Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Why are we so quick to cry 'bad mother'?

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio celebrates his victory on Tuesday, November 5, with supporters and his children Dante, left, and Chiara, second left, and his wife, Chirlane McCray, right. New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio celebrates his victory on Tuesday, November 5, with supporters and his children Dante, left, and Chiara, second left, and his wife, Chirlane McCray, right.
HIDE CAPTION
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The NYC first lady speaks candidly about motherhood in magazine profile
  • One NYC tabloid showcases the first lady with the headline "I Was a Bad Mom!"
  • Moms say the media and society in general are quick to label mothers, good vs. bad
  • "Motherhood is not all sunshine and rainbows," says one mom

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- If I were to admit what went on in my house this morning -- how I raised my voice more than once and slammed the kitchen cabinets after my 8-year-old daughter kept talking back to me -- how many people would think I'm a "bad mother"?

Probably more than a few.

I bring up the issue after something that took place very publicly involving the new first lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray, wife of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York first lady gets heat for comments
CNN moms talk work-life balance
A drastic step to be taken seriously
How a mom runs home like the office

In an in-depth profile in New York magazine on her upbringing, professional experience and relationship with her husband, McCray talks oh-so-briefly (one paragraph in a six-page piece) about how she struggled with the weight of the responsibilities and the loss of some of her independence when her first child, Chiara, was born in 1994.

READ: Longing for the carefree parenting style of yesterday?

"I was 40 years old. I had a life. Especially with Chiara -- will we feel guilty forever more? Of course, yes. But the truth is, I could not spend every day with her. I didn't want to do that. I looked for all kinds of reasons not to do it," said McCray.

"I love her. I have thousands of photos of her -- every 1-month birthday, 2-month birthday. But I've been working since I was 14, and that part of me is me. It took a long time for me to get into 'I'm taking care of kids,' and what that means."

She never said she was a bad mother, mind you, but that didn't stop one New York City tabloid from using the label.

On the front page of the New York Post, along with a picture of McCray, was this nearly full-page headline: "I Was a Bad Mom!"

The New York Daily News had a slightly more restrained take with a smaller photograph on its front page, along with the headline, "Didn't want to be a mom."

READ: Memo to imperfect moms

Mother's Day - then and now
"Tiger Mom" rankles with new book

The coverage prompted an unusual move by the mayor, calling a press conference just to denounce the tabloids and demand an apology to his wife. A features editor at the Daily News, who is a new mom herself and just back from maternity leave, defended the coverage in a post, saying the papers didn't make the story up. It is what McCray said.

"Chirlane, you're probably a good mother. Maybe even a great one. But that doesn't mean you get to fret about your performance — then complain at how people discuss it," said Raakhee Mirchandani, the Daily News features editor.

But is that what happened? Here was a woman speaking candidly and expressing something that a lot of women can probably relate to and then the media jumped in, using the words "bad mom" and suggesting she didn't want to be a mom, when that's not the case.

Would the media or anyone else, for that matter, do the same if a man admitted he struggled with balancing parenthood and his professional life, or if he realized he didn't want to spend every waking moment with his kids?

You know the answer.

READ: Are millennial moms more traditional?

"Society has this just general obsession with the dichotomy of motherhood, good versus bad, and we have this failure to see women as whole beings with motherhood only making up one aspect," said Avital Norman Nathman, editor of "The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality."

"Instead, motherhood always gets pushed front and center and then it becomes judged, whether you are excelling or not."

Rebecca Levey, a mom of twins and co-founder of a video sharing site for tweens called KidzVuz, said the whole brouhaha reminds her way too much of a former first lady.

"This sounds so much like when Hillary Clinton said I'm sorry I didn't stay home and make chocolate chip cookies ... and then she had to go freakin' make chocolate chip cookies and put out chocolate chip cookie recipes," said Levey, who hosted a parent blogger roundtable earlier this year at City Hall with the mayor and his wife.

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace asks why the media and society in general are so quick to label mothers.
CNN's Kelly Wallace asks why the media and society in general are so quick to label mothers.

READ: Are money-making moms less happy?

What these stories do, women say, is make other moms feel less confident to speak out about how motherhood, for them, might not be "this cookie cutter, sugar coated version," said Norman Nathman, who also hosts a blog called The Mamafesto.

"How many people complain about their jobs and nobody questions their ability to do X, Y and Z?" she said. "But yet when it comes to motherhood, where we've placed all this pressure on parents and specifically, obviously women to turn out amazing kids, any kind of negative comment and we're blasted."

There has been a trend, Levey said, of female bloggers and authors writing sarcastically about what a bad mother they are, almost making it "cool" to be the "griping mom." But get serious and the response is not quite the same, she said.

"If you actually admit that maybe on a real level, you think, 'Oh my God, maybe I really messed up (as a mom),' that's not OK," said Levey. "So you can be snarky and sarcastic but you can't be honest."

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

Katharine Zaleski, mom to a 5-month-old, said as a new mom she totally gets what McCray was saying. "You work like crazy to get to where you are and then the most wonderful event in your life, the birth of your child, completely rips you from the world you strived to rise in."

READ: OMG! Your teen actually talks to you?

"Frankly, I feel sorry for women who can't express what McCray did," said Zaleski, who is co-founder and president of Power to Fly, a new company connecting women and moms with job opportunities. "To me, that says they don't feel comfortable talking about the lives they built before motherhood and their goals post-baby. Furthermore, when has it been good for children to have mothers who pretend they don't have a life beyond them?"

Jennifer Bosse, a mom of two, ages 1½ and 3, went back to work when her firstborn was 7 weeks old. She questioned her desire to work, and her desire to be home, and ultimately decided to stay home full-time and become a freelance writer, creating a blog called Defining My Happy.

"Motherhood is not all sunshine and rainbows," said Bosse on Facebook. "It's tough. It's heartbreaking. Sometimes I need time away to re-group. Does that make me a bad mother, too? Absolutely not. We're human."

What do you think it will take to stop labeling women as "bad mothers"? Chime in in the comments or tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:10 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
If it hasn't happened already, it likely will at some point: the moment you don't like one of your child's friends. What do you do?
updated 6:50 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
They say the first step to overcoming a problem is realizing you have one in the first place. An online quiz can help you determine whether you are over-reliant on your cell phone.
updated 9:52 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Options for meat substitutes have come a long way since Seth Tibbott's first few Thanksgivings as a vegetarian in the 1970s.
updated 4:12 PM EST, Sat November 22, 2014
Students unhappy with school meals are taking it out on the first lady by sharing images on social media of lunches sarcastically tagged #ThanksMichelleObama.
updated 9:55 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
A Louisiana family is fighting to protect its beloved pit bull from a "vicious dogs" ordinance.
updated 5:20 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. CNN's Michaela Pereira grew up in a family of five adopted girls in Canada and eventually reunited with her biological half-sister.
updated 2:39 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
It began for Nickolay Lamm as a question: What would Barbie look like if she had the dimensions of an average woman?
updated 9:16 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Bill Cosby was thought of as a perceptive comedian and genial father figure. Now, that persona pairs with another, much darker image.
updated 12:35 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
If you think 'my teen would never sext,' you might be mistaken. Recent studies suggest it's more common than many parents might want to admit.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
I pictured myself graduating from college, getting a cool job and even having a cute place of my own. Instead, I wake to the early-morning sounds of my family dog barking and my parents making coffee downstairs.
updated 12:38 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Samantha Futerman and Anais Bordier tease, poke and prod each other like they've grown up together, but they didn't. Neither woman knew she had an identical twin sister until less than two years ago.
updated 9:02 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
A school district in Maryland has decided to remove all references to religious holidays from its school calendar, leaving some in the community frustrated.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
Female veterans often have a harder time finding employment than their male counterparts. But why?
updated 3:19 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
I simply couldn't believe my eyes. At a children's party this year, I witnessed full-on "mean girl" behavior.
updated 12:24 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
Several children were sent to the hospital after being sickened by ingesting detergent pods.
updated 9:46 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
There are plenty of times when I literally wish I could take a hammer to the portrayal of girls and women in the media. In a new ad, a little girl gets to do just that.
updated 10:09 AM EST, Sat November 8, 2014
"Playing doctor" and "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" are common rites of passage in childhood sexual behavior, according to the experts.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
A tech startup claims credit for making Alex from Target go viral, but there's skepticism about how involved it was, if at all.
updated 5:47 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
A soft toy for cribs lets babies post pictures of themselves to social media.
updated 11:55 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Schools are increasingly confronting a controversial question: Should they do more to monitor students' online interactions off-campus to keep them safe?
updated 11:56 AM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
The National Toy Hall of Fame recently inducted three new favorites into its hallowed halls. What's your favorite?
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
We don't know, and may never know, what led to the Washington school shooting, but we have to ask ourselves, following this tragedy, if we are doing enough to help our boys deal with difficult emotions without resorting to violence.
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
The viral video of a New York woman being catcalled on the street has men asking, "So, what should I do?" The answer starts with respect.
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Trick-or-treating and dressing in costume have been Halloween traditions for a good long time now, but it seems we're still struggling to get it right.
updated 4:38 PM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
Yes, there's actually corn in it. Corn syrup, if that counts.
updated 2:28 PM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Walmart found itself sending apology tweet after apology tweet after the Twitterverse raked it over the coals for a major goof on its website.
updated 4:02 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
There aren't too many times when I'm speechless about what I consider an outrageous example of parenting. This is one of those times.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Holy crap, LeVar Burton.
updated 5:38 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Critics pounced on supermodel Gisele Bundchen for advocating a little mommy "me time" recently. When did it become a crime to admit that you -- as a parent -- put yourself first?
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Not again.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
"Breaking Bad's" drug-dealing chemistry teacher Walter White will have to stop making the sale at Toys R Us.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
I happen to agree with Renee Zellweger that all the chatter about her face is "silly." But I, and many other women I talked with via email Wednesday, would add some other choice words to the mix to describe the non-stop attention about her appearance: nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
I have long thought millennials, who expect flexibility in the workplace, would be the group that would bring an end to the stigma that is too often associated with flex time -- the belief that wanting a flexible work arrangement means you aren't willing to work as hard. But now I'm thinking it's going to be men who will get us there.
updated 7:40 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Say it with us: Kids today have it sooooo easy.
updated 2:29 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
An Atlanta judge reportedly reprimanded an immigration attorney for bringing her 4-week-old to court for a hearing -- a hearing she asked the judge to reschedule because she was on her six-week maternity leave.
updated 11:04 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Monica Lewinsky tweeted for the first time. She called herself "patient zero" of cyber-bullying.
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Meet Shyanne Roberts, a 10-year-old competitive shooter with something to prove: "Kids and guns don't always mean bad things happen."
updated 9:50 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
strawberry ghosts
We love Halloween season. Sweets. Sweaters. Sipping hot cider (maybe spiked). Halloween can certainly get you in the spirit, and nothing warms our hearts like these healthy Halloween treats that help you stay energized instead of stuck in a sugar coma.
updated 3:23 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Does your baby cry during long flights, causing you to want to disappear from the glares of fellow passengers?
updated 4:14 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Ask any teen if they suffer from social media anxiety and they would probably tell you no. But the truth is getting "likes" and the fear of missing out are adding stress to teens' lives.
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Many photographers have taken it upon themselves to document stillborn and terminal babies' precious moments after birth.
updated 3:46 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
As part of the insurance coverage offered to its female employees, Facebook is paying to freeze their eggs.
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Amal Alamuddin was well-known in many important circles long before she snagged the world's most eligible bachelor. But Amal Alamuddin is now Amal Clooney, according to her law firm's website.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Trends in young adult fiction have shifted from wizards to glittering vampires to bloodthirsty "Hunger Games" and now, to teens coping with illnesses and realistic issues.
updated 8:56 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Before he died this year, 14-year-old Martin Romero wanted to do something for his community.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT