Margaret Christakos ponders the place of the "Bad Mother" in culture:
A culture that truly cares about women must care about our full range of selfhood, bad and good, errant and recuperating. Tonight, I am reminded of this while watching a Nurse Jackie rerun, the Showtime harrowing late-night comedy about a working mother whose painkiller addiction has ground itself so brazenly in her older daughter Grace’s face that Jackie’s actions have taught the girl never to believe her, no matter how sweetly Jackie explains or apologizes. Mother’s disastrousness becomes a role model, though, when teenaged Grace rebels by using pills and lying in bold face right back. This contemporary feminist script allows us to look deep into a dysfunctional mother-child dyad, and see the pained humanity and ugliness of its complicated hall of mirrors. The treacherous bond between the two generations yanks and torques, but never breaks, and as a woman viewer I am spellbound.
This outright Bad Mother flips the formula we have so often seen in popular culture, where an uptight, convention-locked normative mother strains at the rebellious antics of a rule-breaking, sensation-seeking daughter or son, shoring up a mythology of the artistic personality: Repressed middle-class mother gives rise to explosive boho-artist intellectual. I thought about this the other night while watching (yes, more winter TV) the movie adaptation of Susannah Kaysen's teenage psych-ward memoir Girl, Interrupted, with its crisp, detached, proper 1960s mother wobbling with embarrassment at her bright, disaffected daughter’s suicide attempt. Individuating in the shadow of a creepy-upright-remote mom offers a child a vacuum in which to flail about for feeling, meaning, and unique point of view. It’s comforting to deal with the Absent Mom, for we never get to know her—she remains a powerless cipher who runs through a very short list of scoffs and whinges, eeks and scowls. But what about the Bad Mother who seriously misconstrues boundaries, and overwhelms her offspring with an omnipresent stream of interfering intrusion, erotic effusiveness, endless commentary, and overstepping physicality?