My friend Ellen posted a status update on Facebook: “For some reason, Pinterest thinks I’m interested in lists of things I should do to be a super-duper mom who never bruises her children’s fragile egos and aims to make every moment of their days 1,000 percent positive and enlightening.”
“Pinterest,” she wrote, “is mistaken.”
The recently released comedy Bad Moms hurls the “Pinterest-perfect mommy myth” against the wall, shattering it like a doe-eyed Precious Moments figurine. Some reviewers have complained that the movie glorifies bad moms and bad parenting, and the Christian review site Movieguide even started an online petition against Bad Moms, saying it insults mothers and is “dangerous” because of “excessive cussing by mom’s [sic], drunkenness, sexual perversion, and disregard of parental responsibilities and safety.” (This begs at least one question: Would excessive cussing by dads be more palatable?)
While there is no arguing that Bad Moms is a raunchy romp, I respectfully disagree with Movieguide’s claim that the movie insults mothers. I believe it attempts to do just the opposite. It both portrays the many ways that committed mothers are overworked and overwhelmed and affirms the value of what is often considered “women’s work,” including parenting, community involvement, and domestic responsibilities.
There’s redemption in Bad Moms, too. We witness mothers deeply loving their children, forming new friendships, and offering true compassion and forgiveness. A character who—at the start of the movie—rarely gives her son support or attention, is shown near the end handing him a packed lunch (containing a kale salad, no less!), promising to start attending his baseball games, and giving him a long, loving (and mutual) embrace. Another character creates new, healthy boundaries with her employer as well as with her formerly entitled kids.
Yes, Bad Moms does all of this in the context of cursing, vulgarity, and drunken situations. But, let’s be real, if you buy tickets for an R-rated comedy written by the men who brought us The Hangover, should you really expect to see The Song of Bernadette? I appreciate the filmmakers for telling a specifically female story and letting women carry the cast—as do the new Ghostbusters and the forthcoming Ocean’s Eight.
As a mother of four, I welcome the attempt to explore the challenges of motherhood (although it should be noted that these characters are privileged, mostly white suburbanites—the group of moms, I admit, whom I know best.) The movie’s star, Mila Kunis, has said thatBad Moms is a “love letter” from the writers to their wives “because they have these amazing, wonderful partners in life.” That’s a letter worth writing.
Still, despite its stellar cast, numerous funny one-liners, and female-centric storyline, I can’t recommend Bad Moms. My hesitation has less to do with its vulgarity and more with the movie’s uneven tone and promotion of unhelpful stereotypes.
Kunis’ character Amy Mitchell has two children, but she says she feels as if she has three, given her husband’s ineptitude. Early in the film, she finds him in his home office engaging in an ugly, online sexual relationship. That the camera lingers too long and then returns to the naked, hyper-sexualized woman on his computer screen seems a nod from the writers to any husbands who were dragged along to Bad Moms by their wives. (All hail the male gaze!) I found it equally sloppy when the writers sunk to racist stereotypes—Ivy League universities prefer Asians, Latino men are good lovers, and so on.
Lest you call me a killjoy for calling out these details, I should note that, if, like The Hangover, Bad Moms were all overblown fantasy—as some of it is, including the TED Talk-style PTA presentation about bake sale protocols, or the main characters’ wild rampage through their local grocery store—maybe all of this would be easier to digest. But the movie flips and flops between a sentimental, romantic mom-edy and broad comedy. While The Hangover doesn’t try to educate men about, say, marriage, pet care, or child-rearing, Bad Moms issues warm and even helpful lessons about the same matters.
Setting aside these flaws and inconsistencies, here’s what really makes the film fail: Almost all the men in the film are caricatures—bungling, unattractive, and clueless.
The school soccer coach allows himself to be bullied by a tyrannical PTA president (played by the always remarkable Christina Applegate) and meekly asks that she not get him fired because he needs money to buy cat food. Yes, cat food. The principal, too, cowers in her presence and allows a child to be falsely accused of drug possession to please her. Almost none of the fathers in the movie are effective or involved parents. Even in the epic PTA meeting at the end, only a handful attendees are men, and here, too, they’re shown as unlovable and unwelcome. When Amy gives her heartening, last-stand speech about the pressures of motherhood and some of the women stand up to confess their imperfections, one says, “I like my nanny more than my husband.” The husband, shlumpy and unappealing of course, wilts. (Well, God bless him—God bless anyone—for going to the PTA meeting in the first place!)
And although it’s a relief to see Kristen Bell’s likeable character escape the task of ironing her humorless husband’s underwear so that she can spend time with friends, did the husband really need to be transformed from a stern taskmaster to a wimpy stroller-pusher? Why is it comedy—and such an insult to the man—to see her husband with a diaper bag over his shoulder, pushing his children in a stroller? That’s not comedy, nor is it a punishment. That’s just parenthood.
“In this day and age,” Kristen Bell’s character laments, “it’s impossible to be a good mom.” This is the powerful raison d’être for the movie Bad Moms, and I commend the writers’ attempt to explore it.
It almost goes without saying that most moms struggle with the pressure of perfection.
As a reporter, author, and speaker, I’ve addressed hundreds of parents at MOPS and other parenting groups, published three books about motherhood, and written a family life column for the Chicago Tribune. In all of my interactions with mothers over the years, I’ve learned that many women—just like the characters in Bad Moms—are doing their very best and yet live with the worry that they’re “screwing up their kids.”
In my book MOMumental, I solicited “bad mom” stories in a chapter called “Mommy Misdemeanors.” And misdemeanors they were: flares of temper, moments of distraction, and examples of cutting corners that, from where I sit, are perfectly understandable imperfections in the relentless, exhausting, and important work that is raising kids. Most of us are hungry to know that we are not bad, not perfect, but okay-enough moms.
If you’re in the spiral of second-guessing yourself or feeling you might be the next person to run around the grocery store swigging liquor or punching the cardboard cutout advertising mops or cereal, be real with other mothers. Confess your own “bad mom” moments. Look to authors such as Carla Barnhill who in The Myth of the Perfect Mother articulates how women—particularly women of faith—are often discouraged and feel like they can’t “measure up” to a culture and a church that puts too much pressure on them to be picture-perfect. She also calls out our tendency to make a cult out of family life and encourages women to shift perspective, find their grounding in faith, and let go of unrealistic expectations.
Glennon Doyle Melton’s blog and books, as well as Shauna Niequist’s recently released Present Over Perfect, do the same. Melton writes, “Nobody’s got it all figured out. NOBODY. We’ve all got pain and confusion and joy and pride and exhaustion surrounding this parenting thing.” Motherhood, after all, is a marathon—not a sprint. We’re all bound to be “bad moms” sometimes.
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