‘I accidentally threw my daughter’s foundation away #badmummy’
I still feel rotten about it. In my defence, I thought it was an old bottle. It was a #badmummy moment. I didn’t tweet about it but all you have to do is to look at the #badmummy or #badmommy Twitter hashtag stream to appreciate how many mummies feel bad about their mothering.
What makes mothers take to a media platform to let everyone around the world know about their perceived ‘bad’ mothering?
Is it because it is cathartic to do so? The mum blogsphere are a supportive lot with a large amount of empathy and, in many ways, it’s not a surprise that mothers feel a need to reach out to others to gain some sort of validation that will, as they see it, absolve them.
In 140 characters a domestic chaos can be turned into a piece of humour. After a couple of retweets the mother feels so much better about herself. She has validated herself and is free from the ‘shameful’ moment. The Twitter helps a mother own up and be forgiven.
However, twist the Twitter mother confessions around and you will see that it is mother shame in reverse. Mothers get shamed for a myriad of things and some examples of this are not breast feeding one’s baby, not cooking healthy foods every day and so called ‘letting’ one’s child run around a supermarket even though that is what kids do.
Even when we, as mothers, know that the social expectations of us are nigh impossible we still castigate ourselves when we perceive ourselves as having fallen far short. It would be an underestimate to say every mother has, at some stage, felt like a bad mother. Blimey! my daughter is 17 and I still feel guilty for sending her to school on Easter Bonnet day (about 12 years ago) with one bought off Amazon while the other girls turned up in home made hats that resembled an Easter egg hunt taking place in a field full of daffodils. If Twitter had been around then I would have tweeted a picture of the dismal hat and called myself a ‘#badmummy’.
Online maternal confessionals has become a regular enough phenomenon for it to have warranted a chapter in a book called ‘Taking The Village Online: Mothers, Motherhood and Social Media’.
The chapter, titled ‘Confession in 140 Characters’, is written by Lorin Basden Arnold, a high flying academic at the State University of New York, who has undertaken research in online parenting communities.
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Arnold goes behind the tweets in an attempt to construct a context around why mothers choose to go online with their stories of being ‘bad’ mothers. The tweets, she says, are a “…subtle but persistent resistance against the intensive expectations of motherhood”. ‘Intensive expectations’ arise out of the dominant conception of mothering in the Western Hemisphere termed ‘intensive mothering’. ‘Intensive mothering’ defines good mothering as making all decisions from the subject position of the child, and positions the maternal obligations as the creation of a happy and secure childhood that will lead to a successful adult life.
Arnold analysed a number of tweets using different hashtags which all related to being ‘bad’ mummies and concluded that four different themes were evident: Bad mothering as happiness harm, bad mothering as excessive self-focus, bad mothering as a failure of maternal devotion and bad mothering as inappropriate emotional response to mothering.
Taking each theme in turn, firstly, Arnold defines ‘happiness harm’ as being “bad mothers are mothers who do things that make their children unhappy”. An example of this off Twitter is as follows:
So my daughter has decided she wants to be Lambie from Doc MsStuffins for Halloween…only everywhere is sold out #badmom
Secondly, ‘excessive self-focus’, according to Arnold, is about “mothers behaving in ways that suggest they may be prioritizing themselves rather than focusing on the needs and desires of the child”. An example of this off Twitter is as follows:
Helping the girl with her religion homework. Drinking wine. #badmom
Thirdly, ‘failure of maternal devotion’, Arnold says occurs when “even when not particularly focused on the self or causing express harm to a child’s happiness, mothers can still assess their behaviour as a failure to show adequate levels of devotion to the tasks of mothering”. A Twitter example as follows:
I was up at 4 so I overslept this morning and missed saying goodbye to my kids on their first day of school #badmom
Lastly, Arnold cites ‘inappropriate Emotional Response to Mothering’ as a self inflicted negative response by mothers. “Mothers assessed themselves negatively when they did not feel the way they ‘should’ about their children”. As an example:
Oh sweet heavens…Josh has his first loose tooth. It’s killing me not because he’s growing up, but because it grosses me out. #BadMommy
This examination of online maternal exposure of mother guilt is certainly worth a read if only because Arnold has managed to drill right down to the very essence of mothering which involves bucket loads of guilt. I, for one, recognised my ‘guilt’ when I read the chapter which goes into a lot more detail and introspection than I have blogged about here. It will touch a raw nerve with mothers.
I am going to finish this blog post on a really ridiculous note. My daughter is on half-term school holiday and will be spending the whole week revising for her A-Level mock exams. No room for guilt you would think? Wrong. I always take her out to either watch a movie or a play and I can’t do that this week. I am well aware that it’s not my fault but that does not stop me from feeling bad. The only silver lining is that i can now evaluate this negativity as stemming from ‘failure of maternal devotion’.
I cannot take my daughter out during half-term because she is revising for exams #badmummy
Book available from Demeter Press