Madlyn Primoff and the Branding of a Bad Mommy

While Primoff's actions were obviously reckless, this story has sparked one of America's favorite -- and most judgmental -- conversations about "Bad Mommies.
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This weekend, a mother of two in Scarsdale, NY did what I often think about doing when my kids' sibling squabbles reach a crescendo: She pulled over and asked them to get out of the car. Unlike the events that unfold in my disciplinary daydreams, however, her parenting tactic veered off course when she actually drove away, leaving her 10- and 12-year-old girls on the side of the road.

From still-sketchy details being reported about the case, it appears that the older daughter made it back into the car but the younger girl ended up at a local police station, where her harried mother, Madlyn Primoff, arrived to retrieve her hours later. To Mom's surprise, she was slapped with a charge of child endangerment and put behind bars.

While Primoff's actions were obviously reckless, this story has sparked one of America's favorite - and most judgmental - conversations about "Bad Mommies." I don't support abandoning children on the side of the road, but I do know from personal experience and from those who 'fess up on my website,, that the whole notion of "Bad Mommies" is a fragile social construction. We receive posts every day that repeatedly prove to me that the intense and unrealistic pressure on mothers to constantly juggle work and family obligations has led to not-so-shocking outbursts from otherwise sane women. While most of our site's users have committed what we like to call "Mommy Misdemeanors," I'm sure that if Primoff were to have vented about this considerably more serious incident on truuMOM, she'd have received more than a few "metoo" clicks of support from the community. That screeching sound of kids battling it out in the backseat has a unique, nails-on-the-chalkboard quality and could push even the calmest mom to the brink. I confess that I, too, have raised my voice (Ok, screamed. Loudly!), and pulled over to make idle threats. Of course, they were idle, but at the very least I understand where Primoff was coming from.

It's no surprise that Madlyn Primoff, a high-powered attorney from a high-income neighborhood is the latest to join the Bad Mother Club. Women like Primoff are expected to kick butt at work with a Fembot-like smile while simultaneously ruling the kitchen in an apron and high heels cooking organic dinners for the whole family. Women like her aren't allowed to have lapses in judgment, a fact swiftly documented by a local New York news outlet,, which went out to interview neighborhood parents who were very vocal about this manic mommy being a "lunatic and irresponsible."

Stories like Primoff's should not result in a free-for-all vilification of a mother-gone-bad. Thankfully, with sites like mine, books like Ayelet Waldman's "Bad Mother," and blogs that proudly bear monikers like "Her Bad Mother's basement," women are becoming more open about their mommy misdemeanors and there can be more to the conversation now.

A piece in the American Prospect explores the whole bad mommy phenomenon through a feminist lens, saying maybe we're not just bad - we're mad. We're "mad about how society treats us, about the ideal we're being forced to live up, about the fact that we still don't feel we can talk openly about or parenting experiences.

Some have argued that this new confessional culture encouraging women to tell it like it is only takes things from "bad" to worse. Not only are we bad, we're bad and proud of it. We're bragging about our shortcomings and taking as many mothers who will follow down with us.

But I disagree. Why does a woman speaking her pervasive inner dialogue out loud go straight from restraint to flaunting? Isn't there a middle ground called sharing? Or better yet, honesty? Discussing what's real, not what's ideal, is not the same as bragging about being "bad."

Primoff took things too far and certainly made a bad choice, but should she be condemned to wear a scarlet "M"? I don't know yet because we don't have all the facts. Moreover, I'm not interested in judging her. I'm more interested in hoping that the public scrutiny fixated upon her will further expose motherhood for the truly complex job that it is.

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