SAN FRANCISCO (WOMENSENEWS)–Catherine Connors cried in corners of the Westin St. Francis Hotel, overwhelmed by attending a three-day conference, all the while lactating and caring for her 3-month-old son.
Dashing away from a panel discussion to nurse Jasper–she stood red-faced, rocking her son back and forth from her breast as a woman held a towel to cover her body and a group of helpers watched guard–made her feel like the poster child of distressed motherhood rather than the sassy dissident figure embodied in her main blog, Her Bad Mother.
"There’s a big difference between being a mom and playing one on the Internet," Connors, who is also co-founder of the social action planning team BlogHer Act Canada, told Women’s eNews.
Online, Connors, 37, has claimed iconoclastic leadership territory as one of the outspoken pack of "bad moms," women who brazenly resist peer pressures to meet quasi-professional, glamorous standards for child-bearing and child-rearing and write about it online.
"My kids are not getting well-rounded organic meals and my toddler watches a fair share of television," Connors said.
Paid advertisements on Her Bad Mother, in addition to her blogs WeCovet and Better Than a Playdate, amount to a good part-time salary, Connors said. Adding her checks from contributing to other blogs such as Babble, for urban hipster parents, and MamaPop, on parenting and popular culture, Connors earns more money than she did earlier in her career as a political scientist who lectured at the University of Toronto.
"My interest in the beginning was to reclaim my bad motherhood myself," said the Toronto resident. "I began motherhood thinking I would be stellar at it. That I would be an alpha mom, reading in multiple languages for a baby . . . but the reality is you’re too tired for that."
Shock of Motherhood
Offline, she can be a gaggle of anxieties, Connors said. She has battled pre- and post-partum depression and stresses about the messiness of motherhood. When she delivered her first child two and a half years ago, Connors had few "mom friends" to brace the shock of realizing her "limitations" as a parent.
But one day roaming the Web, Connors stumbled upon another voice like hers, full of the mommy guilt welling up within her. Soon, she put up Her Bad Mother, which now attracts thousands of readers daily, many who Connors imagines are white middle-income moms but also dads, women of color and grandparents. So many readers remain anonymous, she said.
No index tallies the number of so-called bad-mommy bloggers or their Internet earnings, but Connors was one of at least 10 other like-minded bloggers who attended the fourth annual BlogHer conference in San Francisco in July. Their work ranges from well-anchored, book-deal ready blogs to sites sprinkled with nickel-and-dime ads. Still, the mark of bad-mommy bloggers is strongly felt on Technorati.com, a blog tracking engine, where a search for "bad mommy" may steer you to Motherhood Uncensored, The Redneck Mommy or Joy Unexpected.
Members of the bad-mommy blogging contingent say they don’t measure up to the "Martha Stewart Mom" image of the overachieving domestic goddess who has complete command of home crafts and children and strains to be perfect.
"When I was growing up, your mom could turn you loose, and you can go outside and play. Now everything is so organized and kids have so many activities," says Michelle Lamar, founder of White Trash Mom blog.
This August, St. Martin’s Press published a book of Lamar’s mommy-saving tips: "White Trash Mom Handbook: Embrace Your Inner Trailerpark, Forget Perfection, Resist Assimilation Into the PTA, Stay Sane and Keep Your Sense of Humor."
Faking the Bake Sale
Co-authored by Molly Wendland, the "White Trash Mom Handbook" expands on tips posted on the White Trash Mom blog, such as Lamar’s "Faking it for the Bake Sale." Instead of baking treats for your kid’s school function, put icing on store-bought muffins to make them look home-made. That way the good moms at school–whom Lamar calls the Muffia–won’t say bad things about you.
"If you’re not perfect, pulling down six figures while homeschooling your kids with a size 2 body, you’re washed up," Lamar wrote in a press release. "That’s insane and White Trash Mom is just a way to shine a little light on the insanity so we can laugh a little."
Among bad-mommy bloggers there are mixed feelings about the persistence of conflict between good and bad mothers in the media and in real life.
Maria Young, founder of Immoral Matriarch blog, said the BlogHer conference didn’t address the good/bad mommy culture clash because it’s a thing of the past. Young spoke on a panel pondering whether mommy blogging is still a radical act.
"It came down to a discussion about busting mom stereotypes and lifting the veil on the realities of motherhood through blogging," said Connors, who attended the panel.
This year, unlike in the past, the BlogHer conference offered an entire track of forums for mommies. Mommying so dominates the blog world that a band of childless women stole away for their own panel, where they griped about facing stigma for not having children and their struggle to stand out in the mommy circles.
Next door, parenting expert Devra Renner moderated a forum on the politics of the commercial "momosphere" that tends to narrowly define womanhood and motherhood.
"When we’re talking good or bad mom, women are only being defined by our motherhood," said Devra Renner, who co-wrote the 2005 "Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most and Raise Happier Kids." "But all facets of a woman are being pitted against each other."
Soothing Parental Tensions
Renner, a mother of two, and business partner Aviva Pflock run Parentopia, a company and site in Northern Virginia and Colorado that provides counseling to anxiety-riddled parents. Through articles, workshops, blogs and consultations the duo reaches hundreds of thousands of people, Devra said.
Two years ago Andrea Buchanan, co-author of the 2007 "The Daring Book for Girls," talked up the daring approach to motherhood in a speech for the Toronto-based Association on Research in Mothering.
Whereas in the recent past, being a bad mommy–falling short of mothering–was seen as subversive, now embracing mommy imperfections is the new market ringer, said Buchanan.
She said that when she was pregnant in the fall of 1998, commercial products for women–from fashion to reading matter–targeted good moms and moms who wore "big old tent skirts and leggings," the type of "clothes that immediately marked you as out-of-sync with current trends."
But then the backlash began to grow, marked by the publication of books with titles such as "Confessions of a Slacker Mom," "Sippy Cups are Not for Chardonnay" and "Confessions of a Naughty Mommy."
Much of that writing and thinking has an aura of newness, but the rebellion dates to "Roseanne," a TV sitcom about a dysfunctional family that ran for 11 years until 1997.
In the show, comedian Roseanne Barr played a loud, working-class, overall-clad mother of four. Her character was a spokesperson for workers’ rights and a quick-n-easy meat loaf for supper. Roseanne loved her family but never spared them a verbal punch.
In real life, Barr was once a teen mother, a survivor of domestic violence and homelessness.
The show offered more than a rebuke to the media fabrication of how Americans live, something Connors called the "Winnie-the-Pooh, Disneyfication of family life." Roseanne brought real memoir to the nation’s center stage, and bad-mommy bloggers picked up her cue.
Malena Amusa is a journalist living in New York City.
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