Richard Roeper, go jump in a lake.
Okay, that’s immature. But that was my honest first reaction to Roeper’s recent column, “January Jones leads in Gross Moms bracket,” where an unmarried, childless film critic decides to bash dedicated celebrity moms and showcase his ignorance all in one fell swoop.
What’s a “gross mom”? According to Roeper (perhaps right behind Dr. Spock and Dr. Sears as America’s foremost childrearing expert), quite a few parenting strategies are disgusting. He knocks Mayim Bialik for co-sleeping, breastfeeding and elimination communication, Alicia Sliverstone for premastication as a weaning technique, and January Jones for (grossest of all!) ingesting her encapsulated placenta.
Perhaps Roeper thought he would only be offending only these three bizarre celebrities with his comments, completely unaware that thousands of other mothers around the world use these techniques. This one, right here, in fact. I have a jar of placenta pills in my fridge right now. My son sleeps next to me, is exclusively breastfed and we’re working on learning signs and signals to help him act on his instinct not to soil himself. I admit, I had never heard of premastication, but I’ve since learned that it’s not new: mothers have done it for centuries as a way of introducing their children to solid food and helping them digest all its nutrients.
Roeper chides these women for “thinking we have the ability to reinvent parenthood because we play other people for a living.” Had he done really any research at all, he might have discovered that their ideas are actually pretty normal. In fact, there’s scientific evidence that babies are designed to sleep next to their mothers and that it can actually be safer than putting a child down to sleep in a crib. Or that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding at least until the age of 2 or beyond. He might have realized that most people in the world can’t run to Walgreen’s to pick up a pack of Huggies, and that in many societies, infants and toddlers learn to “go” just like adults. And Jones was right – we are the only mammals that don’t routinely ingest their placenta – but that’s changing. Many mothers are discovering placenta ingestion as a strategy to boost their milk production and ward off postpartum depression.
But the issue isn’t really what Roeper attacks. Lots of mothers make different choices, and those are also valid. It’s that he feels its perfectly acceptable to tell mothers how to do their jobs. Do I tell Richard Roeper what to say about the little movies he watches for a living? Nope. I am not a film critic. But somehow being a film critic and writing a weekly column qualifies him as an expert in child care and mothering.
Heads up, Roeper et al.: Mothers are not public property. If our children are safe and happy, what’s it to you? Is Alicia Silverstone asking you to chew her kid’s every bite? Does Mayim Bialik’s son accidentally pee on your white carpet? No? Then shut your pie hole.
I’d like to be more calm and composed about this issue, but it’s hard not to get angry. Everyone is fond of saying lovely little catch phrases about motherhood – that it’s the “hardest job in the world,” or that the “work is never done.” But you know what we need? Respect. Not cute little phrases or pats on the head. Mothers are hard working people, and thus, they deserve the assumption that they’re doing their best for their child. If a mother’s love is unmatched and unwavering, why don’t we assume that they make choices based on what’s best for the child they love so much?
Unfortunately, this type of behavior doesn’t end at childless, middle-aged writers, as Liz and I witnessed at the playground this morning. Other mothers are fond of making these biting little comments, insinuating (or sometimes directly saying) that a parent isn’t taking good care of their child. Maybe it’s the fact that we moms get no respect, that our never ending work is met with criticism and derision, that we feel the need to pick on others. We’re like schoolyard bullies, passing on our own insecurities to the skinny kid with glasses in the form a of a black eye.
Richard Roeper, I’m sure I’ll have to meet you one day at some work-related event. The Chicago journalism world is small. I guess that’ll be awkward. But I wanted you to know that you weren’t just picking on “weird” celebrity moms with your funny little column. You were undermining my valuable, day-to-day, often grueling job of raising my child. I hope you’re going to send your own mom flowers this Mother’s Day, but even if you don’t, consider this present to the mothers of the world: treat us as competent, intelligent decision-makers, not objects of ridicule.