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Typology of the Bad Mother

There has been a lot of talk lately about bad mothers. Is bad good or is bad bad? I linked to one of the discussions on this issue in my post yesterday and the newspapers seem peppered with them the past few days too.

I think part of the problem with the whole conversation is that there is no consistent definition of what a bad mother is. Each person defines it differently. As someone that likes to organize or classify things, I keep getting dizzy when reading these articles because I don't know what they are talking about half of the time and I'm not sure they know either.

So I started thinking about what a bad mother is. I thought about some of the things I had read. I asked people whether they would consider themselves bad mothers and how they would define a bad mother. All of that with the intent of coming up with this typology of the bad mother.

When you think about a bad mother, what do you envision?

Here are the types I have discovered so far:

  • Neglectful or abusive and don't know better: Some moms have been dealt the wrong deck of cards in life. They may have grown up being abused or were neglected. That is the only type of parenting they know and they are just continuing the cycle. Others maybe really didn't want to be parents and just don't care enough to try to be a good parent. As an example, @mirandababy considers her mother a bad mother: "Neglectful even to this day, unresponsive, uninterested and completely disassociated". Some moms, like @AmberStrocel who blogs at Strocel would restrict the "bad mother" category to those that are truly neglecting or abusing their kids and don't care to change that.

  • Not perfect and oblivious: There are mothers that are not perfect and don't realize that they are making poor decisions. According to @emilyjh75 "Everyone makes bad choices sometimes. Bad choices do not define her as a bad mother. Unless, IMO, she refuses to recognize them and continues in bad decisions." Or put another way, @nicolemarr from Grudge Mom says "bad parenting is making mistakes and not learning from them. Like repeatedly letting them fall off a couch".

  • Not perfect and doing the best they can: A lot of moms recognize that they are not perfect, but they realize that there is only so much that they can do or should do. They realize, like @doudoubebe that everyone has bad days. Or they feel, like @jmegan, that they are the best parent they can be. Some might consider this synonymous with the Good Enough Mother concept and others would say that they while they accept what they did wrong today or yesterday, they are going to continue to try to be a better parent tomorrow.

  • Overindulging: On the opposite end of the spectrum from wanting to do more are those moms that do too much. While they probably wouldn't consider themselves bad moms, there is research on overindulgence that suggests that doing too much for your kids can have negative consequences. These mothers are criticized for not giving their children an opportunity to learn how to do things for themselves or to make decisions for themselves.

  • Going against the mainstream on purpose: Some moms get called bad moms because they have made choices that are different from the mainstream. However, these moms have made those choices on purpose because they think it is the best thing for their child. These are not neglectful parents. These are parents that have carefully considered the options and, for example, decided that extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, or not vaccinating is the best choice. Other parents may let their children do things that are considered dangerous or shocking by others, ranging from unstructured play to riding the NYC subway alone, because they think it is an important developmental experience.

  • Worried about or bothered by what others think: There are women who let other people define whether they are a good mother or not. Whether it is comments on a blog post, looks at the playground, or just seeing someone else do something they couldn't do, these moms feel like bad moms because they aren't being the type of mother that society expects them to be. @Kathryn_Easter says that "as Moms we compare ourselves to other Moms and feel like we don't like up to certain standard" and she also admits to having parented differently in some cases just because she was in a public place. Perhaps we all do this a little bit...most people want to fit in, be liked, be admired.

  • Bad and proud of it: For some moms, it seems like being a bad mom is becoming a competition. It is the new black. The in thing. They always try to one-up each other: "You think that's bad, well how about this?".  There are whole websites set up just for moms to confess how bad they have been and while the initial intent may have been good (e.g. let moms get something off their chest), they seem to quickly degenerate into a competition about who was most neglectful or abusive. Don Mills Diva, for one, is not interested in jumping onto this bandwagon as she said in her post Why the bad mother trend is not good : "I have my struggles, like everyone, and while I might occasionally write about them in a humorous fashion, I'm not interested in endlessly tapping the vein of faux self deprecation for shock value or cheap laughs or sympathy. Or to be trendy." She would rather just be a very good mom.

  • Bad...and a mother: Then there are those women who consider themselves bad. Perhaps they are what James Dean would have called a rebel without a cause. Or they are just your garden variety trouble maker. They aren't necessarily bad mothers. They just happen to be bad...and be a mother. Perhaps they are raising the next generation of hoodlums or perhaps their kids will rebel against their badness.

Not all mothers necessarily fall into the same category every day or some mothers may fall into several of these categories all of the time. This list isn't intended to pigeon hole any one mother into a specific category because mothering is complex and our relationships with our children are complex. But I did want to take the whole "bad mother" conversation one step forward by trying to put some definitions around the different things that sometimes get defined as "bad" because I don't think we are all talking about the same thing when we talk about a bad mother.

I also want to say that like @AmberStrocel, I'm going to reserve the term "bad mother" for those that are truly abusive or neglectful. That isn't to say that I'm lining up to give "mother of the year" awards to every other type I've described, but I don't think that it is helpful for me or anyone else to label someone as a bad mother if they are doing their best. Instead I think we should stop glamourizing "bad", we should offer a helping hand to those that are struggling, we should be confident in our own parenting, and we should continue to think about how we could improve.

As for me, I have no interest in being a bad mother. I don't plan to do wrong by my kids in order to make friends. I don't feel like I need to beat myself up for the things I can't do. I don't feel like I need to accept that I am good enough, because I like being a work in progress. I do go against the mainstream sometimes (okay maybe more than sometimes), but I have good reasons for it and I won't let other people call me a bad mother for doing it (so there Ontario coroner).

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Reader Comments (72)

I think we're all probably bad mothers depending on who is doing the judging.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSummer

I think the important part is always trying harder to do the things we know are in the best interests of our children, on a consistent basis.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterslee

Ha! You do like to define stuff! The last catagory is interesting. There is a mother at my son's pre-school that looks 'bad' (tatoos, peirceing and she smokes!) but she is actually really nice and a great mother. I think its also easy to strip all the catagories to bad people, not just mothers. People are more judgemental to mothers it is true, but mainly because there is more to judge.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi

I have to admit, the idea that one might feel guilty for loving their partner more than their kids is an odd one to me, and caught me by surprise. I have always taken it for granted that, in a strong marriage, the children should never come between the parents. We might have to prioritize their needs over our partners' at times, but that's hardly the same thing as "loving them more." Our kids will one day leave and have lives of their own; presumably, we're committed to life with our partners. Of course, we are also talking about different kinds of love, in any case. Hard to compare or say "more/less," but the relationship I have with my partner will (hopefully!) stay intimate and tightly-bonded--my relationship with my kids will mutate over time from the tight bond we have now, to something more like close friendship as they grow up. And that's normal.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndi

The funny thing is that I don't necessarily think of all of those as bad. The husband before the kids thing for instance - while if it is a matter of real NEEDS that is bad I think your marriage needs to come first. It was there first and if it falls apart that is bad for the kids. So, Hubby and I let the kids play for a half hour after dinner everynight so we can talk. Some say that is wrong but it is important to us

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUpstatemomof3

@Andi @Upstatemomof3:

As I said in the post, this is a list of the different types of "bad moms" as defined by society, not by me. I don't think of all of these types as bad moms. As I said in the last paragraph, the only ones I would classify as really "bad" are the neglectful/abusive ones. I don't think there is anything wrong with letting your kids play so that you can talk to your husband (letting kids play is hardly neglectful...). But I also think that in a strong marriage, you can jointly decide that when the kids are young their needs have to come first. I agree that they are very different types of love. I love my kids unconditionally. My husband, however, I choose to be with. I love him, but if he started being a real ass that could change.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I agree, bad needs to remain a term for those who are neglecting, abusing or otherwise hurting their children.

I am not a fan of the overuse of the word 'bad' in motherhood, because quite frankly, none of us are perfect but I think most of us do a pretty darn good job (and all of us have different circumstances to work with).

I joked to my husband when I first started blogging that I wasn't controversial or 'bad' enough or willing to complain about motherhood enough to blog (but I love blogging and of course, continue to do it - with wonderful people reading!) but my point in the statement was that it seemed this niche of 'bad' experiences was very popular. I just don't relate.

Unfortunately, there are times when we think we're bad because of perceptions, or comparisons to others. Hopefully, these feelings will go away and maybe awareness will help that.

honestly? I think I'm a good mother, and pretty darn proud of it. My children deserve nothing less than at least my attempt to work hard at being the best I can for them.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I love this! (And not just because you agree with me. ;) )

Parenting is hard. Do we always make perfect choices? No. Do we always make choices that others agree with? No. But it's not a sign that we're bad or unworthy. It's par for the course in all human relationships.

Sadly, there are very real cases where people mistreat children. Using terminology like 'bad' or 'abusive' to describe someone who doesn't want to play Barbies yet again, or who loses her temper once in a while does no one any service. It softens language that really ought not to be softened.

And I'm with you on the Ontario Coroner.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

When I first read the question on twitter, my first response was the one I had given. However, before I hit enter, I turned to my husband and asked, "Who do you love more? Me or the kids?" Without hesitation, he said, "I love you more." We both understood what it meant, and it's a bit difficult to explain why in 140 characters or less...

We are not trying to diminish the love we have for our kids. Hell, there isn't a decision made in this place where we don't automatically question how will this affect our teenager and twin infants. Yes, it *is* a different kind of love, like @Andi stated above. Perhaps it is due to a difference in culture (I am Puerto Rican, my husband is Jewish.) I remember being a young girl watching television and movies, noticing woman of other nationalities (can I say "white women?" because that is all I saw on television...) My impression growing up was that mothers were supposed to wait hand and foot on their kids, kind of getting lost in the background, often resenting it. You were considered a "bad" mother if you didn't cater and slave to your child's every whim. I carry guilt with me that I sometimes I make them wait. Adults come first in our household, and perhaps that's where the cultural difference is. Or, maybe it's just us. Of course we are attentive to their needs, and I do consider myself a good mother in every other respect, but my husband will always come first and I will come first to him, and together as a team we care for and nurture our children. Hopefully we will be teaching them what it is to be loving, confident, intelligent, independent adults, they will have their own families, and we wont expect anything less than them choosing their life-partner over us (their parents) as well as their kids needs if they so choose.

This is a fantastic post. Thanks for including me.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZaida

For me this motherhood thing is riddled with insecurities. I had no training. I didn't read a book that told me how everything was going to go. I have never felt like I've got this thing down pat and I know everything. Which is fine, it's always a learning experience. But it means I question myself. Am I good? Am I bad?
So the first layer to deal with, it seems, is the Judgey McJudgersons, whether that's well meaning seniors in a store or friends or in-laws or the lovely internets. I have been made to feel bad because (a) I combination fed my children for 6 months and then switched to formula (b) I didn't circumcise (c) I co-slept basically for my sanity and then didn't when they understood that night time was for sleeping (in that case you can be bad for doing it [see Coroner's report!] or not doing it!!) (d) using some cloth diapers but then not using any at all (e) potty training when he felt like it; now not finished at 3.5 years (f) going back to work full time (g) oh christ, I can't go on, this is turning into a post rather than a comment.
Anyway, that stuff I can deal with. I can feel like a bad mother for about a minute and then move on because those decisions were made for us by us in our best interests one way or another. Those things don't make me bad, no matter what anyone says.
It's the stuff that's more intimate that gets me. Is my child being so challenging in his behavior because I am not paying enough attention to his needs? Did I just lose my rag with him for a good reason or because I am a big shit (a BAD mother)?
That's when I really question myself. That's when it bothers me.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

My son has recently started questioning my mothering abilities (he's only 6, bless him!) and my answer to him and to any other criticism is "I'm good enough".
Just as childhood nutrition is best approached on a cumulative weekly basis, I think so called 'badness' in mothering is best seen over a longer term too.

That's it, exactly. None of us is a perfect mother - so does that mean we're all "bad?"

My friends and I tend to use the term semi-ironically, as sort of a tip of the hat to the idea of the "perfect" mother. The "what would the neighbours think," or "gasp - that's not what it says in the baby book!" kind of thing.

For example, my girlfriend was teasing me about being a "bad" mom the other day because I was letting my DD (1 yr) feed herself dried cranberries and sunflower seeds. Because They Say that kids shouldn't have small foods like that until they're 2, or 4, or whatever age. We laughed, and agreed that yes, I'm clearly a Bad Mom.

But the thing is, she would never tease me about the things that she genuinely disagrees with. For example, we still go in to DD when she cries in the night. She does sleep through occasionally, but not regularly, and we're fine with that for now. My friend was a big proponent of the cry-it-out method, and tells me that her girls were sleeping through the night quite young.

But we don't ever talk about those differences in terms of "good" or "bad" parenting. In fact, we hardly talk about it at all. We sort of dance around the topic if it comes up, but then go back to safer ground.

So for us, we only use the label "bad" when it's quite clear that we don't mean it. If there's any chance at all that we could be seen as judging each other's choices, or that we really do think the other one is doing something wrong, we steer clear entirely.

I like Amber's idea, that we should reserve the term "bad" for people who really are neglecting or abusing their kids, rather than for the days we let them stay up past their bedtime to watch TV. Because there *are* such things as bad parents (although I try to reserve judgement even for them, and assume they're also doing the best they can with what they have - maybe they just need more help than some of the rest of us?). And most of the parents I know are not bad parents at all, they're just less than perfect, just like everyone else.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJMegan

I feel like a 'bad mother' when I lose patience with my children and raise my voice at them; I feel bad when I say 'no' even though I know it's the right thing to say - for instance, my 16 month old wanted me to turn on the hose in the backyard tonight but it was chilly and I didn't want him to get wet - so I said no, and he got upset and cried. That made me feel horrible. I also feel like a 'bad mother' when I can't spend as much time as I would like with my oldest son because I'm with the baby; it's just mommy guilt, but still... blah.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLoukia

I've never considered myself a "bad" mom. I've seen "bad" moms, and I ain't it! With the way I was raised, it's a wonder I'm even still alive, so the fact that my children are loved, and clothed, and fed, and happy, and healthy means I'm doing way better job than the example set for me.

Of course, I'm sure there are a LOT of people who don't think I'm doing such a good job based on their own judgment of certain parenting styles. Some people think I'm a tyrant for sleep training and some people think I'm ridiculous for breastfeeding as long as I have. You just can't win. And on certain days, where things just aren't lining up for us, I may think I'm not doing such a hot job either. But anyone who's ever met my kids should know that I'm doing a good job with them. Not a perfect job, but a good job. And honestly I'm jealous of the life I've given my kids. They'll hopefully never know the kind of heartache, stress, and depression that I knew growing up because they are so well taken care of. Sometimes I wonder how they'll develop humility without going through the hard things I went through. But that's okay - nobody deserves to know that kind of life.

So at the end of the day, even with my moments of insecurity or defensiveness, I know I'm a good mom. Are there really people who take pride in being bad moms? Maybe they should come talk to someone raised by a bad mom who can tell them they're kids will turn 18 and never see or speak to them again.

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTheFeministBreeder

What I want to know is why is it Bad "MOM" everyone is trying to define? What about a Bad Dad? If a Dad isn't putting the child's needs first and putting in the same hands-on time with the baby as the Mom is doing, does that make him Dad? Why do the Dad's get a free pass? That has always bugged me since I entered the world of parenting. I am a feminist and always considered myself equal to a man (categorically speaking). In my marriage I imagined our parenting duties to be 50/50. That hasn't turned out to be the case and I'm still processing that. However, meanwhile, where's the discussions about what it means to be a Bad Dad?

June 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

[...] This post was Twitted by phdinparenting - Real-url.org [...]

I think it starts to be a scary place when we try to define motherhood. We cannot put rules on how to raise a child. Every household is different. Every child is different and every mother is different. Regardless, if you are giving it your best. If you child is fed, clothed, loved and hugged that alone makes you a good mother?

June 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCassie

I would definitely agree w/UpstateMomof3. Putting your husband first does not make you a bad mother. It is what you need to do to keep your marriage functional! I think many marriages die because mothers spend too much time catering to their kids' every whim and pay no attention to husbands. There has to be a good balance.

June 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVanderbilt Wife

I thank you for including me in this, also. You know from our communications how much I struggle with feelings of inadequacy. One thing I've learned from having children, particularly a teenager, is that no matter how much we do we will always feel we could have done more.

I think the idea of moms saying they are "bad" is to say - I don't always do everything perfectly. It's true that I joke about being bad in my blog, but I don't abuse or really neglect my children. Except when I'm tweeting (okay, just kidding!). I just know there are things that I could do better.
As I just said in another comment thread, I don't always have the emotional or physical resources to improve. Sometimes, life is just hard and we have to do whatever will get us through that moment or that day. Ultimately, the sum total of our parenting can absorb some bad days. And even if we do everything just the way we *think* it should be done, things go wrong, or go differently than we'd hoped. We are raising individuals with their own ideas and minds.

I'm coming around to the idea that I'm not so "bad," and some of it is because women are fearless enough to tell the world that they make mistakes. I appreciate bloggers like you, who do research and offer evidence-based information, but I also appreciate the "bad" mothers out there who are letting us know that we are not alone in our mistakes.

June 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I missed the whole "Bad Mom" thing. Was it on Twitter? I've been away from the computer lately- trying to be a better mom. :)

I read a lot of "mom blogs." I know one mom I know IRL who is very afraid that if she only blogs about the good stuff that it'll look like she's bragging that she's the best mom ever and her daughter is the best ever. But then, she doesn't want to sound TOO bad.

I think that's something a lot of moms try to balance with blogging- don't want to look conceited, so let's put some bad stuff in there too and praise it. I think that's where this is all coming from.

Maybe I should read the original articles... I don't know. In the end, I think I'm a good mom.

June 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

I try to be the best mother for MY CHILDREN, not for newspaper and magazines and blogs. Where I live there are not a lot of parents who appear to make the same choices I do. That's ok. I am not so intimidated that I try to fit into what "society" thinks I should be as a mother. But it sure is nice to be able to come to blogs like this one for support in my choices and in my growth as a person and a parent.

June 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjane

[...] being a good mother – or something like that.  i started getting into it a bit, i read phd in parenting’s thoughts, and of course her bad mother, and then i was linked to mama is and after reading that i thought, [...]

I wish I'd seen your post before I wrote on this topic. I think the acceptance (gleeful, defiant, or otherwise) of the term "Bad Mother" rather than redefinition (really self-definition) of the term "Good Mother" is not the right way to combat bad media stereotypes. I think the words we use are important, and I don't see a day when bad means good and good means bad.

June 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJane

Based on the blogs that I skim on a fairly regular basis, I think claiming oneself as a Bad Mommy is a way to laugh off (snarl at?)the Good Mommy/Donna Reed/Helicopter Mom stereotype and associated societal, familial, cultural, fill-in-the-blank-al pressures that state how one ought to be a parent. On average, I'm a Good-Enough Mommy (slightly Slacker Mom) to my autistic 5 year old boy. He gets the therapies that he needs and the best services through school that we have locally, but do I spend every spare moment preparing the ultimate in autism interventions for non-school time? No bloody way - if I did that, when would I play on Facebook? I am a firm believer that if Mama ain't happy, then ain't nobody happy. Do I yell? Yeah, sure if it gets his attention and heads off an unsafe activity or a tantrum or I've just had enough of whatever obsession he has this week. Like almost everyone I know, I do try to yell less in public. Bottom-line, he's always fed (relatively well), clean, clothed, and as safe as any little boy with no sense of pain, fear or self-preservation can be. We require age-appropriate civilized behavior within his abilities and comprehension - like no hitting, say please and thank you and ma'am and sir, shake hands when you meet someone, etc. He receives boundaries and discipline within common-sense limits - we have no problem telling him No. I say that every 15 minutes or so, as do his teachers! Most importantly, my boy knows we love him, and he loves us. He says it all the time, especially when he knows he's in trouble! As some of the other posters have said, the real verdict on our parenting will be when he's a teen and young adult. Given the challenges that autism brings, I feel that if we have produced a sweet, pilot, self-sufficient young man who can participate in general society, then we have been Good Parents.

June 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Harper

The "bad" mother comes to life as the pendulum swings away from the "good" mother, which all too often is associated with the "martyr" mother. The martyr mother is invoked by phrases such as "sacrificing for your children," "putting your children first," "doing what's best for them," et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. From the ashes of being #2 rises the bad mother phoenix, able to poke fun at society, the martyr mother and, most important, herself. Sometimes it's more beneficial to laugh with her than worry about her language.

June 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGayle

Thank you for this.

I think the debate over the whole thing has just gotten out of hand. Part of the reason I don't want to take up the BAD MOTHER! thing is because once it becomes a trend (as it has) people jump in and start writing more and more ridiculous stuff , it gets painted by the media in broad strokes and people outside the rarified mom-blogging community just start rolling their eyes.

There is good writing about this that has been going on for years but making it a manifesto and letting the media turn it into the latest mommy trend is going to reduce thoughtful ideas to soundbytes, encourage extremes and polarize people. It's already happening and I think that's a shame.


Thanks again

June 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDon Mills Diva

This site is great!!!! All the stories and advise has really helped me...I will continue to visit! Thanks!

June 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Thank you so much for this. I have been wanting to write something like this but haven't been able to find the right words. I don't understand the "bad mother" thing. A few months ago it was even on Oprah, all these women one upping each other and I watched in disbelief. None of us are perfect mothers, all are judged. BUT I surround myself w/positivity, with women who are trying to do the best for their kids, women who make me strive to be a better mom.

July 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachael

[...] The chatter, the media sensationalism, the battles, the hurt feelings, the soap boxes, they all reminded me so much of the whole bad mother thing that I decided it was time to write a Typology of the Mommy Blogger as a sequel to my Typology of the Bad Mother. [...]

[...] the same decisions that I do or come to the same conclusions that I do and I will not call you a bad parent for making different choices that I do.  But I will not change my position on this.  I do [...]

September 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWhy I can’t recommend Fe

[...] Do you enjoy being told that you are a bad parent? [...]

[...] that you made the wrong choice in that moment. But I don’t think you are bad person or a bad parent. However, if you tell me that children need to be spanked in order to be shown who is boss, then I [...]

September 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter“Don’t Judge Me&#8

Woman always get the cop..... If your a lazy dad, it's not such a bad thing, as long as you play soccer with the kids on Sunday. If you happen to be a lazy mother, well expect articles to be written about it. Endless mention in Sydney Child etc. Society expects a lot of women... work, motherhood, the house, dinner on the table. It just aint fair.

October 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpurplefembot

I can tell you about a bad Mom
she has everything you can imagine in a nasty , possesed soul.she was a mean destructive MOm figure to me and my brother growing up, with nasty names, pointing out my physical defect in my back, calling my younger bro fatso, and punishing me with the classic bitch act of cutting off any contact with me as an adult since I do not agree with her and go along with her fu--ed up ideals.
I dont deserve a bad mom like this, and wonder if I hate her? I have alot of grief thanks to her, alot of stuff she takes no responsibility for.I cannot accept the deceit and lies either, so I cant trust her word.
Could she be a witch? Im not a nasty man, but even I have had thoughts of vengfully slapping her pink and purple with all the accumilated pain, and what I really want if a MOm I can show love to and hug, but there is no love from her, she is selfish, and a fu---in bitch
feel blessed all of you, for not having a Mom like mine

October 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjack

I think some of those qualities up there that are lumped in with bad mothers, are actually qualities in good mothers. Everyone needs to be able to take criticism of their parenting style to be able to grow as an adult and a parent.

That's why Super Nanny is such a kick ass show.

I think a bad mother is, plainly put, one who knows she's a mother who can do better but does nothing about it.

November 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjoel

As I teach my children, people are not good or bad ... actions are. We all behave in good and bad ways, usually every day. We seem to be obsessed with deciding whether someone hits the good or bad rating or falls into the hero or villian category. It seems to start in infanthood (I can't tell you how many times I get asked "Is he a good baby?" -?!) and is rampant in schools, ("Stay away from that bad kid!"). And as parents we continue it with each other, but decided who's a good mother and who's a bad mother, who's a good dad and who's a bad dad. In my experience, people are far too complicated to be labelled in such polarized ways.

June 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKara

I love this post and it has been good to revisit it. It has had me thinking, we have all of these terms that label a bad mom that we can come up with easily. For example: neglectful mom, abusive mom, etc. I can't come up with any for simply being a mom, or even being a good mom. There literally don't seem to be any words for this. Sure, there are lots of words to describe behavior attributed to this idea of motherhood, but where is the vocabulary for what we moms are actually doing when are "mom?"

June 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZ

I think it's interesting that the loving your spouse more than your kids thing is on this list. Scribbit recently wrote a post about how to raise non-narcissistic children and one of the things on her list was "be sure your kids know you love your huband more." And she got a lot of angry emails about it, but I was also surprised at the number of people who agreed with her. Anyway, I think it's a lot more complicated than who you love more, and I would have a hard time comparing what I feel are different kinds of love. The Mama Bear love I have for my kids is different from the romantic love I have for my spouse is different from the love I have for my parents is different from the love I have for my friends. And I personally couldn't rank either my spouse or my children over the other. IMO, priorities will change. Sometimes the kids needs will be more important and sometimes the marriage will be more important, and sometimes the mom needs to put herself as a priority over everyone else.

Anyway, the news is full of stories about what I would consider bad parents. The father who threw his 3 year old off a bridge, strapped into his carseat, to get back at the child's mother. The mother who sold access to her child to perverts. The video I saw recently of a 2 year old chain smoking. Things like that make other mistakes seem insignificant.

June 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

[...] seems the discussion of parenting and mothering has shifted from last year’s discussion about bad mothers to this year’s discussion of unhappy mothers. Is parenting all drudgery and do we just have [...]

[...] increasing attention she and her blog were getting fed into her attention-seeking.Annie, over at PhD in Parenting wrote a post this week about “bad mothers” and parentcentral.ca had a feature on it. [...]

I am so worried about the realization that I may be a bad mother...my husband has a genetic dissorder called NF1 and his children have a 50% chance of inheriting the dissorder...we planned and decided to have 1 child and we were/are blessed (and I truely mean this) with a sweet little boy who was born with the genetic disorder...he is perfectly healthy other than the fast that accompanied with the dissorder, his right wrist wasn't formed completely and he had to undego a lengthy surgery when he was 18 months....he will have more when he gets older...he was also diagnosed with ADHD and is now 4 and is hard to disciplin with time out methods, reward methods, talking on his level calmly...I have tried every thing and tried researching every thing....I am a stay at home mom because of his challenging situation and find my patience is tried on a daily basis...when I wake up in the mornings I have to remind myself before the day begins to remember to check my attitude and consider his and how much he means to me...however...I have been tried and slipped 3 times (today being the breaking point) and need brute honesty on whether I'm a danger or not....I'm willing to get medicated help if need be...I have slapped my son 2 times in the past 5 month the last time I did, I was bending over to pick up my remote control and he came up and hit me on the back of my head with a decent sized toy and it hurt...first impulse I made was a smack on his cheek...I felt so bad and cried after I calmed him down...I'm even ashamed to say it left finger prints across his cheek...after that I wake up every morning saying I'm going to keep my patience and stick to time out methods and it doesn't really work like usual but stick to it any way...until today...I was in my bedroom cleaning up some clutter not thinking about much of any thing except the task at hand and I hear my sister (his aunty) lightly yell in discipline to rebuke his action...I walk in (not mad at all just checking out the scene). And he had thrown a plastic toy at her and I told him that was a bad thing to do and I said how would you like it? I tossed it at him (didn't throw) and by some chance it scraped his upper cheak...it didn't blead but looks like a blood blister...he cried and I felt absolutely aweful and didn't mean for that to happen and I couldn't help but think of the "what if's" and wonder if it had been 1 inch higher it could have been his eye and then I would have been arrested and my husband would have left me and my world would have been crashing down by and incident that really was honestly an example of "how would you feel if it happened to u?" I wasn't aiming for his face it was an act of a scare tactict and it somehow did...but, people are probably reading this saying "your a sick person" but my patience is tried every day...I don't know if I'm a bad mom but I know I'm not perfect and I truely love my son and would give my left hand to have perfect patience....sincerly-desperate mom

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterworried mom

You're not a bad Mom. You're a human being. The fact that you are immediately reassuring your son of your love and apologizing is important. We ALL make mistakes, even those of us who don't live with such a complicated situation. You sound to me like a Mom who needs some help and support. Maybe a family member could come in a few days a week? I always find my patience is greater when I have someone else to share my stress with. Also, consider taking a day to pamper yourself to regenerate. And don't just do it once, make it monthly or even weekly. Take care and I'll be praying for you!

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSjgpotter

Oh I just want to hug you! I don't think you're a bad mom. Not at all. I think you are very strong and brave and under an enormous amount of pressure. You sound like most of us do some of the time - and my child is much less of a sustained challenge than yours is. I sound like this when I'm tired, and you sound exhausted and like you need a break. No-one can do their job well 24 7, and this is not an easy job. I also sound like this when I lose perspective, which is usually, for me, when I've not seen much of the outside world. Are you getting any support? Can you get a regular break? Or at least give yourself some time out every now and then? I do think you're being much harder on yourself than you would be on someone else in the same position. {virtual hug}

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Barrett

Sounds like you're having a really hard time coping - no wonder, you have lots on your plate. I think reaching out to someone in your community who can help you work through different ways of relating with your son as well as figuring out an outlet for your frustration is really important. This isn't a happy way to mother - and you all deserve for you to be happy because that's what's best for your whole family, including your son.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle @ Mama Bear

You don't sound like a bad mom to me, you sound like a loving and dedicated mother under great stress. No of us is perfect, but the ability to recognise your shortcomings puts you way ahead in my books :-) If you think you need help, get help, whether medication or counseling or finding a support group of other mothers facing similar challenges. Be kind to yourself.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermimbles

Words can't explain the sympathy and love that I wish I could express to you. You are NOT a bad mother. In fact, the amazing thing is, while you tried to communicate your concerns and worries that you might be harming your son, all I could see was how deeply you love and care for him, and your concern for his well-being emotionally and physically. I wonder if you could take some time away from him to separate yourself from the intense and emotionally and physically draining aspects of his care to apply that same love and concern for well-being to yourself. Sometimes as moms, we think we have to put ourselves last in order to be 'good' or really loving parents. The more I get into this mothering thing, the more I realize that we have to care for ourselves just as much if we are going to be able to be the type of mother/woman/wife/friend/citizen/etc we really want to be. To me, you sound stressed, overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do. As a mom of a 4 year old who is beyond strong-willed and knows just how to push my buttons on a daily basis, I deeply feel that. I've found that two things have really helped me- finding other moms who can understand those impulses and frustrations and fears that will listen to you without judging, and let you know that you are not alone. If you can't find them in real life, I'm here online and would love to be a venting person for you. I can listen and let you know that you aren't alone, that mothering is hard as hell, and that somehow we can still keep trying every day. Secondly, do you get any time away from your son? I recently started exercising (walking/jogging or running for about 30 minutes a day) and it has vastly improved my patience, and my moods. I have more energy (which I thought was a load of crap before I started- how could exercising give me MORE energy??? But it does.) and the time out of the house and by myself- though short- is really refreshing to my soul. See if you can do the same.

I know I have rambled a lot about myself here, but I just hope that I have communicated to you that you aren't awful, and that you aren't alone. Having children that demand intense attention from you can be an isolating experience. Don't let it be that. Reach out, find support, and take care of yourself. You will get through these trying days, and your love for your son will carry you through.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKirsten

You are dealing with a situation so hard most of us can't even imagine it. You have my deepest sympathies. You are not sick. You are trying. You are loving. And if you think you need help? That's ok too. It doesn't make you a bad mom to need help when things are hard.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterstory

I agree with the other commenters. You are in a tough situation and you are overwhelmed. That can easily happen. Can you get help in the form of a sitter or friend who can watch your child just so you can have some time away? Perhaps mother and son therapy might really be helpful as well, so that a therapist could work with you to help you build up coping tools and ideas for what to do when your son behaves in ways that try your patience. Why not talk to your child's doctor about some of his more aggressive behavior and ask what support systems or services are available to you to better deal with it? You don't have to try and figure this out all on your own.

Worried Mom-- I am going to say something that I think may be unpopular, but is the God's honest truth, in my opinion. I think every mother slips up at least once, and sometimes more, in the manner you've described in your post. There is no such thing as perfect patience, and I think that whoever says they have it, or tries to give the appearance of having it are just liars. Both of my sons had stages similar to what you are describing with your son (one was around the age of three, the other was around the age of four), and they did not have ADD. It is damn hard to get through it. There are times where I had to walk outside the house for five or ten minutes to cool off. Sometimes that's not possible-- and you described a time where you were attacked and impulsively responded-- which is our flight or fight response, and somewhat beyond our control. Like the accidental toy scrape-- I find it difficult to hold you 100% accountable for either of those scenarios.
Do you have a social support network of caring individuals whom you can vent to and brainstorm with? That made all of the difference for me. Do you ever take time for yourself-- and running errands during preschool, or going to the grocery store by yourself doesn't really count-- or do something just for you? I found that for me, having other mothers I could talk honestly with (and not feel judged) and spending a couple hours completely by myself each week worked wonders. I don't know if it will work for you, but I thought I would throw it out on the table.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Hi Worried Mom!

My sister's son is 3 and has some very similar challenging problems with him, worst part being that he is still undiagnosed for the root causes. She struggles daily with feeling like a "bad mom." Some doctors have even told her there is nothing wrong with her son, and yet I've witnessed myself the violent reactions he has at home that push her to her limit simply as a human being.

Moms are not super-humans, we are just regular people! It's OKAY to feel frustrated with your child, and it sounds like you are making a real effort! My sister also quit her out-of-the-home job for a stay-at-home position so she could more closely monitor him - that is VERY admirable! If that's not the sign of a "good mom" then I'm not sure what would really qualify it.

Even the "best" children can frustrate us at times and cause us to loose our tempers, or make "parenting mistakes." I was blessed with a very easy-going daughter who STILL manages to frustrate me when she dumps her milk all over the floor and smashes her crackers into it! I can't say I always respond the way a parent "should."

Don't get stuck in a parenting box where you qualify yourself as good or bad, or your parenting practices as right or wrong. Each of us has an individually unique child who needs unique parenting, and we can't compare ourselves constantly!

I suggest you re-read the original post, I think it should lessen your guilt or hopefully completely irradiate it! Good luck, sounds like you're doing just fine! :)

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAbby

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