances, and terrible in others. Some might be doing the best they can, and some might not be. And my version of the best I can do might not look the same as somebody else’s. But at some point, there are objective realities that perhaps we should acknowledge. And if not everyone is going to strive for them, that is their choice. But I don’t see why we have to pat them on the back for it.

Comments (30)

  1. May 13, 2009

    I think “good mom” is a sort of default mode that everyone believes until you prove them otherwise, be it speaking to your child in a demeaning way, feeding them fast food or letting the utilities be shut off (or what have you). I think it comes from the understanding that shit, this is a tough job, so anyone handling it reasonably well *must* be a good mom.

    This is veering into lime popsicle territory, but I think the electricity shutoff (and mentioning it at least twice on one’s blog) is more bragging about how much this particular CEO has going on and what a rockstar she is and how little time she spends on the maternal aspect of her life. It’s all about sucking up to the Gen Y she loves so much and yearns to be accepted by.

    There is a definite inverse proportion between how much one squawks about their superior parenting and the actual quality of their parenting. Most bloggers and IRL friends I know rarely try to quantify their parenting. They’re too busy (and tired) doing the actual parenting. But as soon as someone pipes up about how great they are and how often they go to the mat for their kids, an alarm goes off in my head. I know a mom whose toddlers are in school five days a week (plus late stay) and has a nanny on the weekends. Yet she’ll tell anyone she’s the most kick-ass mom on the planet. Even when she neglects to make it home on the nights her husband is out of town.

  2. TheOtherJennifer
    May 13, 2009

    If a person has to tell everyone how great she is, perhaps she isn’t as great as she thinks. What an absolute selfish, obnoxious, money-grubbing bitch.

  3. May 13, 2009

    Oh, I so agree with this. I’ve read many a post where a mom was “confessing” to something that flat-out horrified me, and other moms were justifying it in the comments with “LOL! Oh, it’s okay, he won’t even remember” or other totally… just total tripe, really.

    In those instances, I just click away – I’m not one to start a big flame war in comments because frankly, most of these people can’t be changed anyway.

    Being a mom is the single most important job I will *ever* undertake. If others don’t take that view, well – I don’t have time to listen to it, you know? I’m certainly not perfect, but I try every day to be the best for my daughter. People who won’t make that effort, well… I don’t have time for it.

    bessie.viola´s last blog post..prayers, please: update

  4. May 13, 2009

    Put “good mom” into perspective. She isn’t great. She isn’t mother of the year. She’s just good. And that’s okay. There’s a whole slew of us out here who are just average with kids who are just average (in fact, we would be the majority). And we do the best we can.

    I confess my maternal sins to a social worker friend of mine because she knows moms that really screw up. When you know what a bad mom is or even what a not very good mom is, then good comes into perspectives and it does allow for backsliding. Do you love your kid? Do you feed, clothe, and clean up after him/her? Do get your kid to school (or unschool/homeschool)? Do you seek medical care when needed? Then you are a good mom because many moms don’t get that far.

    Is that what the rest of us need to aim for? Of course not. But perspective helps and if hearing that you are a good mom allows you to clean the slate so that you can look to what needs to be done rather than obsess on what you already screwed up, then let’s throw around the “you are a good mother” dictate.

    rebecca´s last blog post..Fun with Google: Part 2

  5. May 13, 2009

    I’m a moron who went all lime popsicle. I don’t read the blog to which you refer, so I generalized it based on mommy wars at my kids’ schools. 😉 OOPS!

    rebecca´s last blog post..Fun with Google: Part 2

  6. May 13, 2009


    No biggie.

  7. May 13, 2009

    I think you are right. Not everyone is necessarily a good parent. But, I get why your SIL called you and left you that messsage. Because feeding Mini that soy formula did not make you a bad parent – you were honestly doing what you thought was best for him. It wasn’t. You made a mistake. Parents make mistakes. It doesn’t make us bad parents, it makes us humans. It’s how we learn.

    I try to give most parents the benifit of the doubt – I figure most of us are doing the best we can most of the time with the resources we have. Like you said, my “best” may be different from your “best” which may be different from a mom working at McDonald’s for minimum wage’s “best,” but I figure we are all trying to be good parents and that counts for something in my book.

    That said, I feel like a catastrophic failure as a parent at least once a week. But, I feel like a great parent at least once a day, so I figure I do alright.

    (I don’t read the blog you mention either, but fire your house manager and turn on your lights, okay?)

    jenni´s last blog post..RTT: Getting our Hairs Cut and Meeting Phil Collins

  8. May 13, 2009

    I actually DO read the other blog, and I’ve read it for a while. What concerned me about that post (and others with similar themes on other blogs) was not the post itself. I don’t think the author was trying to say “dig me, I’m a great mom” at all. I think she was trying to lay her life out like it really is (which is what she’s known for). But some of the commenters were, and that’s where I scratch my head sometimes. It’s not so much the mommybloggers out there who say, “I did this, I don’t do that.” It’s the rabid commenters who either praise them no matter what they do, or rip them to shreds. Neither of those things are helpful, and I think they actually can both do harm.

    If I’d forgotten to pay the electric bill to the point where they actually shut it down (just to use that as an example), I’d expect that my true friends would not say, “Great job Kerry! You’re a great mom!” I’d expect that they’d say, “Look, it seems like things are a little off the hook here. How can I help you get on track so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen? Because I’m concerned about what this sort of instability does to your kids.” My REAL friends would not encourage me to do something that would not be good for me or my family.

    That’s one thing I’ve noticed about blogging–you can have lots of fans, but they don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart. There are one or two bloggers out there who REALLY seem to need a friend, not a fan.

    On the breastfeeding–I could not agree more. It’s a shame that some women use this issue to spew judgment. The goal is to get good food into the belly of a baby, and however the mom and baby need to have that happen is between them.

    Kerry´s last blog post..3 Reasons Company Culture Matters in Choosing an Employer

  9. May 13, 2009

    @Kerry, exactly. I’m not sure how much of it is bravado, but sometimes she is disturbing in the stuff she writes. That said, she gives really good blog. She’s a great writer, and is always fascinating. And I am not even looking for a job or career advice, I just like her site.

  10. May 13, 2009

    Good point, Kerry. It’s the blindly loyal supporters who make the most noise about a blogger’s parenting abilities, when they couldn’t possibly know what goes on in that blogger’s home. They seem to get a charge out of the showdowns that crop up on the Webs. They must be very literal readers, taking everything at face value, to want to defend the writer so bitterly.

  11. Monica
    May 13, 2009

    Not defending this woman but are the kids really going to suffer because mommy decided they will spend a night in a hotel!? What if they had to do this because the house had a gas leak or had been painted and the fumes were too strong? I don’t read her blog so I don’t know what other horrors she has visited on the kids but an improptu night in a hotel should not be the cause of lifelong, crippling feelings of instability for the little ones. I may be missing something…Oh, one more thing. Forgetting, or being unable, to pay the bills does not make one a bad parent, per se. unless the money is being spent in questionable pursuits.

  12. May 13, 2009

    Monica, I think with that particular blog, it’s in the context of some of the other stuff that has been posted recently that you start to grow concerned. In that particular case, I am more concerned about the blogger herself than the kids. Not that it’s any of my business whatsoever.

    I would agree that forgetting to pay, or especially not being able to pay a bill doesn’t have anything to do with being a bad parent. It’s more about the trend you see when you read a blogger regularly (and again, with that blog in particular, I feel like it’s the commenters who are whacked sometimes, not necessarily the blogger herself).

  13. May 13, 2009

    I think that some of the blog-mommies are trying to put out the wow factor sometimes. This happened to me and I still made it, etc.

    I went through a similar issue with The Soldier when I first had him. I tried to nurse for 6 weeks and he lost weight and he hated it. He screamed every time I nursed him no matter what I did. You at least figured out what was wrong with Mini. I didn’t have a support system whatsoever. The ex just wanted to know why his dinner wasn’t on the table when he came home from work.

    I know that being a mom is my most important job, but there are times where I wonder what kind of grade I would bring home. I work full time, sometimes The Diva has to cook dinner and watch her siblings, but most of the time I try hard to get everything right. I don’t know that I would ever blog regularly about my kids or my mistakes with them, b/c I am just mortified sometimes by my own stupidity. This week we have been trying to figure out why the children have little to no organizational skills when they live in a house with two very (sometimes) organized moms.

    I don’t think I have ever read the blog you are referring to, but I have read other blogs where I think ‘why are they supporting her?’ Wouldn’t you tell your friend if you thought they really screwed up? I think that is the difference between fans and IRL friends. I know C will tell me if I screw up, and most of my IRL friends will jump right in behind her.

    Becca´s last blog post..Mo Anam Cara

  14. AKD
    May 13, 2009

    Okay, here’s how I know I’ll make a great mom: when that woman admitted to her kid that the electricity was off because she didn’t pay the bill, I was like, why the hell didn’t she tell him the electricity was just OUT? Like, a rolling blackout or something? If they are scared of the dark, give ’em a candle. Make it fun! If you don’t have the money to pay the electric bill, you don’t have the money for a hotel either.

  15. Heather
    May 13, 2009

    Once again the non mother poster strikes. As I am too lazy to read through all these posts…I will just make one comment regarding the breast feeding issue. Why is it SUCH an issue? Like, as long as your kid is getting fed, does that matter? Doesn’t making sure your child gets fed without getting sick make you a good mother, rather than trying to force a method that is obvs not working for you? And..I was a soy formula baby and I turned out just fine thanks. *lol*

    And you’re right in this article, people shouldn’t assume a blogger is a good mother. You only get to learn what the author is posting to you, which means it’s been censored to what they think you should know. Although, sometimes I think some of these blogs are exaggerated to grab more readers attentions. To be honest, from some stories I read, I often wondered why child services hadn’t investigated some of these parents for what they post about their home lives.

    Ok well here’s a question to put out there: Have you ever thought that what you put online (or other bloggers for that matter) would be twisted so much that someone did phone child services against you? I’m just curious.

  16. Mr. Right-Click
    May 14, 2009

    Anyone who would take parenting advice from Ms. Trunk is by definition a bad Mom. I have never read anything more annoying or self-important. What a bore. I am dialing DCFS right now.

  17. May 14, 2009

    Hmmm, I had never read PT, but I think I’ve heard of her (didn’t the Poop on Peeps chick bash her?), but yeah, great writing, so I’ll read more. Maybe there’s more in other posts–I just read the one you linked and a couple of house manager ones–but I’m not really seeing the bad mom thing. Definitely seems like, as you guys were saying in the comments, a kind of blogger-persona that is meant to give the effect of “Ohmigod things are so crazy in my life!!! Whee!” Actually it reminded me of nothing so much as the narrator of Slummy Mummy. (That’s a fun book if you haven’t read it.) So I’m not sure how much a window into her parenting it is? I mean, I’ve never forgotten to pay a utility bill, but I don’t think it amounts to malpractice.

    becky´s last blog post..Wedding Party Favors: Just a Northern Thing?

  18. May 14, 2009

    @becky, if she had simply forgotten, I’d agree with you. I didn’t make it clear in the post that I don’t really believe her claim that it was just an oversight. For one thing, you have to go a few months before they shut off power. So she had “forgotten” several months in a row, while still prioritizing the house manager, nanny, assistant, and trips to sxsw over paying her electric bill, was the way I was taking this information. This is never explicitly stated, but by reading her posts over the past few months, you can put two and two together. In my mind, keeping utilities running is second only to providing food for your kids in terms of being a good parent. Especially in Wisconsin, and especially when these kids have already shown signs of understanding that their world might not be reliably safe.

  19. May 14, 2009

    @Heather, breastfeeding is supposed to have many benefits to a kid, both physical and psychological/developmental, and since it was out of vogue for a while, there is at least one generation where mothers didn’t breastfeed at all. In order to get it back into popular use, it became super political–kind of a feminist issue, which I understand to a certain degree. The problem is that, if you live in an area where it’s very fashionable (like here), there can be a lot of pressure to do it even when it’s not working. And when you’re a new mom you get all mixed up and crazy from the lack of sleep, and feeling like people are judging you, and not knowing what you’re doing really, so you are susceptible to this.

    In the end, it isn’t as big of a deal as people make of it, of course. But many moms do want to try to give this thing to their kid.

    Re: writing something that would make someone call CPS, I think it’s definitely a possibility that people would do this. I cannot imagine something I’ve done which would prompt it, though. So I guess what I’m saying is if I write something that makes somebody think CPS needs to be called, maybe CPS does need to be called, because I don’t know what I’m doing wrong! 🙂

  20. May 14, 2009

    I guess if she’s choosing to risk having her power cut off, then yeah, maybe some reprioritization is in order. Interesting–I want to go back and piece her story together, plus, you’re right, her writing is good.

    On the breastfeeding thing–I was lucky enough to have a lactation consultant (this was in Northern CA) who was not completely rigid. With my first baby, I had a really hard time getting my milk to come in, and my husband gave the baby a bottle of formula, which caused me to lose my shit completely, because I thought I had strayed from the one true path. The LC took one look at me and was like, “Okay, pumping but no trying to get the baby to latch for you today. You need to sleep.” And she told us he had done the right thing to supplement with formula, and we kept doing that for a week longer. Then my milk came in, and we nursed for over a year. And I did for two years with my littlest.

    All that is to say, I’m sorry you had a bad LC! Breastfeeding is great, but formula is not poison, and we should all just chill down.

    becky´s last blog post..Wedding Party Favors: Just a Northern Thing?

  21. May 14, 2009

    I haven’t read the blog(s) in question so am just going off your post and the comments, but reading this makes me think, Is the bar for “good mother” set too low? Or are we all reaching for different bars?

    I do think most moms try their level best to do what they can with what they have. Some moms are crappy moms and that’s just life. There are messed up people who had picture-perfect “good” moms too. When you think about life, isn’t it insanely, frustratingly random? I am struggling to be “good” and I’m sure while I’m avoiding a bunch of mistakes I know about, I’m making another whole bunch of ones that aren’t even on my radar.

    Juliet Grossman´s last blog post..Local Find: Cooking Classes at Francesca’s

  22. May 14, 2009

    I’m a “good enough” mom. My experience in real life momdom (as opposed to blogs) has not been so much false praise as nosy moms or hypercritical moms. They want to know what another mom is doing so they can feel better about what they’re doing. Anyway, your post certainly peaks my curiosity about the Trunk woman. I’d never heard of her blog before.

    The Lawyer Mom´s last blog post..The Joy of Boys

  23. May 15, 2009

    I just read this post about hiring a House Manager. Um, okay……I think it’s a little strange. Just strange. And people give *me* crap about starting a business writing people’s thank you notes for them? Hee!

    By the way, on a totally different subject, I just remembered because I’m here that you are a “fan” of Real Housewives. I was flipping channels the other night and caught Crazy Kelly jogging. In the middle of Manhattan traffic. She’s like, “Yeah, I love to go for a jog,” then she wades into traffic and is literally running in front of taxis and buses. She is INSANE. So funny.

    Juliet Grossman´s last blog post..From the Homekeeping Files

  24. AKD
    May 15, 2009

    Wow, Juliet, thank you for finding that post and posting it. I am now totally fascinated by this woman and will have to find the time to fit her into my reading schedule. A house manager!! I’ve been puzzling over this for days.

  25. AKD
    May 15, 2009

    ps. a business writing other people’s thank-you notes is brilliant. Do you write other letters as well? I have been carrying around this big bag of guilt that I have owed my aunt a letter for, literally, years.

  26. May 15, 2009

    Write that letter or decide you aren’t going to write it, but RELEASE IT! I started my business so people can get at least one looming project off their plates and get back to leading happy lives. I have $50 minimum which pretty much eliminates writing individual letters. Main focus = brides, babies, bar/bat mitzvah. thankfully simple blog and http://www.thankfullysimple.com

    Juliet Grossman´s last blog post..Why Was That Police Helicopter Flying Over Paloma del Sol Yesterday?

  27. May 15, 2009

    it is a great idea, Juliet. I think you’re going to make a ton of money off kids’ graduations, etc.

  28. […] The bad mommies (and dads) are everywhere this week. In Slate. In Salon. Most of the ink focuses on Ayelet Waldman’s new book, […]

  29. May 16, 2009

    I hope so!

    I was walking around the grocery store today when it hit me what rubs me the wrong way about the woman in question (I always get the best ideas while I’m just randomly walking around & zoning out, or of course in the shower.)

    Have you ever noticed how real, actual busy people don’t run around screaming about how busy they are? Instead, they are busy doing…..well, doing whatever it is that they are busy doing. They told feel this compulsion to hit you over the head with their busy-ness all the time.

    There is also a very unattractive aspect of martyrdom to her post. It’s like she’s compiling a list of “You won’t believe HOW busy I am! I actually forgot to pay the utility bill and my lights were turned off and I didn’t even notice! Wow, I am SO busy! I hope you don’t think I’m a horrible mother.”

    She manages to go to work, catch planes, and type on her laptop. She could easily (EASILY) pay a utility bill (albeit on second or third notice.) Or have the “house manager” do it.

    And only a fake-busy martyr type would actually call this person the “house manager.” A normal person would call her a nanny/housekeeper like normal people have been doing forever.

    Juliet Grossman´s last blog post..Temecula To-Do List for May

  30. May 18, 2009

    I’m a huge P fan, but I don’t take mommy advice from her. Or anyone. I think most famous mommy bloggers are out there for the shock effect. I’m not even sure they really mean what they say, which is why I read for reading pleasure, not for guidance.

    Amber Warren´s last blog post..Commercials That Are So Bad They’re Good

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