The bad mom trope abounds in popular culture, finding patrons in those eager to label women in whatever way they deem fit. And this is low hanging fruit, layering on guilt and shame on the said woman. What exactly is a bad mom trope? My whole childhood, I have seen my mother making sacrifices. Overt ones, like saving the last bite of chicken curry for my brother when she really likes it. Or covert ones, where she gives up something so I could buy a backpack I wanted. She does what a “perfect” mother needs to do. The sacrificial mother has always been put on a pedestal completely ignoring the implications that come with this trope; it’s a sad reality for women with a burden that needs to be kept alive. Remember the scene in Taylor Swift‘s, The Man music video where the park is crowded with women pushing strollers with babies and children in them?
The moment a dad lifts up his daughter and throws her into the air while standing, the world takes notice. Praise him, observe him! Swift’s entire song is undoubtedly an anthem for women and the expectations we face that men do not. However, this particular scenario serves as an advocate for all mothers.
Because in a society riddled with stereotypes, mothers are given a goddess-like status, they have to play the part of an infallible. This is never a question for men; their role as a parent is just to bring food to the table, be a provider. Their emotional engagement is never questioned and never asked for, for a long time.
The Unpaid Labour
Society or family members often forget to see the human side of the mother; moms are allowed to be carefree, annoying, and miserable, and have a life and identity apart from their kids. A distant region frequently bounded by centuries of patriarchy is the metaphor of the bad mom—the one who is not a symbol of sacrifice, perseverance, and obedience. Or maybe she is just being herself and trying to live motherhood in a different way.
In today’s world, women are choosing not to have children because they don’t want to start a family in a world where their life’s meaning is merely reduced to taking care of the kids, catering to the misogyny in society. In India, the birth rate has reached a historical low. Instead, many have reframed it, injecting freshness into the rhetoric by departing from the conventional narrative, abandoning motherhood, and actively choosing to not become one.
Pop Culture Narrative
Where we have a plethora of perfect mothers, a risqué comedy flick like Bad Moms (2016) filled a gap in the media by focusing light on the harsher truth about women’s already short career graph in society, which becomes much more restricted as they reach a certain age or milestone in life—motherhood, to be specific. The movie showed society how to embrace women’s flaws; it humanises and elevates mothers’ experiences, who are generally portrayed in the media as one-dimensional carers.
It permitted mothers to make mistakes, experience parental frustration, and battle to maintain both their family and their own personal integrity. In essence, the bad mom phenomenon provides room for mothers who choose to look to live on their own terms. A critical issue arises: Who is permitted to be a “bad mom,” and to what extent? It has the potential to broaden our definition and notion of motherhood. This situation was heavily talked about in America Ferrera’s monologue from the Barbie movie:
You’re supposed to love being a mother but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behaviour, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining.
#WCW: AMERICA FERRERA 💕✨
Empowering women everywhere! The inspiring actor, producer, and director had one of the most talked about scenes and monologues from Greta Gerwig’s blockbuster film #Barbie. 💕@barbiethemovie now streaming on @PrimeVideo.
🎥: @wbpictures… pic.twitter.com/3fiCkROiHv
— Critics Choice Awards (@CriticsChoice) September 20, 2023
The latest person to come under the Internet’s heat and be labelled as a bad mom is Sophie Turner, aka the Queen of the North. After the breakout news of her divorce, people ran to their keyboards to look for dirt on the actress and paint her into this trope. Media outlets mentioned that Turner is currently a major party girl in addition to being a bad mom. Some outlets hurried over and published pictures of Turner having a good time with coworkers at the wrap party of Joan, casting aspersions on the star as she downed shots. You shouldn’t be shocked to find that women and men were collectively turning against Turner, labelling her a neglecting mom and a party girl.
But there was this little circle of people who did something unusual and wonderful. Some people in particular have seen through the criticism and flocked to Turner’s side in her comments on Instagram and other online forums. Many women felt related to this scenario of what it felt like to be criticised. Call it the Barbie movie effect. The statement that Turner is being portrayed as being in the wrong by living a life that periodically separates her from her children really struck a chord with them. The fact that women are so much more than their bad mom-good moms’ title and a lot of women alike sympathised with her against nasty narratives being pushed everywhere on social media.
Incoming Bare Minimum From The Dads
I read this famous quote on the internet saying, ‘If a dad takes his kids to McDonald’s, he’s a cool dad. If a mom does, she’s a lazy mom.’ In many families, most of the moms, even the working ones, are seen with the major responsibility for child care, while the dads are getting pats on their backs for helping as much as he is able (sounds like a tough job).
Barbie was correct
Sophie Turner takes one small part for the first time in four year and Joe Jonas has to WATCH his OWN children!!!!! Say it ain’t so, he has to watch his own kids?? What’s the world coming too? pic.twitter.com/1eL2hvbuax
— shelly 🇺🇸 (@LFreenor) September 3, 2023
Even if she works and earns an equal, lower, or greater income than the father, it is expected that the mother will take on the task of assisting the child with schoolwork or preparing all of their meals and feeding them on time. In our Indian society, these things are joke material for fathers at their tea time who complain about their wives and kids when they themselves are barely invested in their kids’ schooling or life choices. How often has it been a joke when a man is unaware of what class his child is in? And yet, we don’t see people rushing to call him a bad dad.