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What’s so cool about being a bad parent?

When I was 12, a small group of my friends and I would head to a local downtown parkette, hide behind a bronze statue and surreptitiously light up a cigarette. We’d pass the smoke between us for short inhales that sounded a little like asthma attacks.

It felt bad. And it felt really good. We knew smoking was bad for you; we knew it was downright stupid. But at that point, pushing back against the pressure of being perfect was as simple as that small after school ritual. It made us “bad girls”— and, as silly as it was, we were proud of it.

Now, some decades later, the newest conversation is about being a “bad mom.” Eve Vawter writes a very compelling article on how delineating yourself as “the worst mom” is not the cool thing you think it is over on Mommyish, and it’s hard not to get behind her point. All moms do not-so-great things, but why present it to the world as such? Leave the worst-mom label to the real bad moms of the world, the ones that actually endanger, hurt or neglect their children.

I’m always amazed at how similar being a parent is to being a teenager. Pregnancy can be like a second puberty; being a new parent can feel as alienating and as hostile as the halls of a new high school to a ninth grader. Suddenly, we trust trends, random “experts” or just what some stranger says on a message board to guide us.

Weirdly, the notion of peer pressure rears its ugly head once again as a parent. That horrible, ugly herd mentality that permeates so many facets of adolescence dissipates in your 20s, only to come crashing back with a vengeance when you have kids.

Like high school, there’s a schism. There are the cheerleaders of the bunch, the parents who effortlessly make their own baby food, volunteer at the local drop-in, write their own children’s books, run marathons and host the biggest and best birthday parties without rumpling their perfectly pressed chambray shirts.

And despite how annoying that parental archetype is,  the pressure to be that is really real. It’s out there. From lofty Pinterest crafts to home-cooked meals to the obsession over the perfect post-pregnancy body, the pressure to be a successful super mom or dad is as strong as the pressure was way back in high school. And when you don’t live up to what everyone else is doing—whether that means extended breastfeeding or feeding your children exclusively organic foods or baby wearing for the first year—you can definitely run into some scathing criticism.

Which is why owning the negativity can feel so refreshing. You can be the bad girl of the parenting world, the rebel, and push back against all the Martha Stewart/ Dr. Sears stuff that’s crammed down your throat from the first time you see that pink line streak across the pregnancy test window.

No, you’re not actually the “bad mom,” just like I wasn’t actually a bad kid smoking with my pals in that parkette. Just like the bad girls in my high school weren’t actually all that tough. Bad is one of those words that encompasses so many different realities—kind of like good—and “worst” is really an intentional hyperbole for effect.

It feels empowering to swim against the grain. Owning your flaws publicly on Facebook and Twitter is just a funny way to take back the human side of parenting. Just like it was way back in high school.

And while being “bad” or rebellious isn’t always automatically cool, rejecting a norm that feels restrictive or uncomfortable to you definitely is.

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