My Bad Mother, Keeping Me On My Toes

March 15, 2007

(From my inbox, yesterday…)

Hi Sweetie,

I am e-mailing rather than using comments because I can’t figure out how to post a comment. You know I read your blog faithfully. I’m not always touched by it because, while I am awed by your writing talent, I think that it’s sometimes something of an exercise in self-absorption, and that it panders to an audience of mostly privileged women who have the luxury of philosophizing about motherhood. I hope that your experience on the subway brings you (and your readers) to a heightened awareness of those mothers who do not have the means of indulging their beloved children (or in a lot of cases, not even being able to provide what we would consider necessities). Can you imagine how your heart would hurt if you couldn’t give WonderBaby the world? I deeply felt your feelings as you described the young mother. As we have discussed many times, those very same feelings were the motivating factor in my chosen career.

I hope that you don’t think my comments are harsh, but your post stirred up twenty years of passionate feelings.

Love you and eternally grateful that you are my daughter.

Mom

xoxoxoxox

Hi Mom,

That was only a little bit harsh (Not always touched? Pandering? Ouch) ;)

I agree that bloggers are, for the most part, a bunch of privileged narcissists. All writers are, I think. I certainly am. But most of us are aware of that. Most of the bloggers that I gravitate toward are fully self-reflective about their privilege (whether it be absolute or relative privilege – certainly any person who has the time and skill and access to technology to blog enjoys a certain amount of privilege). I try to be self-reflective. I may not always succeed, but I try. But here’s the thing about motherhood and privilege that astounds me: motherhood is humbling, and many of its trials don’t discriminate on the basis of privilege. We all of us, rich and poor and everywhere in between, experience a new, gut-wrenching kind of fear; we feel a new, soul-shaking kind of vulnerability. It is tough work, and sometimes really disempowering – and for many women, for ME, it is the first taste of being afraid, helpless, confused, dependent, and disempowered. And, because of my (relative) privilege, some amount of guilt and shame that I am sometimes brought to my knees by these things, when so many other women with so much less manage to stay standing.

If I write about dropping my kid or posting pictures of my kid or messing up or failing, maybe, in some critical moment to do the right thing that is, yes, an exercise in self-absorption, but it’s also an exercise in self-reflectivity. And I hope that it demonstrates that privilege, or any measure of it, doesn’t necessarily make any of us any better mothers. I’m a terrible fuck-up much of the time, at this motherhood thing – and I think that that has given me a better appreciation of what a mother with less has to struggle with, and a better understanding of how great her victories are. The example of those mothers humbles me. Really.

It all humbles me.

Thanks for making me think, always.

Love you tons and more,

Your Bad Daughter

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    { 59 comments }

    Much More Than A Mom March 15, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    What a nice letter from your mom.
    Brutally honest,
    “…not always touched by it because, while I am awed by your writing talent, I think that it’s sometimes something of an exercise in self-absorption, and that it panders to an audience of mostly privileged women who have the luxury of philosophizing about motherhood…
    and yet I could feel her love for you and her empathy and passion for all mothers emanating from her words.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Shannon March 15, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    Hi
    I’m new to your blog and new to your mother but I like both of you already. Both of you seem to live with passion and insight which make for interesting conversation.

    I am probably one of those privileged women your mother referred to and yet, like you, I have found motherhood to be a point of connection far beyond the world of organic vegies and volvos.

    My second child (Baby Wren) was born in December with a serious congenital heart defect and I started blogging 3 months ago to keep friends and family informed about his surgery. For me, sharing the grief, fear and anger in public has helped me connect with people in a way that went beyond the simple events.

    So, I guess what I am saying is that for me its not so much the content of any one post that touches me but the sense of community, the breaking out of isolation as we face ourselves as parents. For you it may be dropping your kid, for me it was heart surgery. They sound worlds apart but in both we are dealing with that love which shifts you out of living-for-one ever after.

    So, thanks for extending the community of mothers and pandering to this one :)

    kgirl March 15, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    wow, that is soooo much nicer than the response i get from my mother in regards to anything to do with blogging.

    crazymumma March 15, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    Can your Mommy be my Mommy because I need a bit of a shake sometimes.

    I love her honesty and her ability to speak with you so directly, so honestly in a…..non maternal way.

    Oh, and pander? ouch. priviliged? double truth ouch.

    Janet a.k.a. "Wonder Mom" March 15, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    I love your mom.
    I love you.
    Can I say that without seeming creepy?
    I hope so.

    Great post.

    Makes me miss my Mom more…

    Redneck Mommy March 15, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    You still plan on adopting me, right? Cause I do believe I have fallen in love with your mother. And we all know how desperate I am for a mom in the truest sense of the word…

    I had written quite a comment in response of today’s post and your mother’s comments. But after rereading and rethinking, I deleted.

    Blogging may be pandering. But it is not the writing and the satisfaction of seeing my words and thoughts on a screen that drives me to continue.

    It is the sense of community I have found that has allowed me to overcome and endure the despair I feel at facing every mother’s worst nightmare: Losing their child.

    The fact that I may be educated, entertained and amused along the way is just an added bonus.

    Anonymous March 15, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    I L-0-V-E YOUR BAD MOTHER!! And I love that *she* can’t figure out how to “comment”, and somehow the tone of that is that it’s somehow *your* fault. It’s so Baby-Boomer – talk about a generation of self-indulgent narcissists!

    Beck March 15, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Hm. I didn’t comment on the umbrella stroller post yesterday because I was a bit uncomfortable with it – The Baby rides around in an umbrella stroller, the hand-me-down stroller loaned to us by a friend having utterly fallen apart. I’m priviledged in many aspects, but financially is not really one of them. I do see what your mom is saying – it’s like the Popular White Girl Club – and I like her brisk, no-nonsense voice.

    Jennifer March 15, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Sounds a bit like my mom, just not as eloquent.

    My response wouldn’t have been so eloquent either. You said it so well.

    braiding mommy March 15, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    Such a great response by both you and your mother. Thank you for sharing.

    You are right – motherhood is so humbling and brings us all to what seems like the same level. But it seems like we are all pitted in a competition to raise the best kids – and there are plenty of moms out there who are in for the fight and not willing to open themselves up. The younger and less-priviliged mothers are walking around feeling like our faults are muc more obvious because we can’t hide them with nice things and fancy daycares.

    Thank you again for this discussion and your honesty. I agree with what you mother is saying about the blogging community. So many of us mothers need a place to express, but feel like we can’t keep up with the excellent writing skills of so many other blogging mommies.

    Lara March 15, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    i love this relationship you have with your mom, and the good conversation that comes out of it. it’s similar to my relationship with my own “my bad mother.” :)

    MommyWithAttitude March 15, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    I have considered giving up blogging (though not writing) for some of these reasons. But then I realized, a narcissist is a narcissist whether she blogs or not! So that wasn’t going to be an exercise in character-building in and of itself.

    But anyway — what I actually wanted to say is that I know exactly your dilemma in the previous post. How can you sympathize with someone without being condescending? How can you respect someone while feeling sorry for her? These things are very tough to fiugre out indeed. I probably would have done the same as you — and then wished I’d done it differently, without knowing how.

    Anonymous March 15, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    Your mother was spot on. ‘Nuf said.

    mcewen March 15, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    I wish my mum would use a computer! Especially with the geographical distance between us. Lucky you.
    Cheers

    Tania (urbanmommy is so 2006) March 15, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Hurray! I really wanted you to post this if only to demonstrate that it is okay to be frank. It is possible to be supportive and encouraging while also expressing a different opinion.

    You and I are tight but we don’t agree on everything. I actually think that is one of the reasons we’re close.

    Your mom is a riot.

    NotSoSage March 15, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Your bad mother is baaaad. That’s awesome.

    And, yes, I have so much more respect for moms who face the struggles that I will never likely have to face…and I’m going to start putting my action where my mouth (or fingers) are. That’s what it’s all about.

    slouching mom March 15, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    Ooh, that’s just the kind of e-mail I’d get from slouching grandma!

    Mrs. Davis March 15, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Your mom and I would get along great.

    Dana March 15, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    I think this post is beautiful. Because I can say I’m somewhere inbetween privileged and struggling to make ends meet.

    My husband I are living paycheck to paycheck most of the time because we had debts before we married and bought a house to early and had a baby before we paid all of them off.

    We can’t afford the new things we want and we make due with what we have. The bill collectors still call us every month to make sure they get their money.

    But we still set aside a small portion of money to make ourselves feel rich. I bought a domain and he bought a fishing accessory.

    But I am lucky. I’m alive and well. We have a roof over our heads and jobs to pay the bills and a healthy son who loves us so much. We share a faith and donate to charity when we can. We feel good about our lives even when sometimes we’re at our wits end over the latest struggle.

    We have each other. We have our family. We have our friends. We (I) have an amazing blogging community that supports me.

    How can I ask for anything else?

    Your mother is an amazing soul. I can almost hear her words. You, Catherine are amazing, too. Just as your mother makes you think, you make me think. Thank you for that.

    jen March 15, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    damn. what i wouldn’t give for that sort of honest dialogue.

    go, mom. go, bad.

    gingajoy March 15, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    ooh. sting. i feel a bit told off. (quite right too).

    Pattie March 15, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Wow, Catherine, I must say, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to find the letter signed “Love, Mom”….

    I, likewise, am a woman of priveledge. I agree with your sentiments, which I think can easily be misinterpreted. However, I understand and relate to your desire to help this young woman.

    But, our moms have the ability to always bring us back to another way of thinking, don’t they? Your mom rocks, and so do you :)

    metro mama March 15, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    I’m glad you posted this!

    Jaelithe March 15, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Man, that SO sounds like something my mom would write.

    Only she would also correct my grammar.

    Are you sure we’re not related?

    Laural Dawn March 15, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    When I read your mom’s letter I realized just how selfish I am sometimes. I kept re-reading yesterday’s comments and I was getting really annoyed at all the people who would have said something. And how I would have been so offended. And then I realized that I judge people too, a lot. Just in a different way.
    Great topic and great posts. Thanks for always making me think :)

    mel March 15, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    What a CUTE baby you were!! Oh my goodness gracious, those cheeks…

    Mom101 March 15, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    acorn…tree

    I’d say about 2 inches. Maybe 1 1/2.

    toyfoto March 15, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    I don’t know if I agree completely with the assessment of writers of blogs as essentially being narcissists pandering to a bunch of privileged women.

    But I wouldn’t say that young woman with the McDonald’s bag and the infant in an umbrella stroller was ignorant or incapable either.

    We are constantly apologizing for something as a woman: having money, not having money, having influence, not having influence, being young, being old … and yet, for whatever reason, we don’t move beyond it.

    I’m not sure if this even relates, but I found out today that a neighbor’s husband, who is my age, has ALS. They have a daughter the same age as mine, too, and I’ve never met any of them. We live in a well-heeled community where most of the homes on the main drag are inhabited by people who flocked here from the city, and live here only on weekends. We do not live in one of those homes. Neither do they. And I would say with my commute to work (45 minutes each way) I never see the light of day in my home town.

    Perhaps there’s a class/social order division happening, but I suspect something else is at work, too.

    nomotherearth March 15, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    I think that your mum and my mum would get along. Although, my mum probably wouldn’t come right out and say it – she’d have a more obtuse comment to offer…and you could read into it what you will.

    I think that “pandering” is a bit harsh – I like to think of more as “sharing”. But then, I am in serious need of a reality check most days. ;-)

    CrankMama March 15, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    Ok sorry, I didn’t think that was a very nice note from your ma (who must really be sweet to have you as a dot)…. Bring on the BIG LOVE, mama…. Sister has enough critique inside her…

    hmph.
    Rachael

    Alex Elliot March 15, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    I was also surprised to see that the email was signed from you mom. I loved your response.

    Lady M March 16, 2007 at 4:51 am

    Your mom rocks and so do you. The rest of us can hope to be so articulate.

    Mimi March 16, 2007 at 11:16 am

    Ok, well, clearly, your mom is awesome.

    Here’s my dilemma: while I am tempted to say that the challenges of motherhood knocked me right off my safe perch of competence and privilege and entitlement and sent me stark raving mad into isolation, disempowerment, and the periphery of life as I knew it …. I nevertheless realize that as much as this might make me empathize with people (women) who face these kinds of hurdles all the time, I still have to acknowledge that I have much more access to that which will pull me out of my hole: money, literacy, social supports, the legitimacy and audience granted to middle-class whiteness. I feel like I’m *dabbling* in disenfranchisement. And here I am, 9 mos post-partum, back at work at my lovely career, husband home with the baby, and I just bought a nice painting to cheer up my living room so we’ll all have something new to look at. It’s still hard. But not really hard.

    And somehow that makes it seem worse for me than if I’d stayed up on my perch, never fallen so fast nor pulled myself back up so easily.

    Anonymous March 16, 2007 at 11:20 am

    hi catherine wow you through your words are a lot like your mum.you always make me think.but as one of your loyal readers i have to say i’m not priviliged in the monetary sense of the word.but i am happy,have a roof over my head,lots of love,faith….so i guess i am priviliged in these things.LAVENDULA

    Jenn March 16, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Moms say the darndest things! Mine included. I love that.

    She’s your dear ma, so she can get away with ‘pandering,’ eh?

    I don’t think the folks who read blogs are, across the board, privileged. Access to a computer, okay. Privileged to enjoy language, okay. Privileged to have found language online that makes sense and soothes the soul, okay.

    But some of us (er, like me) are living in squalor and wretched body fluids and mildewed lives with no clear future, Mother of Bad Mother! I balk at the term ‘narcissism’ when it comes to blogs…because what are we teaching our kids, then? That self-expression is narcissistic? Sometimes, it’s all we have in a dark world, no?

    Her Bad Mother March 16, 2007 at 11:49 am

    Toyfoto – EXCELLENT point, about the dynamic wherein we always feel that we need to apologize for what we have, what we do, where we’re at. And about bloggers/writers not necessarily being narcissists. Self-reflection isn’t exactly the same as narcissism.

    For the record, I’m not privileged with a capital P. But privileged enough. And although motherhood hasn’t allowed me to EMPATHIZE with less-advantaged mothers, it has allowed me to appreciate how extraordinary their work is.

    I overheard a man on the subway yesterday, telling a single mom that she was a hero. He was so right. I’m not heroic, because I perform my feats of maternal strength with all sorts of aid. Those who do it alone, or with less, *they* are extraordinary.

    Her Bad Mother March 16, 2007 at 11:51 am

    Jenn – I totally agree. It can’t really be called narcississm if you’re up to your ankles in mildewy laundry, sobbing from the pain in your chewed-up breasts, writing for release, solace, community…

    bubandpie March 16, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    The world “privilege” is being thrown about willy nilly in the blogosphere this week, and I haven’t fully worked out yet why I’m so irritated by it. It’s something to do with what Toyfoto said about this urge to apologize.

    Does acknowledging my privilege make me more committed to advocating for the less privileged? Or does it make me LESS committed to changing all the ways in which I am not privileged? I work under exploitive conditions, my access to affordable day-care is a matter of luck of the draw, if I were to get pregnant again my access to maternity and parental leave would be a matter of luck of the draw, sexism is alive and well in my workplace despite elaborate pretensions to the contrary…

    But of course, in global terms, I am privileged. So maybe I should just feel grateful for what I have, and guilty that I don’t have less.

    Lisa b March 16, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    Catherine I really felt your post was about you sincerly wanting to help someone, and being in a position to do so, rather than you judging her. I thought your concern was more whether she would judge your motives and be offended.
    Your mom’s response seems to me to be unkind in that she is assuming you and your readers are unaware that others are worse off than us or that we just don’t think about it.
    Personally I think about it all the time. I don’t think I am alone in that.
    Yes we are privileged. Even that girl on the subway is in many ways better off that most of the people on the rest of the planet. I don’t think you or your readers are unaware of that.
    The other side of this is how I (or any of us) use my privilege to help others. One of the biggest surprises for me in the last few years was going to work at a private school and seeing the amount of community service the school was involved in. Just some examples are the school pays to bus inner city students for mentoring and to use the sports facilities and an entire office staff is dedicated to the program which is a partnership with the public school board.

    I have as much guilt as the next girl about my privilege but I’m starting to realise just because you have money doesn’t make you a bad person.

    jennster March 16, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    your mom is AWESOME! it’s obvious where you get it from!

    Sarah March 16, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    bubandpie and toyfoto…yes yes yes.

    You said what I have been thinking, only better than I could have with my two kids running around me.

    I don’t want to overstate what is happening with mommy blogging. However, women, MOTHERS are getting together and talking about important issues. We are talking in a way that wouldn’t happen if we met in line at a store. There are important social issues being chewed on….and that has to happen before big change happens. I feel something is afoot in a major social/cultural context. I wonder if we aren’t in the middle of a huge paradigm shift?

    I don’t like blogging being written off as exibit A of the ‘narcississm’ of our generation. How very baby boomer to be annoyed that mothers are thoughtfully considering things.

    So should we not be talking about class inequalities because even the poorest people in the west are ‘better off’ or more ‘privileged’ than in less developed nations?

    toyfoto March 16, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    I suppose I really bristled at mom’s comments initially, because (and while I don’t doubt she has fought long an hard for those less able to fight a system that is stacked against them) because I believe being able to give the child the world doesn’t guarantee that a better life. Conversly, I don’t think having a mom who is struggling to make ends meet, keep you in clothes and get you from point A to point B anyway that’s humanly possible, is going to predict a lackluster existence.

    Everyone is lucky. Everyone is unlucky. We all have choices, and we each can choose to use whatever limited powers we have for good no matter what our resources are. I also believe poverty and lack of formal education doesn’t have anything to do with ignorance.

    I know I can’t give my kid the world. I can’t keep bad things from happening, and I’m going to make more mistakes probably than I’m going to get it right. But I can try to do better always, and I can believe everyone I meet is just like me: Trying to do better.

    Anonymous March 16, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    i had to leave the house of privilege
    spend christmas homeless and feeling bad
    to learn that privilege is a headache
    that you don’t know that you don’t have
    and i had to leave the house of television
    to start noticing the clouds
    it’s amazing the stuff you see
    when you finally shed that shroud

    Her Bad Mother March 16, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    Toyfoto and Bub – I totally agree with you. I don’t think that there’s any need to apologize for privilege, such at is, and I don’t think that there’s anything about privilege that disqualifies us from being quote-unquote radical. (I said much the same thing last fall when I was accused of being a ‘tool of the patriarchy’ for singing the praises of Gloria Steinem.)

    In defense (not that she needs it) of my mom, she spends every day with young people who are among the most disadvantaged in our society – many of whom have walked (street-walked) the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, many of whom are the children of parents who have done so. Children who have been abused and abused and abused in the worst ways. So when I wring my hands about whether I’m capable of managing a second child, or kvetching about WB’s determination to not nap, she sometimes gives me a gentle reality check. Would that we all had such problems.

    But, but, as I said to her in response to this note, my kvetching has its place, and I think the whatever community we build around such kevtching, and more, *IS* radical, insofar as it is really *is* community, and one that really does empower.

    If we always remember that it *is* a privileged community (in certain respects), so much the better.

    toyfoto March 16, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    What your mom does is so important. And I suppose the other component I’ve been trying to get at is this: If WE — women of comparative privilege — used our powers for good, how could we constructively make lives of those with less opportunity better?

    That was really the root of the inital post, wasn’t it? Will changing the way we think about that woman on the subway change the way we act toward her? Will changing the way we treat her change her life?

    flutter March 16, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    Love your mom’s project. I don’t know that I like that she feels in the position to make such a blanket statement about your readership. However, her ability to communicate with you honestly is impressive

    Her Bad Mother March 16, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Flutter – I think her comment was more directed at my writing than a description of my putative readership… that is, my waxing philosophic about the travails of lack of sleep and the like – it wouldn’t, from her perspective, speak to the sort of mother who is battling addiction or fighting to keep her kids or big stuff like that (the sort of mother that she works with regularly). She’s probably not wrong in that. She is, however, not familiar with you all, in all your diversity, with your range of experience and circumstances. She would love you if she did, though.

    Mary G March 16, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    I don’t get here until Friday and I miss all the fun. Tell your mother to get her head wrapped around blogging and join the fun. (If I can do it, she can do it!) Yes, it’s a self conscious medium, but that’s a lot of its value.
    Your The Mom in the Mirror post jacked me into writing a whole post in reply.

    Jenifer G. March 16, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Oh my goodness. I will have to agree with Bub & Pie and Toyfoto and the whole discussion there…

    These two posts are wonderful. I keep running this over and over in my head and some of the comments. Oh how I wish I would have said something, but sadly I don’t think I would have. I have seen other things I wanted to comment on, pop put in baby bottles, children not dressed warmly in winter, kids (4 year olds) in my own immediate neighbourhood left alone outside all day completely unattended, ah the list goes on.

    I constantly struggle with all of this and yet have never really said anything despite the fact that it eats me alive. I wonder just what would it take to get me to intervene.

    You never fail to make me think about motherhood and myself and all things in between.

    Thanks to you and Mom for this one.

    flutter March 17, 2007 at 2:03 am

    I’m sorry, I wasn’t at all meaning to come across as harsh. Your mother obviously rocks, she raised you. The more I read of her work the more impressed I am. i am sure if I knew her, I would love her, too.

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