The Mom Phenom: Running Amok In Literature & Television

Leah McLaren finds out why all the moms went nuts this year—and why it's so much fun to watch

Malin Akerman (wife number 3) spars with Marcia Gay Harden (wife number 1) in Trophy Wife

Malin Åkerman (wife number 3) spars with Marcia Gay Harden (wife number 1) in Trophy Wife

As anyone who has entered into motherhood blindly with the best intentions—which is to say, every single mom I know—finds out, it’s a total minefield of crazy expectations. Historically, mothers were supposed to be the Virgin Mary in a June Cleaver dress, but then feminism happened, and, while it was great to vote and work and schlep around in jeans, mothers were expected to be selfless and sweet as well as professionally successful and socially independent. The media actually tried to sell it to us as a bonus: Hey, look, moms, you can have it all! You can work 60 hours a week in an office tower AND wake up at 4 a.m. to make cupcakes for the bake sale. Isn’t this liberation GREAT?

Now, pop culture is finally catching up to our refreshingly common real-life failure to meet said insane benchmarks. 2013 is officially the year of the misbehaving mom. Mothers have run amok in literature and television: Ranging from sassy step-moms to recovering addicts, they’re all groundbreaking in a world where “Mom” is still largely synonymous with a pleasant, predictable lady who lives in perpetual cookie-baking, ride giving servitude.

For some mothers, flaunting their shortcomings—even revelling in their flaws—is a relief; by acknowledging their foibles first, these women are part of the new parenting paradigm that acknowledges challenges rather than putting up the know-it-all front of yore. To wit: The popular blog Reasons Mommy Drinks, by Toronto based Lyranda Martin-Evans and Fiona Stevenson, is a compendium of darkly funny anecdotes about parenthood conveniently combined with simple cocktail recipes; their posts are being released by Random House in book form Sept. 10. Their blog and book aren’t really about drinking, they say, but making light of the chaos-inducing life-bomb that is new motherhood. “Honestly, what mom has time to whip up a thyme-infused muddled berry-tini?” Martin-Evans says.

Actual motherhood, as fellow Toronto author Jowita Bydlowska well knows, leaves little time for artisanal tipples, but lots of room for serious stumbles. Her recent memoir, Drunk Mom, a harrowing account of her relapse and recovery, counters what Bydlowska calls “this delusional idea of what a mother is, like it’s innate to know what to do with an infant as soon as it comes out of you. You can have all the love in the world, but that’s not going to raise anybody. I had all the love, and so what?”

Love is, apparently, not all you need. The two books join the stack of American tomes released in the past year whose very names conjure up images of marauding mothers blue in the face from shouting at their toddlers—or from a wee splash of curaçao before supper. The titles of Sh*tty Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us (Laurie Kilmartin, Karen Moline, Alicia Ybarbo and Mary Ann Zoellner) and Moms Who Drink and Swear: True Tales of Loving My Kids While Losing My Mind (Nicole Knepper) sum up the trend nicely. The Cursing Mommy’s Book of Days, a satirical novel based on Ian Frazier’s popular New Yorker column, features Cursing Mommy, a middle-class stay-at-home mother of two boys who attempts to offer ad hoc homemaking tips in between explosions of rage.

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Jill Smokler is already on her second misbehaving-mom book in two years: Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies) is the 2013 follow-up to her 2012 New York Times bestseller, Confessions of a Scary Mommy: An Honest and Irreverent Look at Motherhood: The Good, the Bad, and the Scary, based on her blog. A mother of three, Smokler started the blog as a way of documenting her youngest son’s life with a blunt honesty and humour not often found in suburban scrapbooking classes. It quickly became a forum for sharing unconventional notions of modern motherhood, something Smokler says women desperately need: “When I look at my Facebook feed, it’s filled with smiling faces, delicious meals and happy families. We have no idea what we’re getting into because the reality isn’t something that people are comfortable talking about.”

Wacky moms are showing up on TV as well. Three new fall comedies each star unconventional mothers. The animated series Mother Up! (coming later this winter to City) is about Rudi (voiced by Eva Longoria), a powerful record executive who loses her job and moves to the suburbs to raise her kids. Longoria told Flare.com that the show was inspired by these same legions of misbehaving mommy bloggers racked with self-doubt: “When we came up with Mother Up!, we thought, this lady is going to be a female Peter Griffin [the father on Family Guy]: inappropriate, misguided, awkward. Women will be able to identify because everybody stumbles along the way in parenting.”

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Canadian babe Malin Åkerman plays Kate, the titular Trophy Wife on the ABC series (premiering on CTV on September 24) about a new stepmom trying to fit into a chaotic blended family, including two competitive ex-wives and three boisterous stepchildren. (One scene shows her covering for her step- daughter by chugging the contents of the teen’s vodka-filled water bottle—while clad in red leather shorts, no less.) “She’s the instant mom. It’s one of those trial-by-fire things,” says writer and producer Emily Halpern. Co-writer and producer Sarah Haskins adds, “Motherhood is an important topic these days—it’s part of our cultural dialogue.”

Anna Faris is starring as Christy, a single parent in recovery, on the CBS show Mom (airing on City this fall), and Allison Janney plays Faris’s also-in-recovery mother, showing that a generation of misbehaving moms can beget the next and still raise wonderful little humans in between reminiscing about hoovering coke crumbs from the carpet. “Christy’s story may be more extreme than average, but she’s like most people in that she’s trying to do her best, even though she’s a little screwed up,” show creator Gemma Baker says. “I wouldn’t want to write a show about a perfect mother who has it all together because I wouldn’t want to watch it.”

Mom co-stars Allison Janney and Anna Faris play two generations of mothers in recovery

Mom co-stars Allison Janney and Anna Faris play two generations of mothers in recovery