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Bad Mamas

Mother's Day is not a point of celebration for all motherhood. Mother Nature for instance, can sometimes be a wretched mother. Some species eat their young — a horror that few mothers could ever understand. Black widow spiders become widows by eating their male consorts soon after they've fertilized their next generation of spiderlets. It's a dysfunctional family practice, but then you expect arachnids to be dysfunctional.

But what about homo-sapiens? Not all Mother's Day honorees are worthy role models. Still, I want to tip my hat to all the bad mamas of history. Why? Because even these femme fatales have their place. Bad mamas provide a much needed contrast in motherhood that helps the world recognize the good mamas. So moms-of-the-world-unite: Mother's Day is your day. If you sometimes feel that your motherhood is not as exemplary as you want it to be, hold up and think it over. And if you really want to feel like a great mother compare yourself to ten of the world's worst mamas.

#1. In the Old English poem, Beowulf, a monster attacks and maims innocent Norsemen, apparently inspired by its wicked mother. Nothing like a little gore to keep you from singing "M is for the many things she told me."

#2. Agrippina, Nero's mother, murdered her way to the most powerful seat in ancient Roma. It was all to help her little son take control of Rome's throne. But he didn't trust her so he had her murdered. Theirs was one of those primitive, Latin co-dependencies that got out of hand.

#3. One of the characters in West Side Story lamenting that his mother had a mustache and his father wore a dress, sings "Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess." There is a lot of maternal pathology in our time.

#4. Rebekah wasn't exactly a portrait of motherly integrity. Remember, she helped Jacob deceive Isaac to steal Esau's birthright.

#5. Cinderella's wicked stepmother displayed maternal malevolence by subjecting her stepdaughter to slave labor, then writing her off as unworthy of the prince.

#6. Mommie Dearest focussed on Joan Crawford who, her daughter said, was a very bad mama.

#7. Athalia of Israel, tried to murder her grandson, proving that not all grandmothers dote on their dumplings.

#8. Herodias encouraged her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a charger - not a great motherhood role model.

#9. A prostitute asked Solomon to kill the baby of another prostitute. Remember the two women who came before Solomon with a living baby and a dead one? Both of them claimed that the living baby was theirs. One encouraged the King to cut the living baby in half with the sword. Clearly, a bad mama.

#10. Finally, there is Susan Smith in North Carolina, who strapped her children inside the family car and rolled them off into the lake.

Bad mamas all.

So, celebrate your own motherhood. You're really not doing all that bad. This is the day of postmodern moms when lesbians can adopt, giving their children more mamas than papas. Men lovers can also adopt, giving their children more papas than mamas.

Mother's Day isn't all that it used to be, but for those of you content to live by more traditional definitions, here's to the fifth commandment. Sure it sounds quaint, but try it. It's worked for over 3,000 years, it might work for you. And if you want a more sentimental definition, try Proverbs 31. Now there's a woman unafraid of wash-days or diaper rash. The Bible is full of rewards promised to those women who really want to be good mamas. And after all, their children rise up in time and call them "blessed." Not a bad name, "blessed." It sure beats Mommie Dearest.


Calvin Miller is professor of preaching and pastoral ministry at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.

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May 2001 Edition
Volume 9, Issue 7
May 2001