Earlier this week, P!nk posted a photo of her multi-tasking at home, cooking a meal with her 6-year-old daughter Willow and 7-month-old son Jameson. It was the kind of photo all parents can relate to -- that ever-present need to take care of business while you're taking care of babies.
The vast majority of comments that followed were of support and empathy (@jmlopez22 noted: "This is what real motherhood looks like. Good job!!"; @tange119 said: "Can't even begin to count how many times I had to do this with my son on my chest," ) but, this being social media, the singer came under fire from some corners. One comment said: “please don’t cook wearing the baby. I’ve read some really horrific stories about terrible accidents that have occurred doing this." Another: "The better alternative, I suppose if you really must, would be wearing the baby on your back. Not directly facing the hot stove.”
Before the internet, these types of criticisms used to be confined to the realms of overzealous relatives and friends who "knew better," but these days they are hard to escape. Celebrity parent-shaming has been a thing as long as tabloids have. Print media has a long history of analyzing post-baby bodies and gossiping about new moms, but those were weekly installments, not the around-the-clock critiques we get online.
Back in 2006, when Britney Spears was coming under fire because of the position of her child's car seat, it felt born out of a somewhat genuine public concern over her recent, very public nervous breakdown. In 2010, Angelina Jolie had to defend the fact that her daughter Shiloh prefers to wear boys' clothes, but given the volume of conservative voices in this country, it wasn't terribly surprising.
Last year, mommy-shaming went into overdrive. Chrissy Teigen had to defend the fact that she went out to dinner a week and a half after giving birth. Just two months later, Teigen -- probably on high-alert still -- came to the aid of Kristin Cavallari when the ex-Laguna Beach star was accused of essentially starving her own son ("Kid looks like a skeleton....sad" read one comment next to this perfectly nice family photo at the beach):
Many of the criticisms launched at famous moms say far more about the commenters' issues than the shamed celebrity's parenting skills. Last summer, mom-of-four Victoria Beckham was called "disgusting" for posting a photo of her giving her daughter a motherly peck on the lips, with the sweet tagline: "kisses from mummy X."
Similarly, just last month, Jessica Simpson came under fire for posting a perfectly innocent photo of her five-year-old daughter wearing a bikini. Simpson was criticized to such a degree about endangering her child (because: pedophilia), she eventually removed the pic. Kim Kardashian, on the other hand, doesn't even need to pose with her kids to get mommy-shamed -- posing nude is enough, and it's not just the public that has chimed in. After Kardashian's internet-breaking Paper photoshoot, Naya Rivera commented, "You're someone's mother."
Not only are these types of criticisms monumentally unfair, they add to the insecurities felt by new mothers everywhere. The specific way in which celebrity moms are publicly criticized doesn't just offer a window into how all mothers, famous or not, are criticized in the midst of figuring out new parenting, it instills further fear that they must be doing everything wrong.
Mommy-shaming has been exacerbated by both social media and a relatively new kind of parenting industry. In the 1970s and '80s, the pressures on parents were different. New fathers were expected to provide financially; new mothers were expected, above all else, to put their own personalities and interests second to that of their children (to an even greater degree than is still expected today), but at least most of them weren't made to feel neglectful if their kids somehow gained access to non-organic food or toys and clothes that weren't hypoallergenic.
Anyone who grew up in the 1970s and '80s will tell you that, for most people, it was the age of frozen convenience food, microwave dinners, playgrounds that were made of steel and concrete, and the kind of driving environment where neither carseats (nor even seatbelts) were required past the age of three. Moms drank alcohol and parents smoked in front of us with all the windows closed -- and nobody batted an eyelid. What was considered good parenting in those decades would inspire aghast online diatribes about neglect today.
2016's Bad Moms movie (which has a sequel coming out this November) isn't actually about bad mothers. It's about amazing mothers who think they "suck" because they're late for stuff sometimes, get drunk now and again, and (*gasp*) give kids store-bought desserts. The movie is also careful to repeatedly emphasize that, despite all of their frustrations, these mothers also "love being... mom[s]."
Bad Moms puts the bar for perfect mom-hood so damn high that the regular moms are supposed to be the "bad" ones -- and it's not helpful or fair to the everyday mothers watching, who absorb, relate, and then identify as such.
The most cursory of online searches reveals just how much moms beat themselves up over the smallest of infractions these days. There are currently 108,698 Instagram posts tagged #badmoms (most have nothing to do with the movie) and 26,385 Instagram posts tagged #badmommy (most not related to Tarryn Fisher's novel of the same name). The majority of these posts merely show moms having their own lives (swimming, barbecuing, enjoying a glass of wine) and feeling kinda guilty about it.
While it is undoubtedly true that male parents also have more to worry about now than they used to (according to CNN, "the number of single fathers has [risen] from more than 600,000 in 1982 to more than 2 million in 2011"), women in 2017 still take on the brunt of hands-on parent duties. According to 2011 Pew Research figures, moms spend, on average, twice as long taking care of the kids per week, than dads do. It follows then, that, as with the fashion, diet, and beauty industries before them, the relatively new perfect-parent industry relies on creating insecurities in women to make money.
It goes without saying that not getting drunk while pregnant and not smoking in rooms with small children are all positive steps forward in how American children are raised now. But most parents would be much happier if they didn't also have to wonder if they were neglecting their kids for not committing exclusively to a "holistic education" for their children, or a monthly bottle of "Kid Calming Mist" from Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop store.
The non-stop criticism of celebrity moms online is a both a snapshot of what our current culture tells all parents, and the thing that exacerbates it. There's nothing wrong with wanting the best for children and striving to keep them as safe as possible, but parenting, in the vast majority of cases, should be left up to the parents.