Why do we refrain from swearing in front of our children, even when nothing relieves the pain of a toe stub like a barrage of “fucks”? Why do we teach them their manners, through endless, frustrating, repetition?
Because words have power. They have immense power to wound, to comfort, to influence, to manipulate. The goal in teaching our children to dutifully murmur “please” and “thank you” is that hopefully they will internalize the message, and grow into genuinely considerate adults. We don’t teach them to swear because we don’t want them to become drive-time shock-jocks or celebrity chefs.
There are some obnoxious little words and phrases that we’ve collectively decided are not okay.
Which bring me to a horrible little verbal tic which seems to have crept into our language. The phrase Bad Mom — as in “I let my kids stay up late/eat tons of candy/watch a lot of TV. I guess I’m just a Bad Mom.” It’s usually followed up with a nervous laugh and a pause. It’s used by mothers as a kind of defensive mantra: bad, lazy, selfish, Mom, Mum, Mother. Pick and mix and make your own, then go ahead and blog about it. If you say it enough, maybe it will lose its power to wound. There are books, blogs, even a film of similar names. Every time it’s used, whether on a film poster or on a parenting messaging board, it loses a little of its sting, becomes normalized, internalized.
But when you stop and think about the meaning behind these words, they really shouldn’t be uttered with a titter — used to excuse every little weakness. Drinking wine, forgetting stuff, being late. It trivializes the situations of kids who have genuine problems in their families. The sort that don’t get blogged about or make cute Facebook updates, the sort that get the police involved.
Since the birth of my daughter, I’ve found myself using it a lot. It horrifies my husband, who associates bad moms with criminals, not ordinary women with ordinary flaws. Think about your best girlfriend who is also a mom. Now imagine someone called her a bad parent. How would you feel? Furious, no doubt, you’d want to do physical violence to that human scum.
Somebody said it to my face once. He didn’t really know me, had never met my daughter, he was just a drunken dick in the bar where I work, but he said it, he looked me in the eye and said: “You’re a bad mother.” Let me tell you, it’s one hell of a fucking insult, and we should never, never, say it to ourselves.
I love Mila Kunis, that adorable little Ukranian pixie, so I watched that movie Bad Moms. It was pretty funny, but who in that movie was supposed to be a Bad Mom? The title of the movie should have been “Totally Ordinary Moms Struggling on Their Own.” Can you imagine a dad saying “Oh, I guess I’m just a bad father. Har har.” It’s rare. Most men haven’t learned that level of self-deprecation — to shit on the most amazing things that they do, to diminish their achievements.
Now I don’t want to go down the road where I talk about how being a mom is the most amazing, rewarding, important job in the world, because that very much depends on your opinion. But let’s be proud of ourselves, give ourselves permission to feel competent. Let’s please stop using that awful phrase “bad mom,” or any of its ugly sisters. Let’s try, as far as possible, not to even think it. We are not Bad Moms. Flawed, yes. Lousy cooks or timekeepers, maybe, but Bad Moms, never.
Comments on Hey “bad moms,” let’s give ourselves permission to feel competent
I want to thank you for including this line: “It trivializes the situations of kids who have genuine problems in their families.” It’s not just trivializing the situations when they are children, it’s shaping the context of the language around them when they are grown. I grew up in an emotionally abusive household, but if I say “I’m not on speaking terms with my mother” I often get “but she’s your mom!” or “no mom is perfect!” or “just because she didn’t let you have everything you wanted when you were six you think she’s a ‘bad mom’?” Tossing around “I’m a bad mom” especially in front of your children, sets up a framework for people with parents who genuinely failed them – a framework that lends itself to internalized gaslighting and thinking that it must not have been as bad as they KNOW it was.
“It was pretty funny, but who in that movie was supposed to be a Bad Mom?”
I think that was the point of the movie — the “bad moms” were just ordinary.
I see “queer” used more as a term of self-identification and community building that as a epithet. As a self-identified queer (who is also identified as such by others) I think its an erasure to ignore that very common use of the term by LGBTQ people (the Q is for queer, after all)
I love all this with the exception of swearing. I will teach my children when it is appropriate to swear and when it is not and how to do it in the right context, just like my parent taught me. I am not a shock jock or celebrity chef, but I think I turned out alright. Also, I just find it hilarious when kids swear in the appropriate context!
Very interesting! Do you have an alternative to suggest for when you want to express that you are a mom with ordinary flaws? Maybe #realmom?
The thing is, we are all real moms, with ordinary flaws. The perfect mother, like the perfect woman, perfect man, or perfect home doesn’t really exist. We don’t need a #realmom hashtag, or any other hashtag for that matter. We just need to accept ourselves and get on with being awesome.