confessions of a bad mother

 MG 1443

There’s nothing radical about the statement “I feel less alone.” Nothing radical about “I blog to connect with other women out there.” My God, there’s nothing new about the statement, “My blog is a running love letter to my children.” Confessing your sins, or confessing your insecurities, realizing you’re not alone, is about as old as adultery.

So what is radical about mommy blogging? “Being a mom was private, and turning it public, creating a social history, is radical,” a panelist on a mommy-blogging session at BlogHer chimed in. It seems to me that airing all our dirty nappies, confessing about the bad mothers we sometimes feel we are, is what people are drawn to. It’s what people discuss most. They talk about honesty. They cough up, “nobody ever told me it would be like this” as the end-all, be-all praise of blogging because revealing your experiences makes others feel less alone. This is about as radical as Bart Simpson quipping, “Totally rad, man.” It goes back to dirt and worms.

People reach out for honest product reviews from real moms, want to hear about the recipes that are easy, that your kids will eat, sure, but what they really want is to hear that you’re miserable, as long as you’re funny or raw about it. Misery loves company? Not quite, but almost. We relate to people not for their characteristics and quirks but because of the universal issues they face. We watch how they handle disappointment, heartbreak, rejection, and judgment. We tune in and drink our lattes while reading honest accounts about how she handles her fourth trimester love handles. What we relate to is not the life she’s loving, or the fact that she likes the same butt paste we do, but with how she navigates the terrain of motherhood and all the themes strung up in it from feeling like a failure to wondering how you’ll balance it all.

The real question, for me, is about the theme of exploitation. The side of the line you stand on, or straddle, daily is what defines you. “My kids are in the spotlight all the time. Their dad is in the news, and he uses the kids every time he needs a baby, or a teen on the show…and they don’t resent it at all.” YET, I add under my breath. “They love it," the moderator adds, "and it makes them feel special.” Yeah, now. Give it a few years. You cannot assume because your two-, twelve-, or even twenty-year-old child is okay with it today that they’ll be okay with it later, despite your best, most honorable and loving intentions. That’s the way parenting goes, though. For any of us. Your kids are going to have a problem with anything you do, at one point or another. And it’s up to you to follow your most authentic self, to draw your own guidelines of what’s appropriate, and to one day be ready to explain (not rationalize) your decisions to the people you love. And to me, that’s what’s radical. Sticking to what you believe, despite what you’re being told, even if that “telling” voice is from your own mother, from your husband, or from the stranger across the room or web.

It’s actually not all that radical to tell people to fuck off when they criticize you for writing about being a mother instead of taking the time to be a mother. I certainly caught some slack for writing about the time when my son was in the hospital for emergency brain surgery. “How can you be writing? How can you find the time to do this? Shouldn’t you be spending your time caring? In the moment?” And when my twins were in the NICU and I blogged about it to get me through it, hearing, “You’re a fucking horrible mother,” it wouldn’t have been terribly radical of me to lash back in defense, trying to explain why I do what I do, and don’t even get me started on my “breastfeeding to lose weight” posts. What is radical? Doing it anyway without always being an asshole about it in defense of your choices.Being nice is radical. Supporting other women is radical. Making other people feel good, even if you disagree with their choices is radical.



  1. As a 46 year old, the internet and all that it has visited upon us will be to me what cars were to my late grandparents — a novelty that became a commonplace but always with a recollection of the previous "norm".

    There's always been mommy crazy — hyper competitive mommy, insane overprotective mommy, etc., etc. but it was confined to your social circle/your playground/your extended family. Now, by choice (or maybe by peer pressure!), parents are opening up their families to the judgment of the entire planet in all its diversity of opinion, cultural norms, etc.

    I do not undertand it. I never will understand it. I can't imagine me nor any of my friends w/kids nor any of the women I hazily recall from my daughter's early years doing it. But my grandmother never understood why anyone would need a radio in their cars. She thought it was pure insanity. She also liked driving with my grandfather, while singing along with whatever orchestra was broadcasting from the Starlight Room high atop the Murray Hill Hotel. And I love to read mommy blogs.

  2. You need to read Generation Y'all. That's all I'm saying.

    (…raising mommy-fist while the other is on the keyboard…)

  3. "Supporting other women is radical." SING IT SISTER. That was an excellent assesment of that panel. Much better than my blow-by-blow account. :)

  4. I'm fairly new to this blog, so I clicked on the links for all the history. Rarely are women so cruel to each other as when the conversation turns to the topic of nursing. Unless, of course, you are talking about to work or not to work. I think the rule we should adhere to is the one our mother's taught us: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Seriously. Men don't act this way.

    I learned an unfortunate life lesson on catering to the crowd on Halloween one year. All day long I obsessed over whether I would take my toddler trick-or-treating. The new push was a "Fall Festival" or Halloween alternative at a church. I wanted a good old-fashioned, plastic-pumpkin-full-of-candy Halloween. I spent all afternoon on the phone with my best friend dissecting the issue. This was going against the crowd. What would they think? The next day my best friend died–in childbirth, no less. What a waste of an afternoon. What a waste of energy. What a waste of worry. What a waste of life. If I had it to do over again, I would talk to my best friend about 1000 things other than Halloween.

  5. I think you're amazing and you never cease to inspire me. You never cease to humanize me and I'm so grateful for your writing. Sometimes I think that you're the only normal person I 'know.' You're writing makes people feel like they know you.

    Heather Kizewski

  6. *beams*
    Bravo! Bravo!
    You did excellent in that interview, best one yet. You didnt seem nervous, you came across relaxed and natural, and easy to interview.
    One thing I noticed in this particular video clip- your eyes. Wow. I never realized how similar Lucas' eyes are to yours. Now I see why people think he has your eyes.

    This blog was excellent. Bravo here too. I wish more women were like this, particularly moms.

  7. My mother was 8 mos pregnant with my brother (and I was 2 yrs old) when my father's mother died. My dad called her from the hospital to let her know, and the first thing my mom did was go straight to her typewriter and finish the paper she was working on for school. She loved my grandmother intensely, and doing schoolwork was the only thing that got her through that pain. Everyone just has to do what they have to do.

    Not responding to the unfair judgement is the only way to go. This is one of the few cases when there actual is a higher ground.

  8. Amen.

    I often think that I am a better mother because I write through some of the things that concern me, and because there is this sphere of women to look to and read and know that I'm not alone.

    It's easy to be clever when insulting people – that's what mainstream culture gives us.

    It's not so easy to be meaningfully supportive, to give an authentic compliment. To be able to do that is, in fact, radical.

  9. I think a lot of the distaste towards blogging in general has to do with the tabloidesque self-exposure of things "polite society" prefers not to discuss. Instead of paparazzi hounding celebrities it's seen as the girl/guy next door airing thier dirty laundry in a world-wide exhibition.

    When it comes to motherhood specifically it just amplifies the feeling, people just don't want to acknowledge that moms need support just as they provide it to others.

    As an aside, I read the link to the adultery story: Whisky Tango Foxtrot is wrong with your wasband?!? (great word by the way) I've seen kids caught with their hand in the cookie jar come up with better excuses.

  10. Stephanie,

    Just watched your segment of View From The Bay and you were FANTASTIC! You looked great and I was so happy to see the curls!
    You were great and congratulations on all of your success!


    PS- Gorgeous photos from Napa!

  11. And another thing…

    Have you read The Right to Write by Julia Cameron? It closely relates to what you wrote about in this post, how writers have to write through everything…that's what makes them writers. It is the need to explore things on paper, with pen in hand, that helps them get through even the most trying of times. People will judge, but what it all comes down to is our own methods for survival through life's most trying times. You experienced a terrifying situation and you wrote about it and believe me, you helped more people than you will ever know.


  12. Just wanted to say I enjoyed watching the above interview. You did great! I can't wait for your books to hit the tv/movie scene!

  13. This is a great summary of the panel discussion and cuts right to the heart of what we do and how we do it. How did I not know enough to read your blog before this? Where have I been?

  14. I love your blog and your honesty. Being a mom is hard work and you write the truth so eloquently. Thank you.

  15. Coming back to Greek Tragedy is like hearing from an old friend. LOVE the blog!!!

  16. I remember when I first read about your son's issues. My friends and I passed around the posts wishing all would be ok. So glad things worked out.

  17. Will you consider doing a reading in Oregon? PLEASE!!! I would travel anywhere within a 2 hour drive. I loved Straight Up & Dirty and MOOSE. They made me think about my life.

  18. Have you considered being in front of the camera for TV or film? You have such a warmth about you.

  19. I first read your blog when i was in college and have lived through your triumphs and turmoil. Today you are as real as then. Thank you for the honesty in your writing that makes me a better person.

  20. Sometimes I read your blog and agree and other times you piss me off. i think that is what makes a good writer. Just read MOOSE and remember my youth so clearly now.

  21. Saw yu at BlogHer walking in the hall and thought I'M SEEING A ROCKSTAR! Was scared to come up to you. Silly, huh?

  22. I loved the View interview. You are so adept at conveying feelings in words.

  23. Life is too short to not live with Joie De Vive. You show rather than tell and I love that.

  24. I don't think writing about your kids is exploitative. I agree in supporting women. I love your writing.

  25. That is the thing- women need to support one another. I love your outlook and how you present the truth with no bullshit

  26. I can't wait to see you at BlogHer keynote! I might just ask a question. Is asking for a hug too creepy?

  27. I can't wait to meet you in San Francisco at Book Passage. I heard you read there last year and all my friends were jealous so this time we're making an outing of it. 20 deep!

  28. From New York to Austin your voice hasn't changed. Maybe the subject matter but not the voice. i imagine that is difficult.

  29. Aw, that bit about "supporting other women is radical," made me gush a little bit tonight. I joined an online community before I was even pregnant with my son. I'm relatively new in the blogiverse, but I know about online relationships with other women. I don't know what I'd do without my "virtual" friends who aren't afraid to admit to some shitty parenting skills and an urge to drop their babies in their cribs and run away screaming.

    Thanks for reminding me about this!

  30. Your Bay interview was fantastic! You were great! I think Napa agrees with you! You were charming.
    Can't wait to meet you tomorrow. Hope you are enjoying San Francisco.

  31. I didn't get to make it to that session, wish I had now. A-freakin-men, to you! Being nice in the face of all the nay saying and the judgement from perfect strangers (and sometimes those we do know) that is radical!

  32. stephanie–

    as a mom to a 26 weeker that spent 84 days in the hospital– I vented in many ways and to those that haven't gone through it and judge you…

    fuck em!


  33. Girl, I just saw you at the BlogHer conference and you rock! i totally am immersing myself in Greek Tragedy.

  34. It amazes me that somehow journaling (with pen and paper) those types of mommy experiences is admirable or therapeutic but blogging the same experiences makes us bad moms for taking the time to write it down because that means we aren't there for our children. Blogging is, in many instances, sanity saving for me. I'm fortunate to have obtained an age where I don't particularly care what the world at large thinks of me.

  35. Okay, that's it, I have a serious complaint about Moose… I have to fight my husband for it, when I want to read! His take on it? "That is one seriously funny chick. This is fun to read. Good for her!"

    Awesome interview, by the way. You seem very relaxed and comfortable, very easy to watch.

    Looking forward to hearing more from Blogher!

  36. I'm not a mother, not be choice, but by circumstance of marrying later in life. The blogs that I read… which my husband totally doesn't understand… are mostly by women who have children. I don't think of them as mommy blogs because they are like online journals. And I am priveleged to share their lives. Greek Tragedy, Dooce, Chickens in the Road are all mothers. Five others I read aren't Homesick Texan, This Fish, Daily Coyote, blurbomat and Twelve Tutu Fondue (three single women and two guys). Why do I read these particular blogs? I read them and liked them. Something keeps me coming back, maybe not everyday but at least weekly.

    Stephanie, I just bought both your books. I'm saving them to read on my vacation. I had the opposite problem as a child… too thin, so thin that I was teased in the 60s in elementary school. No problem now, I'm the opposite… Mom's genes kicked in. Now I need to get healthy regardless of my weight with an image of thin me in my head… it's difficult to fight that image and believe that I'm not… until I see myself in a mirror.

  37. I loved it when you said that (being radical is being nice to other women) at the keynote, and made a mental note to check you out as soon as I got home. Great post.

  38. What?! This is now a mommy blog? Dang, I didn't even notice that creeping up on me through the years I've read your blog :(
    To be honest I don't really read those posts about your kids much, I come here because I relate to the posts about you and your relationship. I never regarded this blog as a mommy blog either. There's more to it than that, otherwise I would've left a looong time ago.

  39. Hours after my Dad suddenly died, I blogged it. Because I had too. Because I couldn’t sit on my hands. I’m happy I can read the process, as I lived it, the first two weeks of January 2008. Happy the words have helped friends as it happened to them since.

    Matters not why we do. We do.

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