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Bad Moms and Forgiveness Day

Published in ChicagoNow, June 26, 2017

Today, on Forgiveness Day, I’m thinking that all of the women who saw themselves in the movie Bad Moms need to forgive themselves, and then forgive each other. I saw the movie last night on the recommendation of my daughter. She and her friends found it funny and highly relatable. I found it sad.

Perhaps motherhood, like childbirth, is another of those things best seen in the rearview mirror. My memories are a bit fuzzy but I can’t recall anything from Bad Moms that resonated with how I experienced being a mother. Clearly, the times were different and the stresses were fewer back in the 1970s and 1980s, but the judgmental meanness the movie depicts was largely absent.

Some of my friends worked, but most of us who were stay-at-home parents didn’t see them as bad moms. In fact, we understood that they might need our help from time to time. We drove their kids to activities and forgave them for rarely reciprocating. We understood. And we didn’t judge ourselves that harshly either. We did the best we could and forgave ourselves for our lapses. There was no standard of perfection for motherhood.

I was one of those volunteering, PTA moms, but I didn’t see myself in the group of moms who smugly ran the school in the movie. During the ten-year break I took from working to give birth to three children and launch the youngest into kindergarten, I felt blessed that I could contribute by running the school bookstore, designing a “safe phone” system to ensure parents were notified if their children were absent and they had forgotten to call them in sick, and co-chairing PTA meetings.

I remember asking one of my working friends what I could do to get her to attend PTA meetings. Were there issues she wanted to discuss that were not on the agenda? When she replied nothing would entice her to come out for an evening meeting after she had worked all day, I admit I was disappointed. But I understood and forgave her and would never have labeled her a bad mom.

So why did my daughter and her friends find this movie hilarious while I watched it and didn’t LOL once? I guess they identified with the character played by Mila Kunis, a working mother (part time) who has to do everything for her two kids and child-like husband. She prepares meals, packs lunches, drives carpools, helps with (and does) homework, and runs interference for anything that goes wrong in their lives. She is also always running later and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In short, she’s the 2017 version of a good mom — overworked and under-appreciated.

I’m pretty sure the hardworking, stressed out mothers of today would not really indulge in drunken trips through the grocery store or frat-like wild parties to campaign for PTA President. Sure, it’s supposed to be satire and silly, but is this what moms fantasize about in 2017? I’m sure they would like more help from their partners and fewer demands from their children, but the wild behaviors in this movie left this old-fashioned mother wondering who’s watching the kids?

There were some obvious solutions for the Kunis character. She could have found a better job. She could have separated from her husband. Her kids were not babies and could have made their own breakfasts, packed their own lunches, done their own homework, and cleaned up their rooms. In fact, that is what happened at the end of the movie.

Funny moments? Sure, there were some. Kunis driving in frantic circles, eating lunch in the car, and late for everything. The list of prohibited foods for the school bake sale. The crazy millennial work environment where Kunis also had to be mom to her much younger co-workers who took off two weeks when Jon Snow died on Game of Thrones. The lazy husband who is basically her third child. The session with the marital therapist who tells them to give up when they can’t name three good things about each other.

But as a mother from a different generation who fought for women’s rights, this movie did not reflect my world. Many of the hardships Kunis endured were self-inflicted and very first world. The best part of the movie for me was the snippets over the credits of conversations between the actresses and their actual mothers. No bad moms here — just love, support, humor, and understanding from one generation to another.

I’ll admit I misled my daughters when I raised them to believe they could have it all. Balancing family and career is tough. I just hope they can forgive themselves and their peers for falling short of their fantasy of perfection.


by Laurie Levy
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