Has anyone else noticed the emergence of the glamorised ‘bad mum’? I first really noticed it with the 2016 film Bad Moms, whose protagonist was an overworked mum who teams up with other exasperated mothers to let loose and challenge the seemingly perfect mothers. And now it’s come to my attention again with Channel 9’s Bad Mothers, a series about primary school mums and their potential involvement in a murder. The phrase is certainly around and seems to be popping up time and again.
As a mother of two young girls myself, I think this trend is not ideal for a few reasons. For one, it gives motherhood a really bad rap. It makes it out to be some kind of self-inflicted jail where we apparently do every little thing for our kids (yes, even the grown ones) and don’t know how to say “no” to them; we roll our eyes at our stupid husbands but don’t expect any more from them; we work hard without any appreciation; and we keep failing at it all even though we’re trying really hard. Not only that, but the ‘bad mum’ trend then glamorises irresponsible parenting – because at the point where mothers can’t take it anymore, they let loose. And by “let loose” I mean something generally akin to a crazy night out on the drink.
As well as the above, the ‘bad mum’ is shown as liberated and fun while the responsible parents are shown to be boring or perfectionist, which is certainly not the case in reality. I also dislike how it suggests that there is no freedom in parenting: the only time the mothers were shown to be autonomous was when they had given up trying to be a good parent and just didn’t care anymore.
I can understand why this trend is around. We live in an interesting time when it comes to our approach to motherhood - on the one hand we are more open and realistic about the challenges and hard work involved; and on the other, we are bombarded by Insta-worthy mums on social media. Their kids seem to be both gifted and good-looking, their houses are stunning and spotless, and their nails are a fresh colour every week. If they’re working a job outside the home it’s a very glamorous one, and they seem to have the most romantic and wonderful marriages. How can anyone live up to this? And really, the two trends are probably inter-linked, meaning we are making more work for ourselves by trying too hard to appear perfect.
The ‘bad mum’ concept doesn’t have bad intentions (and I liked that despite it all, it was clear in the film that these mums definitely love their kids). I can see that the ‘bad mum’ concept would be freeing for the tired mother who doesn’t always feel seen; a fantasy escape where she is liberated from fatigue, work and expectations. As Mila Kunis’ character says in Bad Moms, “We’re killing ourselves trying to be perfect and it’s driving us insane.” But I do think it takes it a little far – isn’t there a better way to tell mothers that they don’t have to be perfect? And by no means should a ‘bad mum’ be the one who takes time out and stands up for herself. That just sounds like a smart mum.
Tamara El-Rahi is a full-time mother of two and freelance writer from Sydney.