They shock us now, those women who bucked convention and did things the way men have often done—just as selfishly and callously—denying maternity in a way that seems to defy nature. Take Dorothea Lange, the photographer who paid foster families to look after five of her children (and stepchildren) for months at a stretch while she traveled around California photographing migrant workers. Were these women bad mothers? Or talented, single-minded women who struggled to find ways to both create and give their children what they needed? They certainly make the rest of us seem outstanding—and put our ongoing, deafening, and dull debates about bad mothers in sharp relief. Today, women no longer need to escape their families to work or be happy—now they need to escape their own unrealistic expectations of what a good mother is. Guilt, judgment, and a distrust of female ambition are a hallmark of modern parenting, along with the literature about female fretting, which, over the past few years, has turned into a symphony of self-loathing. We spend more time with our children than women did in the 1950s, yet we consistently report higher levels of stress. Perplexingly, study after study has found that mothers are less happy than women without kids. And books about bad or uptight mothers are more anxious and defensive than defiant and liberating. Instead of giving the parenting police the bird on matters like food, sleep, work, and schools—or having a life—we write apologias. Haven’t millions of years of evolution already determined that the vast bulk of mothers would sever their heads with an ax to protect their offspring? Enough. If you love your kids and are doing your best, if they are alive, safe, and sane, then your mind should simply be at ease.
Julia Baird is really nice in this, the case for bad mothers.