The last time I flipped through a People magazine in the checkout aisle at the grocery store I saw they had a flattering portrayal of the about-to-give-birth Britney Spears (will someone please, please tell me the Britney pregnancy photos are seriously digitally enhanced), including some pictures of her with her one-year old, Sean Preston. The breezy piece worked in numerous of Britney’s musings about Sean Preston’s starting to walk, her anticipation over whether he’d get a baby brother or a sister, and the generally giddy prattling you often hear from someone who’s eight-and-a-half months pregnant.
There was no mention of Britney’s mishaps with car seats, high chairs, or cups of water. So apparently People magazine, if not the rest of the mainstream media, has decided it’s time to stop raking Britney over the coals for her parenting mistakes and accidents. If so, then I’m at least one imperfect mother who’s breathing a sigh of relief.
I was invited to go on the Today show last spring to comment on Britney’s difficulties as a mother back when the media frenzy was in full flower. The day prior to the show Britney had been photographed leaving a restaurant, carrying her little Sean Preston along with a plastic cup of water. She stumbled on the sidewalk, almost dropped the water, and momentarily wobbled the baby. But of course, when you’re being followed by photographers every step of your way, “momentarily” is more than long enough for an incident like this to be commemorated on the front pages of newspapers around the world.
Although I don’t think it’s a bright idea to drive around in an SUV holding your infant on your lap, which Britney had done earlier, I felt particularly sorry for her that she was now being criticized for merely stumbling and I said so on the Today show. I also managed to offer my opinion that the criticism was sexist, because I feel certain that had it been her husband Kevin Federline who’d faltered on the sidewalk, the public’s reaction would have been exactly the opposite: “Oh, look at that poor dad, he’s trying so hard, someone help him!”
But let me save my diatribe on the double standards we have for mothers versus fathers for another article. In the meantime, back to Britney.
I was telling my little boy’s neuro-opthalmologist about my Today Show comments when I brought Joe in for his appointment a week or so later. I described how Britney was vilified in the press for accidentally jostling her baby, in spite of the fact that she hadn’t actually dropped him, and this doctor made a point I hadn’t thought of.
“Even if she had dropped the baby,” he said, “it wouldn’t mean she’s a bad mom. In my profession I sometimes see kids who have been dropped, and sometimes seriously hurt, and 99 times out of 100 it’s nothing more than an unforeseeable accident -- something the parent never dreamed would happen and is in agony over.”
Wow, he’s right. It’s not enough to defend Britney Spears because nothing bad actually happened, because sometimes bad things do happen, and not just to bad moms. Sometimes bad things happen to good moms! Everyone’s had their kid fall off the sofa, eat out of the garbage, burn their fingers on the stove . . . whatever it might be; it’s not like we let these things happen on purpose. They’re called accidents. I guess the rest of us just have to feel lucky that at least, unlike Britney, we don’t have someone following us around with a camera. We don’t have the parenting police making us feel even worse about whatever occurred by splashing a photo of the incident all over the daily paper.
So welcome to motherhood, Britney. The most important job in the world and yet you won’t do it perfectly no matter how hard you try. Motherhood is conducted by human beings, and perhaps mothers aren’t even supposed to be perfect (despite what can be done with airbrushing). I’m pretty sure children aren’t meant to be perfect, either. But is that a bad thing? In spite of the fact that mistakes are unavoidable, maybe what’s most important is to correct them, move on, and forgive ourselves.
It seems that even People magazine can do that.