Suburban Turmoil: Bad is the new good

Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 12:00am

In the world of motherhood right now, it’s good to be bad.

Just as soccer moms, hipster dads, and helicopter parents all have been media darlings at one time or another, now the Bad Mommy has stepped up to the plate.

She’s appearing in tell-all memoirs, openly confessing that she loves her husband more than her children. She’s admitting to magazine journalists that having a baby really wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. She’s turning up on mom blogs, where she writes candidly about spanking her kids or having a glass of wine during neighborhood play dates.

I’ve been reading these tales with great interest, because I think there’s a little bit of Bad Mommy in all of us. The difference is that suddenly, it’s OK to talk about it.


I made the dubious decision last week to write about my own Bad Mommy experience on my blog. My family had recently ventured outside Nashville to a small, family-friendly restaurant with live music, and that’s where my 2-year-old son unexpectedly had a meltdown. Throughout the meal, he periodically screamed and cried and demanded to be let out of his highchair.

Lest you get the wrong impression, his discomfort wasn’t affecting anyone’s dining experience. The music was louder than loud and more than adequately drowned the kid out.

But toward the end of our meal, with the restaurant getting ready to close and the remaining patrons finishing up their food, I finally caved to my mini-dictator’s repeated demands to get down from his highchair. I watched as he ran to the back of the room, while I shoveled a few bites of my now-cold meal into my mouth.

At that moment, I wrote, I realized that I was, essentially, That Mother — the one I ordinarily frowned at in restaurants while my own children sat angelically by my side. Until then, I would have sworn that I’d never allow my son to get down from his seat and run alone to the back of a restaurant. However, in that moment, I used my judgment and decided it was OK.

What’s more, I told my readers that I was going to try harder to not make snap judgments of other moms whose kids were misbehaving. Perhaps they really were good moms who were simply having a bad day.

As soon as I published the post, the comments began pouring in. Many were from moms who agreed with me, and said they’d been in the same position. But a significant number of readers were outraged at my Bad Mommy behavior.

“Letting your kids run around a restaurant isn't just obnoxious (other people didn't go out so they could entertain your kid while you eat), it's dangerous,” wrote Amy, who went on to compare what I did to allowing my small children to ride unrestrained in the back of a minivan.

“Four kids and I was never once that mom,” claimed Jenn.

“As parents, when our children do not behave as they should in a public place and interrupt the enjoyment of others, you pick up your kid and leave” chided ‘Anon.’

“I just don't think it's OK to justify being a lazy parent,” sniffed Lisa.

Some of these remarks undoubtedly were intended to sting, but my maternal armor has become pretty thick over the last few years, tempered by the slings and arrows of adolescence.

Seriously, steer a couple of kids through puberty and you will abandon all notions of parenting perfection. I have learned from six years in the adolescent trenches with my stepdaughters that I could be a modern-day June Cleaver, following all the latest parenting manuals and dispensing time outs, engaging in role playing discussions, and practicing occasional tough love.

I could, in other words, do everything “right.”

My kids still will think I’m the Ultimate Loser by the time they hit 12 or 13 years of age. Not only that, despite my best efforts, they will still mess up. They will still act out. And sometimes, people around them will witness their defiance.

If I’m more confident now as a parent, it is only because I have given myself permission to have an off day every once in a while. To be a Bad Mommy. And I can’t give myself that permission without giving it to my children as well.

My son is generally a good kid when we’re out in public, but occasionally he has his moments. He is, after all, 2. As long as bad behavior isn’t the norm, I’m not going to put some Six-Step Parenting Disaster Plan into action when the kid has had it. We’re simply going to get through it as best we can.

Yeah, we’re bad. Stare all you want. I’ll try to minimize your discomfort, but I’m done cringing under your gaze when I know that you have just as many imperfections as I do.

It really is OK to be a Bad Mommy from time to time.

But if my readers are any indication, maybe it isn’t such a good idea for me to write about it.

Read more Suburban Turmoil at

18 Comments on this post:

By: thebloggingmum on 7/2/09 at 2:34

Those comments did get a little crazy. Ugh. So much for not judging. Although, I suppose I do too, just in the opposite direction. Maybe we should just all be nicer, huh? A glass of wine might help with that, too! :)


By: Lessa on 7/2/09 at 4:41

I'm never shy about telling people that I'm "not your normal soccer mom" - because I'm not. I do things my way, and I don't give two flips what other people think about it. Despite my being the 'bad mommy' of the block - I have two teenagers and a preteen who love me, who I adore, and who I'm not scared to take out in public. Do they act up? Absolutely. Is it the end of the world? Absolutely not.

The worst thing EVER is when other mom's feel the need to tear each other down to make them feel better about themselves. For every time they spout out "I would NEVER" I proudly raise my hand and declare the truth: "I used to say that too. Then I had kids."

Write about it all you want, Lindsay. There are more of us that understand, than those that feel the need to judge.


By: SoMo on 7/2/09 at 4:59

I have long become immuned to the judgemental looks I get when I am out and my kids decide to lose their minds. However, I noticed something last Sat, when I was out grocery shopping without my kids, other kids act up, too. It seems that when my kids around I feel as if my kids are the only ones acting out and I am the worst mother. But I noticed last Sat, that other kids whine and cry when they don't get what they want, hate shopping with mom and show it, run around because standing still is torture, etc.

No one is perfect, even those who say that their kids never ran around a restaurant, unless they are Stepford kids, I am sure they have had other areas where they were a pain. I don't really call these bad mommy moments, but just moments when no matter what you try you can't win, so you do the best you can and move on.

By: maybaby on 7/2/09 at 5:37

Oh. My. Gosh.

As a mom of teens and a preteen and a teacher, I take every opportunity to tell parents "I like the way you handled that" or "Hang in there, mom, they grow up!" to counterbalance the sanctimonious jerks that populate a parent's world.

I've had my encounters with them.

I've even jingled keys for toddlers in the checkout line, picked up binkies and blankets, spoken up for tired, frazzled moms in the line at the pharmacy...anything I wish someone had done for me when I was "that mom".

As I say all the time: kids don't need perfect parents, they need good enough parents.

By: maybaby on 7/2/09 at 5:38


By: Meagan Francis on 7/2/09 at 5:49

I've been saying that we can't stop judgment, we can only control whether or not we allow it to get to us. It's okay to have standards, it's also okay not to always live up to our own standards and it's definitely okay not to live up to the standards of people who don't even know us. Good for you for letting other people's opinions roll off your back--I think all moms would be a lot happier if they could do the same.

By: jennatjugglinglife on 7/2/09 at 6:41

I never thought you were a bad mom--I thought you were rationalizing. As with most things, the more of the story you tell, the less "bad" you sound. And tis true I've made other mistakes--just not that one.

Jenn @ Juggling Life

By: hattahall on 7/2/09 at 7:18

II love to bump into people in public who don't know me, but praise the way I handle a situation with my kids. It’s always nice when someone brings you a thrown shoe or blanket or complements your children’s behavior or appearance. About 2 years ago I was out to lunch alone with my two kids at a sit-down restaurant. One child was being potty trained, they were both being horrid that day and I had to keep taking them to the bathroom because they just had to "go". I had maybe 5 bites of my food and I was really frustrated. An elderly couple sitting nearby bought our lunch and told me I had the cutest kids ever. It completely made my day it utterly turned the day, if not week, around for me.
However, once when lady luck was less kind to me I was at a KY airport. My kids and I had a layover I was feeling airsick from the first flight, lugging all our crap (3 large and 2 small carry-ons and a carseat) to the second gate far far away because none of it could be stowed due to our lateness getting on the first flight, and was still upset that accident-traffic made us so late to our first destination I had to get the mini-van filled up by the rental car company at the tune of $80 I didn’t really have. This is when my children decided they couldn't live without popcorn and weren’t going to move until I forked it over to them. I snapped a little, I firmly told them to take their behinds over to our gate and sit down or I was going to take them to the bathroom and spank them. A woman overheard and said to me that I could go to jail if I spanked them. I wanted to say **** off Lady, but my kids were with me so I gave her a dirty look and moved away from her. Lucky for her she had the same flight a row in front of us and I didn't say a word to my kids as my one kicked her seat and the other cried because her ears hurt and she didn't want to be in her carseat during the turbulent flight.

By: mountainmomma18 on 7/2/09 at 9:10

I find it amusing that you had so many comments for that story (of course I am not you) because when I read it I didn't automatically classify you as a bad mommy for that moment, but I guess many people needed to point that out to you. I think most of the time we do the best that we can. Before I had children i must admit that i was much more judgemental of parents decisions in public places, now I know better and sometimes am punished for my naive proclamations that "I will never do that when I have children". Now I do not think that I should get special treatment because I have a kid, but I do think people can occasionally cut me some slack, espcially when I just need five minutes to throw some food down my throat while my kid throws a small tantrum.

By: chainsofyesterday on 7/2/09 at 10:22

Your "bad" is different from my "bad"... and everyone else's.

Some of the commenters may have come down on you for the restaurant thing (though I don't see the connection to allowing the kids to ride unrestrained in the car???), but let's be honest. THEY have bad moments or days too. And maybe you or I wouldn't appreciate or condone what they do.

Either way? Bashing you for it wasn't the solution. Judging others makes people feel better about their own inadequacies - so pointing out how horrible you were for doing that meant they didn't have to focus on the fact that they caved in to every request that week because they didn't feel like dealing with a tantrum, or that they yelled at their child for something that really didn't deserve it. Judge others before they have a chance to judge you.

I love that you wrote about it. You're not a bad mother - you're just an imperfect mother, like the rest of us. Hopefully you won't let the comments stop you from being honest, because that would suck :)

Kay @ chainsofyesterday

By: prettybabies on 7/3/09 at 7:39

If you're going to quote me, you could have at least included my URL. "Amy from pointed out several dangers that I had not thought of...." would've been a lot more accurate.

If you really want to have a /dialogue/ about this issue, rather than asserting your right to do whatever you want without being judged by others (again), you could've linked to my reply about this issue -

Journalistic AND parenting standards these days are really lax, though. I'm not at all surprised.

Have you ever noticed that the people who are screaming the loudest to defend themselves are usually the ones who feel the most guilty? This is your third post on this (boring) subject. Doth you protest too much?

Love and kisses,

By: motherhoodisamazing on 7/3/09 at 9:07

I too am intrigued about this topic. It seems that every since Oprah did her show about motherhood's "dirty little secrets" it has become ok for moms to talk about it. Before I had kids, I was determined never to be "that mom," but I quickly learned that that was unrealistic. Even after I had my 1st kid I did everything by the book because he was such an easy child but when my 2nd baby came along all changed. It was no longer possible to be so hardcore in the parenting department. Don't get me wrong I am not a "bad mom" but I have my moments. I really don't think they are moments of really even being a bad mom, they are moments of neccessity and desperation. I really think that we moms have always had our bad mom moments but now its ok to talk about it. And as far as those moms that told you they are never like that, I think they are full of crap. They strike me as the the kind of people that still believe not to let their dirty laundry seen by people. Check out my blog at

By: CeCeSays on 7/3/09 at 6:56

I oft wonder if the "tone" in one's comments happen to be the tone in which they parent. Sounds trite... but think about it for a moment. My beautiful preschooler may be sitting almost naked in the middle of the hardwood floor licking a bowl of red icing as I type... she may be in some form of danger from the additives or refined sugar... I may be seen as a less than careful mom right at this very moment. But, at the end of the day? She knows that she has been allowed to explore her world, express herself and she is loved. Seriously loved. I just wonder if she heard me being ugly to others... women like me...if she would feel free to be the messy love bug that she is.

This goes way beyond "judge lest ye be judged." Sticks and stones may break bones... but words? Stay out there forever. If you would be ashamed of a mean spirited or back-biting comment being read by your child? Back space, baby.

Rainbows and Bunnies,

By: Amy Sue Nathan on 7/3/09 at 8:21

I'm way past caring what anyone thinks of me as a mom EXCEPT my kids. Let me check. (tap tap tap) Yep, they say I'm a keeper -- piles of laundry, blue box mac 'n cheese, tv's in the bedrooms, make your bed or don't - I don't care - and all.

Amy @ Suburban Kvetch

By: Boy Crazy on 7/4/09 at 2:25

Every time I feel that twinge of guilt for having a TV morning or for serving chips and salsa for dinner, I try to remind myself that 'bad parenting' moments like these are inconsequential in the scheme of it all. In fact, as long as we love and protect our kids, I think there is very little we can do that will mess them up. Kids are pretty resiliant, and it's the big picture, not the off moments that shape who they are. On second thought, I think those off moments are teaching them that their parents are real, in-the-flesh, imperfect people; and hopefully that helps shape them, too.

By: mmmyatt on 7/6/09 at 7:25

again, i really don't think you did anything terribly wrong. the truth is, i do make different decisions than other moms. some of those decisions are more restrictive than other moms and some of them are less so. i let my kids wander from me a bit and have received many dirty looks for that. but i am much more on top of them for the way they talk to me. they must speak respectfully to me and other adults. we all have our "thing" i guess.

By: Amada_Rose on 7/9/09 at 12:31

If only we could all be more understanding and less judgmental of other parents. Having worked in childcare for several years, I have learned that there really are "easier" kids than others, and some kids that are unbelievably challenging. There are just some kids that are extremely strong willed and who get bored easily, while there are others that can sit in a high chair and be content playing with a spoon for fifteen minutes. Its not always a matter of parents being "bad" or "good", its also different temperaments and personalities of children. Now that I'm a mother of an incredibly smart, yet incredibly strong willed and defiant, hyperactive little 2-year old boy, I understand that even when I try my best to be consistent day after day, he still misbehaves and embarrasses my husband and I in public. I have really stopped caring so much what other people think, and enjoy reading blogs of mothers who realize their imperfections and tell the truth! Thanks for your story!

Amy Silvernail

By: NineMonthstoLife on 7/11/09 at 6:09

I'm at a loss for words. As an expectant (unplanned) mother who's only 23, I'm terrified of being one of those bad ones. The fact that it's trendy is kinda creeping me out--and the fact that you were berated so much for letting your screaming child out of his chair terrifies me--and I'm only 9 weeks along. So, being a "bad" mommy--commend them for their honesty. But a conscious mother, one who gives in to the fits occassionally, let's yell at her? It makes my pregmentia-ed head hurt.

Isn't it every mother's hope to, um, be classified as a "good" mommy? I sure want to be one of the good ones.

But I'm also sure I'll get fed up, and I'll let my kid stretch his or her little legs after enough screaming.

Judgement be damned.

--Sarah Lavery