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Tuesday
Jul032012

I'm a good mother because... (Think Before You Share)

The conversations in our society around who is a good mother and a bad mother are almost always horribly marginalizing.  People line up to point fingers, pass judgment and give unsolicited advice. The rejection of the Good Mother in some parenting circles is a positive one.

But sometimes people, in an attempt to laugh at themselves or take the heat off, simply forget to stop and think. An ecard that is being circulated on the Internet at the moment is an awful example of that.

Of course I'm a good mother. They're still alive, aren't they?

That is the text of the card. The card being passed around by mothers whose children are all still alive. The card being passed around by mothers whose own mothers were not abusive or neglectful. The card being passed around by those who didn't stop to think about how hurtful it could be before they clicked re-pin or re-tweet or share.

The card isn't funny.

It isn't funny because there are many, many AMAZING mothers out there whose children aren't still alive. One of those amazing moms is Kristine, whose daughter Cora died in her arms while she was breastfeeding her. Kristine, who has fueled her love and passion into ensuring that other parents do not have to lose a child unnecessarily to congenital heart defects. Kristine, who came across this card this week and was devastated by it. Kristine, who is one of many, many mothers who has suffered the loss of a child. Kristine, who is a good mother.

It also isn't funny because there are many, many children and adults who are still alive because they somehow managed to survive an awful childhood of abuse or neglect at the hands of their parents. Yes, they are alive, but I can imagine how devastated they would be to see their mothers waving this card around as a proclamation of the quality of their mothering.

And, it isn't funny because there are mothers out there who invest 110% every single day into parenting special needs children who they know will not outlive them. Those mothers, even once their child is gone, will be 10 times the mother that many others are.

As I've said before, there are a great many reasons that people get called bad mothers. But as far as I'm concerned, the only ones that deserve the label are those who are abusive and neglectful and don't care to try to change that.

Many ecards and inspirational quotes being passed around on the Internet have good intentions, but have sexist, racist, ableist or other undertones that serve to marginalize people. I've made mistakes before and it has opened my eyes and made me much more careful. Take the time to think before you click. If something isn't important enough to make that momentary investment of time, perhaps it wasn't all that important to begin with.

 
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Reader Comments (77)

Thank you Annie for standing up for other mothers, once again.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristine

excellent post, Annie. true, true true. Plus, I'm tired of them :o)

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTricia Mumby

Wow, I don't think I ever would have stopped to think about how insensitive this card is. Thank you for reminding me to be more thoughtful.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTamara

I think the majority of us make mistakes at one time or another, by sharing or laughing at something that is hurtful to someone else. It's normal - we can't possibly know/experience what every other individual has experienced. However, that doesn't excuse us from being able to think critically about what we see/hear, and as you said, taking a brief pause before ANYTHING comes out of our mouths (or on our Facebook feeds). Thanks for sharing this...if I didn't have friends who had experienced a loss of a child, I might have once laughed at this too.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMisty Pratt

Thank you for pointing this out Annie, I didn't even think of it that way and I have to angels myself. Now I have to go see if I pinned any like that. I recall seeing this one and I don't know if I pinned it or not. Great post, as usual!!

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRenee Bouillon

Well said! Something isn't funny if someone else was hurt by it.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaryn Climans

Thank you for such a strong and HONEST post! (you are never anything less, which is why I love your blog and writing)

I am giving you a standing ovation. This needed to be said.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie @ Mama Dweeb

My friend just lost her teen son to suicide. The thought of how she might feel if she saw that card is devastating. Thanks so much for pointing out how truly insensitive this is.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I didn't even think about that. Thank you for reminding me... all of us... to be more thoughtful. Thank you.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMandi

I think so many people are too sensitive. It was created as a joke get over it. Yes I have lost a child and I giggled at this.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

I feel sorry for you Samantha. & moreso, I feel sorry for the child you lost that you think that something like this is funny.. because it's basically telling you that you are a bad mother because your child is dead.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

There is one thing that you never joke about. Dead babies/children.

This is not and never will be funny.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Williams

Thanks for that post. I would have hit share, thinking it was a lighthearted way to take the never-ending pressure off mothers. Of course it would be hurtful to many moms who lost a child - but I might not have thought of it without your post.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeanette

I have lost pregnancies, and I have survived an abusive childhood. I was saddened to see this card posted in my feed tonight. I'm alive, but I did not have a good mother, and I try to be a good mother to my children, but it wasn't enough to keep all my babies alive.

To find this card hurtful does not make me humorless. It makes me human.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterA

Thank you for this.

Am I the only one who read the card sarcastically? Like, just because your kids seem ok, doesn't mean you're actually doing a good job. I did not associate it with living/dead children. I'm very sad people were hurt, but I'm surprised it was taken the way people seem to be taking it.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney C

Thank you Annie. This card? It hurt. I'm a damn good mother and my son still died. Thank you for speaking up.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRedneck Mommy

What astounds me here are people's responses to your piece. And that the one mother, Samantha, who opens up to losing a child and honestly admits to seeing the lighter side of this ecard is 'judged' by another. I find it implorable that a response to her should be 'I feel sorry for the child you lost because you think that something like this is funny'. Shame on you, Lisa, and to anyone else who would judge another mother to such an extent. And a mother who obviously has the intellect to find sanction in the wonderful way in which we, as cultured human beings, are able to sometimes laugh, even at at our own misfortunes. Or simply tuck away our own grief and have a giggle once in a while. Don't judge - that is worse kind of mothering.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJess

"It also isn't funny because there are many, many children and adults who are still alive because they somehow managed to survive an awful childhood of abuse or neglect at the hands of their parents. Yes, they are alive, but I can imagine how devastated they would be to see their mothers waving this card around as a proclamation of the quality of their mothering."

Thank you for this. I am not a mother, and most likely never will be, because of my own traumatic childhood that has, throughout the years since, often made me stop and wonder just how it is that I am alive today. If I were friends with my mother on Facebook, which I am not but she does have one, and saw that she had posted something like this, or anything really that would validate her as an even mediocre mother at best, I would probably have to go back into therapy. So, thank you.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

Annie, you're right of course. To a subgroup of moms, this would be hurtful. Thanks for raising it -
I know I've made this joke to myself in the past.

On another topic, is it just me or do you hate the term "good mother"? 5 years into parenting I've decided it only holds inherent contradictions and impossible expectations for me. I hear it way more often than "good father" or even "good person", which I would think is far more important (and even perhaps more relevant to being a good mother). I wish it would just go away. So, in that light, jokes that make fun of the term I find so compelling, mesmerizing, delightful... unfortunately, this one has a devastating implicit connotation, but still there must be a joke somewhere that's acceptable that takes the power out of that damnable "good mother".

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Agreed. I think Lisa's comment to Samantha was far more hurtful than that e-card ever could be. It's not our business to tell another woman how she should grieve, how she should feel.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Maven

Thanks, Samantha and Jess. Some of us can laugh at things that come very close to the pain we experience. This may not be easy for others to understand. When I had a heart attack I joked about heart attacks, when I had cancer I joked about cancer. I joked about death. I did this performing in a concert at a folk festival, and someone who had lost a brother far too young to cancer came and thanked me, because my being at peace with my own mortality eased her heart over her brother's death.

I lost my birth mother two years ago and my adopted mother four months ago. This reminded a friend of mine of a witty quote from Oscar Wilde. He started to quote it, then suddenly realised what he was saying, and stopped. I recognised it, and completed the quote, and laughed. And it felt really good to be able to do that.

Something I find increasingly at an age where those of my parents' generation are fast disappearing, and a fair few of my own, is that so much of our humour does touch on tragedy. So often I hear a joke that reflects some loss or pain that I, or someone close to me, has recently suffered. Often there is that pang, but we can let the humour remind us that the world is still here, that the loss is something that everyone experiences at some time. Humour is there to keep us from drowning in our grief, if we accept it and make it part of our healing process.

But this is something we have to find for ourselves. There ARE jokes we need to be careful about, especially when it's something we haven't experienced first hand. I would not post this card, because someone close to me would be hurt by it. But I enjoyed the humour of it - which is not laughing at children dying but is just a turnaround of the exaggeration that mothers sometimes use to express their exasperation with their children: "Honestly, I could have throttled the child." Something even the most loving and gentle mother might say.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNeil Copeland

Amen. Sort of.

I have to say I'm on the fence about a lot of jokes. When I first saw this, my reaction was to... smile? Not laugh. Not that funny. But I didn't instantly think of how it could be offensive. If anything, it reminded me of those early days with a new baby, reminding myself that people have been keeping kids healthy and thriving for centuries and I was no exception. I think that the idea of "keeping your kids alive" is simply within our culture and almost never used literally. It's how you phrase it when you bring home a new bundle and are scared shitless. But after reading this, it made me so relieved I never re-posted this image. It made me remember reading Kristine's story and sobbing at my keyboard for close to an hour. It's making me choke up now.

On the other hand, the whole thing reminds me of the uproar over "I'm pregnant" April Fools jokes on Facebook. How suddenly that common, silly joke was taboo because it might offend those dealing with infertility. And I'm not a fan of walking on eggshells, especially when EVERYTHING is likely offensive to SOMEONE.

I do agree in thinking before you post the same way you would think before you speak. You wouldn't remark about your kids "still being alive" when speaking to a friend who had lost a child, and when you're online you are addressing your entire community. I think it's pretty hard not to have slip-ups though, even if you are very internet-savvy (which most people are NOT). I guess all I'm saying is it can be tough, but it's a great post for making people think twice.

It was Leslie who said that, not Lisa. I'm Lisa and i shared that this card would have been sad and hurtful to my friend whose son took his own life. I do think, however, that different things can be funny to each of us at different times. I do try to think very hard about what I post because I'd love to see social media as a place to teach and entertain not criticize and judge.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I think the Internet changes things. When you say to you're friend, over wine or the phone, at the end of the day jokingly, "Well, at least our kids made it out of this day alive!!" the context is specific, appropriate & is actually funny & reassuring self-deprecating humour. When you say it blanketedly on the Internet to a wide audience, the context of delivery changes it's meaning to the degree that it does become offensive. Thanks, Annie. Great post. 

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter@Wolf_Mommy

I think anyone has the right to genuinely feel hurt by anything and not be invalidated, dismissed, and neglected. I mourn for those who have lost children and have felt hurt by this. But did the OP stop to think before you posted this? Did you consider how it might marginalize others? I don't think anyone should hold it against you because really it is impossible to please all people, impossible to prevent hurt to all people.

I am disabled because of my abusive upbringing. I cannot get out, cannot easily connect with others. I am constantly terrified of inflicting my children in a similar way (yes, I am in therapy to try and prevent that, don't judge). When my exceptionally supportive cousin posted this meme, my own abusive mother was far from my mind. My own struggles with motherhood were forefront. And I felt not so alone in those struggles. Too often I see motherhood adulated and presented as a perfectly pleasant thing, and I feel guilty for how difficult it is for me. I felt less marginalized when I saw this meme, and I desperately needed that. When I saw your implied request to not share this and similar things, I felt despairing of falling into isolation again.

I say let this meme be shared, and then let all speak up. It is an opportunity to share our pain and receive support. Technically it was shared here, and seems to have fulfilled just that purpose. I encourage others who have been hurt by it, but don't have the courage to say so to another who posted it, to share it and the pain it has caused you personally yourself. If another feels differently about it, that does not invalidated your pain. But if you feel that way go ahead and share it. Just please don't marginalize another and tell them to hide their pain, to not feel something positive, because you think others' pain is greater.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaureen

A couple of more things to add: 1) I think a lot of us are "sensitive" to these issues because of the constant judgment heaped on mothers for almost anything we do. As we support each other more frequently, reject the media's attempts at pitting us against each other, and learn to not judge ourselves, maybe we will find some gallows humor in some of these posts. 2) I also suffered a miscarriage (that was absolutely no fault of mine). I'm not comfortable comparing that to a mother whose child dies in an accident or suicide. I think mothers who have lost their children in these tragic circumstances often find ways to blame themselves for "looking away for a second" or "not protecting them enough.". A cartoon like the one above would feel like a knife to their already broken hearts.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Yes, I agree completely. The context is important.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Not everyone grieves or laughs in the same way. Telling others to "get over it" isn't really helpful.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I'm sorry for Samantha's loss, but I don't feel sorry for her or the child. If she can find humour in the card, that's fine and I don't think it is right to disparage her for it. However, that doesn't mean that others need to get over it and feel the same way that she does.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Yes, I hate the term "good mother" and I also dislike the "bad mother" term that has emerged in response to it.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I think we all deserve to be able to share our pain and receive support. If you or others feel that sharing this meme will serve that purpose, then I'm not going to stop you. I just think that many people did pass it on without really thinking first. I think too often people's own privilege blinds them to the way that someone else might see something.

Personally, I think there are plenty of ways to commiserate, receive support and even laugh without having to hurt others in the process. That is what I strive for, even if I don't always succeed.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I missed it too. :( Adding my thanks too.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

Good point. Sometimes we re-post before we think. I probably needed that reminder, too. Thanks.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca Burlingham

It is however a pretty standard silencing technique when people are attempting to protect a privilege.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

Courtney - When I read it I heard a mom saying it in a sarcastic manner to rebutt the expectations of what a Good Mom is supposed to be. Kind of an "Oh yeah, well I'm doing something right because I haven't killed them yet."

There are clearly a lot of ways this graphic can be read. IMO It's one of the best and the worst things about the internet that readers can have so much of themselves and their life experience directly affect how they interpret something. That doesn't make anyone's particular take-away message from this wrong. For me it's a situation where A and B and C and... are all true and B is hurtful so what do I do with that.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

I thought this exact same thing! The web lets us broadcast any little "brain fart" (as a good friend of mine who completely stays off facebook calls posts) and it's just too easy and often too cheesy! In personal relationships, face-to-face, it's very different.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGretchen Powers

The reason I haven't re-posted this card (and won't), is because so many people use it as an excuse not to change things. My parents did x, y, or z, and I lived, so my kids will be fine if I do it. As parents, we can and should always look for ways to do better!

That being said, I am truly and deeply thankful and hopeful that others will take notice of the points in your article. I think we can all agree that the very last thing we want to do is hurt our friends who have survived on one or both sides of your perspective.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Thanks for this Annie. I saw someone post this on Facebook yesterday and I totally didn't stop and think. I didn't repost it either but I certainly see it in a different light now.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

Thanks for this post. Mother’s can be SO judgmental on social media. I remember reading one that said “I HAVE to breastfeed, because I don’t produce enough formula”. Everyone thought this was SO funny but for me, who went to desperate measures to breastfeed my three babies was hurt and felt “taunted” as though my low supply issues were not real or worse yet, An excuse. I know that it’s impossible to say anything without offending SOMEONE but I wish people would Think before they posted things like that.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulIe

BRB...memorizing this sentence, Carol. Love it.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeni

Amen. I have always HATED dead baby jokes with a passion, and after attending a viewing for a newborn baby who only lived ten days, I hate them even more.

Apologies, Lisa, really sorry. And I'm very sorry for your friend's loss.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJess

I completely agree. We have to remember that when we post something on Facebook, we're broadcasting it to a much larger audience, even if we have particular friends in mind. And, for most of us, our Facebook lists include so many casual acquaintances that we can't possibly know their individual circumstances enough to know what will/won't be appropriate to share. It's one of the reasons that I don't think online interactions ever really replace face-to-face ones. It's so much harder to read those kinds of reactions and gauge what is/is not appropriate.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBalancingJane

So true, Neil, thank you. And sorry for your losses.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJess

I'm British and I see this card differently, I think.

To me it is ironic and it says that you cannot define a 'good mother' because even a perceived minimum standard of not killing your children is totally ridiculous. I think it pokes fun at the need to define mothers in simplistic good/bad terms.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

Me too, I also have lost a baby, but I laughed at the ecard. I am fortunate to be a mother of live children too, and get the joke that it's about giving the parent a break from pressures of perfection, and you know what you have achieved if your children are still alive! WELL DONE!!! When a mother has lost a child it seems like EVERYTHING hurts, I rememer in the hospital being given a pamphlet "When a baby dies"with a drawing of a baby on it, I waited till the nurse left, then I turned it over, coz I just couldn't look at the drawing of a baby. If the world wanted to ease the grief of a grieving parent, then they would have to remove all pics and discussion of their children, that's not going to happen, and really nor do we want it to.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

Everything doesn't hurt. I'm two years out from my loss. I'm extremely sorry for your loss, but this card played at my emotions of guilt of not being able to save my daughter. It's absolutely fine to feel how you feel, but it's okay that it upset me. It's okay that other moms feel upset.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristine

I agree, whole heartedly. Thank you for sharing your empathy and sensitiviity.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

Yeah I agree sweetie. In my case it's 14 years ago that my baby died, I suspect that's why I could laugh at it at relate it to the struggle of trying to be a perfect mother today, which I suspect is higher because of struggles with infertility, m/c, and a stillborn baby. Sometimes I think I want to prove to god / the universe etc that I deserve my children, and I need to be the best parent possible to prove that it was wrong to take my child.
Although it's 14 years I still hurt and feel guilt over the death of my son, but time for me has eased the hurt. I totally understand why this was a stab in the heart, and appreciate this blog for exposing how insensitive that particular e-card is. I guess I was motivated to post to protect the fellow angel mum, because I read it and related it to my live children not my angel. *hugs*

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

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