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Feb 24 2014

In Defense of Overachieving “Good Mommies”

By at 11:37 am

evil-eye

When I read about the Evil Eye as a kid, I imagined it as an eye in the sky, ready to glare at anyone who boasted of their accomplishments or counted their chickens before they hatched. But the Evil Eye is, and always has been, other people.

Salon.com recently published an essay by (Kveller contributor) Elissa Strauss discussing the new tyranny of the “bad mommy”:

Instead, today’s bad mommies are as smug, and even sometimes smugger, than those good mommies they aimed to resist. These parents, products of a culture that thinks it is just so hilarious to tell parents to “Shut the Fuck Up” while telling their kids to “Go the Fuck to Sleep,” are the new sanctimommies. These women take real delight in being the “worst mom in the world,” “scary mommy,” the “world’s worst mom,” “bad mom” and  “bad mommy.” Most of these women don’t really consider themselves bad moms (I doubt anyone who writes regularly about being a “bad” mom could really possibly be one), but instead take the position as a way to assert their superiority to the “good ones.”

I think there’s an added twist: while articles and essays celebrating “good mommies” don’t tend to name the “bad mommies,” much of this new wave of “reverse bullying”–as Strauss calls it–isn’t afraid to mention people or actions specifically, just for doing something that is considered “too good.”

“You’ve always been self-praising,” my mother told me recently. “But you’ve gotten better.”

I was a precocious child, with all the accompanying benefits and challenges. I was moved out of kindergarten and into first grade, adding “nerd” to the list of epithets already bestowed upon me as a short, vegetarian, Jewish kid in rural central Maine. If I hadn’t been self-praising, who would have praised me? Not my peers, usually, or even my teachers. Despite what should have been several strikes against me, and the inconsistent presence of friends or allies at school, I was a happy and confident kid. I was self-entertaining, and yes, self-praising. This allowed me to be excited about my accomplishments without relying on the validation of others.

My assumption had always been that as adults, we would be able to celebrate each others’ strengths without reservation, confident that we’re each experts or passionate participants in something. My near inability to drive a car or participate in any sport ending in the suffix “–ball” doesn’t diminish my excitement and appreciation for those who can (particularly when they are willing to drive me around!) But often at work, my intelligent, over-educated coworkers refer to me as an “obnoxious nerd” or an “overachiever.” This is for such crimes as not being intimidated by the computers at work or not leaving end of term progress reports until the last minute.

I grant–or assume for my own sanity–that these words are delivered with love. But how would we respond if we heard students say the same things to each other? How would I feel if my daughter were called the same thing by her peers? If, once I become a parent, I have a really great day with my daughter, will I feel shy to post a happy picture on Facebook because of the potential backlash? Or will I feel compelled to only share the challenging days when nobody bathes, everybody cries, and we watch cartoons all day?

Let’s face it: Some parents have an easy time breastfeeding, while others have kids who are sleep ninjas. The parent whose baby’s outfits always match might be up all night with a colicky kid. The one at whom you roll your eyes because she’s whizzing up homemade organic baby food every day? She might be struggling through post-partum depression. Although I haven’t started parenting yet, it seems like a mixed bag of challenges and successes for every family.

Whatever emerges as strengths for myself, my husband, and our soon-to-be-born daughter will get shared, blogged, and I hope cheered on by our friends and family, and maybe even other parents out there somewhere. But what I have to say about our strengths has nothing to do with the challenges others might face. The reverse will be true as well. I promise to model the “Good Eye” and celebrate the matching outfits and organic baby food and good days of my peers, even if I’ve been up all night with a vomiting child. Or at least if I need to grumble, I’ll do it in my head and not out in the public forum.

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