I wake up every night with esophagus-searing heartburn and the sensation that I’m suffocating. I cry, smearing the mascara I was too lazy to remove on my pregnancy pillow. My husband tells me it will be okay, which he can now do without even waking up.
I take a bath, eat a peach, listen to Fresh Air podcasts, read a chapter of my Neil Diamond book, and try to fall back asleep, all the while moaning and grunting like Ed Asner at Jazzercise. None of this is a big deal in the grand scheme of pregnancy issues, but would it be okay if I just sat back and crapped on other people for a while to make myself feel better?
Look, I am not a mom yet. I am nervous Buster isn’t going to get the best mom in the world, because I’ve never been baby crazy or even changed a diaper. This list makes me feel better, because in many ways, these ladies lowered the mom bar. Let me know if I missed anyone.
The Nine Worst Moms in History
1. Joanna Kramer: This mother, played by Meryl Streep in the 1979 film, “Kramer vs. Kramer,” represented all that was wrong with ‘70s moms. Meryl – icy, selfish and put-upon – bails on her family, only to return a year and a half later to take back her son and screw up the life he’s finally put together with his pops, played by Dustin Hoffman. When she’s done scarring her kid and taking her “me” time, possibly doing some self-actualized macramé, she waltzes in and sparks a big, ugly custody battle. She wins little Billy back, but in the end, decides to ditch the kid for a second time. The whole ordeal is so emotionally grueling for Billy, he gets an Oscar nod, and remains the youngest actor to ever be nominated.
There were so many Meryl moms when I was growing up in San Francisco; they got tricked into motherhood by the ‘60s and didn’t dig it. They spent their food money on babysitters just to get away from the kids who were sucking the lives out of them.
Joanna Kramer was the quintessential Bad ‘70s Mom, with her tailored trench coat, chunky leather boots, perfectly fitted blouses, neck scarves and patrician cheekbones, she made ditching your child so glamorous, it made you wonder why any sap would stick around.
2. Medea: This one is a gimme. Or more of a takey. Takey your own kids’ lives.
You gotta go mythological for a mother this venal. Here’s the story: Medea and her man, Jason, are doing just fine, until he gets an offer to marry a royal princess and bails on Medea and their two sons. In Euripides’ famous play based on the Greek myth, Medea, is so pissed off at Jason for leaving her she pretends to forgive him and sends his new bride some poison-laced robes, which kill her instantly. This is pretty satisfying, but to really stick it to her ex, she decides the only thing to do is kill her sons, not because they’ve done anything wrong, but because this revenge thing really needs a kicker. In the play, Medea leaves the stage with a knife and we hear the boys screaming. Granted, it sucks to be left for a princess, especially after doing so much for a guy, but killing your kids means you will always make this list. And as a bonus, when someone like Susan Smith kills her kids, your name is going to come up until the end of time.
3. Marilu Henner: I feel a bit harsh putting this beloved actress on the list of worst moms. I mean, all she did was write the parenting book, “I Refuse to Raise a Brat” and plaster her two sons, Nicholas and Joseph, on the cover. I loved her on “Taxi,” however, I would hate to have my mother’s literary career and overall cred depend on my ability to keep my shit together at the grocery store, at recess, at day care and everywhere prying eyes were looking for signs that I was, in fact, a brat.
According to the book’s publishers, motherhood is Marilu’s most important role, and she can tell you how to handle “temper tantrums, bedtime issues, sibling rivalry, lying, and much more.”
Geez, Marilu, why don’t you set the kids up for failure? How will they ever be perfect enough to literally be the poster children for poster children? As if that’s not enough pressure, Marilu penned “Healthy Kids,” in which she explains how to get your kids to exercise and gives “scores of tips on transitioning from dead food to live food.” Isn’t eating “dead food” from time to time what being a kid is all about? Now these boys can’t be chubby or bratty, ever. I know mommy needs to sell some books, but she didn’t have to feature her actual kids on the covers, ensuring them nonstop scrutiny. Then again, as Marilu writes, “Children must learn that they can’t always get their way.”
4. Naomi Judd: It’s not her fault, but no matter how old she gets, Naomi Judd is hotter than her daughters. Not even a bad case of Hep C could diminish her timeless beauty. Naomi outshines even Ashley, who is kind of a movie star, with impossibly satisfying bone structure. Still, not as lovely as mom. I file Naomi Judd with Demi Moore under “painfully pretty moms,” who can’t help but cast a big beautiful shadow over their daughters. And as we all know from Bette Midler, shadows are cold, a cold dank place to catch an eating disorder, spend hours in the mirror studying your pores, and generally go through life feeling "less than" and plain. Both of the Judd daughters are hugely successful, which should preclude Naomi from making this list. On the other hand, for all their talent, they always seem pretty bummed out, and tend to check themselves into mysterious hospitals with vague diagnoses like “isolation” and “food addiction.”
5. Terrie Petrie: You may remember her from Dr. Baden’s HBO documentary series “Autopsy.” This befuddled Canadian woman wrote to Dr. Baden for help. First, her eight-day old daughter died of SIDS, and later her three-month old twins also died of SIDS. Only, they didn’t, according to Dr. Baden. After a long investigation, the forensic pathologist concluded that Terrie, who was sleeping with her twins after going out for a few cocktails, managed to roll over on both children and smother them to death. Terrie was bummed when she got the “cause of death” news, because she was kind of crossing her fingers for “genetic abnormality.”
Now you may be thinking, how does this lady make the worst mom list, beating out the likes of serial killer Marybeth Tinning, who lost nine infants in 13 years, and seems to have killed eight of them? Well, Marybeth was a flat out psychopath and cold-blooded killer. Terrie was just a really, really bad mother who had every right to get loaded, but maybe should have considered a crib that night.
Herein lies a semantic distinction: these are examples of horrifyingly bad mommying, rather than a collection of world-class bad people. Terrie has distinguished herself by rising to new heights of neglect. Neglect is probably the thing that the really great bad moms all have in common. Say what you will about Marybeth Tinning, but she was clearly on some kind of mission. For Terrie, killing babies was an oversight, for Marybeth it was a hobby.
6. Mrs. Wolf Spider: I had to go into the animal kingdom for mothering like this. A bad mother might not make her children lunch, but a worse mother might actually make her children lunch. What I mean is, a mama wolf spider is generally large and harmless, unless you happen to be her baby wolf spider. Once born, the babies congregate on their mother’s stomach, ready to be fed. In some cases, however, they wind up being the mother’s next meal instead. It’s one thing if your mother just never “got” you, or resented you, or spent all of her time with your asshole stepfather, but it’s another thing if she decided you were more delicious than adorable. Whatever mistakes I make, it’s very comforting that I can’t be a worse mother than a wolf spider.
7. Kate Gosselin: Forget the usual stuff people hate about Kate, the bossy attitude, the haircut, or the superb exploitation of her brood. None of that lands her on this list. For me, it’s the eight little plates of hummus and sliced apples, the matching outfits, the annoying attention to maternal detail. I know one needs to be organized with that many kids, but Kate just overmoms it. While most of the worst moms in history got there by undermomming it, Kate represents all of the overmoms who not only smother their kids and make them self-absorbed entitled jerks, but also make the rest of the moms feel bad. Overmoms take seven childbirth classes while pregnant, grimly interview a slew of pediatricians, become experts on car seats and the merits of co-sleeping, start a home business selling organic baby food and generally tackle motherhood with all of the spontaneity and unfettered joy of a prison chaplain.
8. Dr. Ruth: America desperately needed Dr. Ruth. We needed her to answer questions about all the sexual nitty gritty. And Dr. Ruth is a hero, a tiny woman who became a big sharp shooter in the Israeli Army, a self-made career woman and survivor who lost her parents in Nazi Germany. I just don’t know if I want my mom writing a column for Playgirl, or bluntly answering people’s questions about G-spots, multiple orgasms, masturbation, premature ejaculation, proper condom usage, menstruation or the dangers of rough anal sex. In a word: eeeewwww. I love that Dr. Ruth exists, but to be the child of the woman whose name is synonymous with frank sex talk must be kind of rough, not as rough as the anal sex she says can be risky, but rough.
9. Joan Crawford: “No more wire hangers,” is as famous an awful mom line as there is, representing one of the worst maternal tirades captured on film. Whether or not “Mommie Dearest” is totally factual, or just the way Joan’s daughter, Christina, recalls her childhood, doesn’t matter now, because Joan is the subject of a kitsch classic and seems to have distinguished herself in a very bad way. Faye Dunaway, who brought Joan Crawford to campy life, claims the role ruined her career. The eyebrows, the wire hangers, the violent, competitive, image-obsession, the succession of boyfriends Christina had to call “uncle” and the daughter-annihilating scenery chewing meltdowns forever cement Joan Crawford in the collective consciousness as one of history’s worst mothers.