When reporters told Doris Lessing she had won a Nobel Prize in Literature as she was hauling groceries out of a cab in 2007, she said: "I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I am delighted. It's a royal flush." Few would dispute that she is a brilliant writer. Her work is lucid, inspiring, and provocative. But it would be hard to argue that she was a brilliant mother. When she fled to London to pursue her writing career and communist ideals, she left two toddlers with their father in South Africa (another, from her second marriage, went with her).Lessing is used as an example of a "bad mother" because she made a move that many men have made for their careers: Leaving her children home with her partner while she pursued her own career objectives.
But the "bad mother" meme has been popping up a lot lately. Kara Jesella wrote last year for The American Prospect about confessional "bad-mom culture."While some women, like the ones Jesella wrote about, thrive on the rebellion of being a bad or selfish mother, it's clear that women are judged and judged harshly for their performance as mothers.
One thing is clear, women (and often men) are extremely judgmental about motherhood. Most often this judgment comes among their peers -- whispers behind backs at playgroups or "I would never" emails on listservs. When it comes to women in the public eye, however, the petty comments on women's performance as mothers becomes legitimate discussion in the media, despite the fact that men's performance as fathers is rarely the subject of such discussion. Some of that is due to the fact that some women are famous because they are mothers (see Kate Gosselin or Ocotomom). But I've never understood this weird obsession with rating others' performance as mothers. It seems like motherhood is hard enough as is without others judging you all the time.