Are you a good mother?

Excerpts from Bay Area Parent's May issue
In our Mother's Day issue, we look at how it's impossible to be a good mother, if only because the definition changes so much. And in trying to be a "Good Mother," we may be hurting everyone around us.

Bad Mothers, Unite
By Peggy Spear

Am I a good mom?

I am guilty of accidentally locking my 3-month-old son in the car at my other son's soccer practice and having to call the fire department to let him out.

Then there was the time I gave my 9-month old daughter french-fries.

Throughout the years, I haven't done nearly enough homework with my children, and I frequently let them eat Lunchables.

I miss more PTA meetings than I attend.

I let them watch South Park.

I have taken money from their piggy banks to buy a latte and forgotten to pay it back. On more than one occasion.

I have lost my temper and cussed at them.

They have been known to cuss back. (I blame South Park.)

Last month, my son complained that his hand hurt after he fell on it at school. I put him off for two days, until I finally took him to the doctor - only to find out he had a broken wrist. Ooops.

There's no denying that I have been a bad mother. But in this Mother's Day issue of Bay Area Parent, we ask the all-important question: what does it mean to be a "Good Mother?"

As associate editor Millicent Skiles points out in her story, "Old-school vs. New-school Moms," our own mothers can't really be held up as examples. After all, they drank alcohol and smoked while pregnant, and they spanked us rather than put us in a "time out." Some even did the unforgivable: squashed their own identities and lived their lives for their husbands. What kind of example were they setting for us?

But they will look at us and shake their heads at our attempts to "do it all," juggle careers and children and still manage to channel Martha Stewart at home. They claim we overschedule our kids and that we are robbing today's youth of their imaginations.

And finger-pointing isn't just reserved for intergenerational comparisons. As Berkeley author Ayelet Waldman writes in her new book, Bad Mother, it's often society, the media and other moms who are hardest on us.

With all this firepower of vitriol aimed at us, it's amazing that, as a culture, we continue to procreate at all. Our Mother's Day issue of Bay Area Parent is meant to let mothers everywhere know that it's OK - if not encouraged - to be a "Bad Mother" sometimes.

Old School vs. New School Moms
We have more tools. More toys. More information. But are today's moms better?
By Millicent Skiles

Nothing highlights sharp contrasts in the history of motherhood like a glance back at our own childhood. For most of us, this was, after all, the 1960s and 70s. We were part of the generation that went to sleep on our stomachs as infants, blissfully unaware that it could cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. We were fed solids at 2 months. We all crammed in the back seat of the family station wagon, free from the constraints of seatbelts. Our parents smoked and drank alcohol while pregnant.

What were our parents thinking?

And yet, these same people may have serious criticisms about our own parenting styles.

They see modern day moms stretched to the limit, driven to juggle careers, kids and marriage with little room for failure. They look at our children and see over-programmed little adults, spending hours in daycare, shuttled from one activity to another, who barely have a chance to daydream.

So, who is the best mother?

In honor of Mothers Day, Bay Area Parent talked with moms and grandmothers to get their perspective on parenting styles of the 60s and 70s versus today. The biggest difference between the two eras of childhood, moms say, is the fact that kids are rarely seen playing in their neighborhoods these days.

"It would be dinnertime, and my mother would go out the front door and yell our names. Living here in the city, you would never do that," says San Francisco mom Brittany Lauer.

Today, there are also more guidelines to follow. Our parents had limited exposure to information, usually the advice of doctors and their own mothers. Today, there are countless Web sites, parenting books and magazines offering all sorts of guidance.

"And there are so many more rules," says Judy Howard, a grandmother from San Francisco. "Long, long lists of things you can't eat, can't use. Things I never even thought about, far more than cigarettes or coffee."

Almost every modern day parent has some shocking story about how they were raised. Howard saw nothing wrong with smoking a little pot during pregnancy to mellow out the fierce kicks of her daughter, Mill Valley mom Susannah Murdock. Murdock, on the other hand, felt much too guilty to test the theory that drinking a Guinness would help her milk come in. "If ever there was an 'Oscar and Felix' of motherhood, it's us," Murdock says wryly.

While pot smoking may not have been the norm, it was certainly not uncommon to see pregnant women indulging in cigarettes, drinking alcohol and even going on diets if they gained more than the doctor-approved 23 pounds.

After the baby was born, aspirin was used for fevers and moms reached for a bottle of ipecac syrup to induce vomiting if a poison had been ingested. Infants were cradled in a mother's arms while riding around in the front seat of cars.

Today, of course, these are all complete no-nos. California didn't make the wearing of seatbelts mandatory until 1986. States made infant car seats a legal requirement between 1978 and 1985. The notion that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure was beginning to take root.

Are you a Bad Mother?
Ayelet Waldman looks at how the label is choking American Moms By Peggy Spear

A few years ago, Berkeley writer Ayelet Waldman became the poster child for the words Bad Mother. She didn't commit murder, lose her kids at an airport or embezzle thousands of dollars from the PTA, but she did something way worse. She admitted she loved her husband more than her children.

The "confession," which appeared in an essay in the New York Times style section, was meant to shed light on the fact that so many mothers of her era refocused the passion of their marriages into the raising of their children. She and her husband still enjoyed a passionate relationship in addition to raising their four young kids.

Still, the damage was done, and her words made her the subject of many mommy blogs and landed her on Oprah, the target of what she calls the Bad Mother police. She was called evil, crazy, a menace. Some even urged that her children be taken away from her.

The incident didn't raise the national consciousness about the importance of keeping a marriage healthy while raising children;- it instead illuminated America's obsession with what Waldman calls "these varied archetypical manifestations of maternal evil." Our culture, it seems, loves a Bad Mother story. (Case in point: Britney Spears.) It gives the rest of us the opportunity to feel a little bit better about trying to do the impossible job of being a perfect mother.

About Peggy Spear
Peggy Spear is editor of Bay Area Parent, East Bay and San Francisco/Peninsula editions. She is also a mother of three children, ages 17, 15 and 11. She is a veteran of piecing together a variety of summer activities for her kids, and with the exception a few sunburns and burnt bagel bites, has been pretty successful.

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