What's a “Real Mom,” Elizabeth Banks?

Elizabeth Banks laughing

Actress Elizabeth Banks inserted her foot far back into the reaches of her mouth recently while discussing motherhood with People magazine. The Hunger Games star shared her thoughts on becoming a mother for the second time after her second son was born last November: “You don’t realize how easy one is until you have two. Now I’m really a mom. Oh, I am a mom now! This is for serious — I am responsible for two people now.”

Well then.

If I actually believed Banks, I might be offended. But do I honestly think that she believes that women with only one child aren’t “real moms?” Do I think she believes that the first offspring is just for kicks, a starter kid, and the second is when it gets real? Of course not. She probably just chose her words poorly, as we all do occasionally. But that doesn’t excuse the underlying judgment that weighs down her phrasing.

As a mother of one, I’ve been subjected to many folks commenting on my choice, from my own mother pushing her more- grandchildren agenda on me to random people remarking on the selfishness of not giving my son a sibling. I’m no stranger to the “you’re not a real mother” accusation that often gets foisted on parents of only children. But sentiments like that only add fuel to the bane of my existence: the dreaded “Mommy Wars.”

The specter of the “good” or “real” mother is a tired cliche, yet one that is continuously thrust into the center of the Mommy Wars for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest is that it pays—in stories, book sales, and pageviews—for mainstream media to keep pushing the divide regarding who qualifies as a good mother. (Take Time magazine’s controversial attachment-parenting cover story,  “Are You Mom Enough?,” or this past Sunday’s Motherlode post on motherhood and abortion, “Judging a Mother’s Choice.”)

In my several years as a mother, one thing I’ve come to learn is that much of the judgment perpetuated in the mommy world stems from insecurity, with parenting self-doubt perpetuated further by the endless mom-on-mom violence ginned up in the media. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken, yet when quotes like Banks’s are made and then argued about, we only fall deeper in. There’s already so much hyped up pressure on mothers to be “real”—whether they do natural childbirth or not, breastfeed or not, stay home or not—that seeing the creation of one more nonsensical measure of realness, like how many children they have, pains me. In Banks’s case, her choice of words seems particularly problematic. Having had both her children by surrogate, she herself is in a category of mothers whose “realness” is regularly disputed, so I’d think she would be more sensitive to the labels she employed in her People interview.

As a mother of one, I will more than own up to the fact that having an only child makes certain things much easier than they would be with two or three. There’s only one child’s schedule to fit into your day, one child’s needs to attend to, one child clamoring for your attention. So, yes. Feel free to shout from the rooftops that having two children is more work. But don’t minimize the experience of other mothers because they’ve made different choices. When it comes to the number of children a person has, one is just as real and valid as two or more. This goes beyond Elizabeth Banks and her public comments to strike at the heart of the real issue: Continuing to perpetuate notions of what it means to be a “good,” “real” mother mires us in infighting, when our energy and time could be better used to tackle the more pressing, systemic issues facing mothers and families.

In the same People interview, Banks recalls the trials of infant parenting with the quote “We had no help, no nannies, no babysitters. It was crazy. You forget how difficult it is to wake up in the middle of the night, how exhausting it is.” Her expectations seem far from the reality of most parents, so perhaps it’s also worth keeping in mind how different the word “real” becomes for celebrities like Banks, parents or not.

by Avital Norman Nathman
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Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer and fulltime feminist killjoy. Find her tweeting @TheMamafesto

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22 Comments Have Been Posted

Mommy Wars

Elisabeth Banks, like every other celebrity on the planet, has become so detached from the every day world us normal "peons" live in.
I find most Celebrity Mother's interviews laughable; whining about how "hard it is" not to make it to that Yoga class in between diaper changes.
Forget interviewing Hollywood Moms.
Find a Mother of seven children living in a third world country and write about her.
Hell, find a Canadian/American Mom with a disabled kid and write that down!

Yeah, but that's still

Yeah, but that's still problematic. Sure, they have more luxuries and resources but it still sounds as though you're negating that celebrity mothers are "real" mothers because they have more help and money. So do wealthy moms. And they're "real" moms too.

Oh boo hoo, she and her

Oh boo hoo, she and her husband had to take care of their kids by themselves for 10 whole days??!!
Most people do this all the time, everyday and night. Being a parent is our full time job<a href="http://netipotby.bravesites.com" rel="follow">,</a> as well as working. It should be yours too. If you don’t want to be a full time parent like most parents are, why even have kids?? Why would you want to have nannies raise your kids??

Hm, I take it you've never

Hm, I take it you've never been on a television set.
I absolutely believe that kids are extremely difficult and trying for, well, anyone. For someone who has a job, for someone who makes the kids their job, etc. They're never easy. But you act like you know what it is like to be in hollywood (I've seen it from the inside for a couple years and got the hell out). Just because you have millions of dollars does not mean you have every luxury in the world. Being in Hollywood is seriously hard mental and physical work. Stars need to eat and work out (sometimes to extremes) to keep their jobs. Days on set, especially television,while fun, are grueling and relentless. Try memorizing lines while you're dead exhausted at your 445 am wakeup call to be in hair and makeup by 6 am, getting home between 6 and 11 pm, maybe having just enough time to get dinner to your kids…or not. Try being jet lagged from promoting your latest movie on Letterman. And dealing with fans, lack of privacy, and interviewers who are happy to twist your words. A lot of luxuries Hollywood moms have come at a great price in other ways.
You say "well she made that choice"? Well then so did the mother with the disabled child. When you conceive, you make that choice to do the best you can for your kid with whatever circumstances that comes with. (Or you don't make the choice - I'm not saying that every mother in hollywood is great, and neither is every other working-class or wealthy or welfare mother). How would you like it if I said to you, "I'm so sick of stay at home moms complaining about lack of sleep and homeschooling! Ask her to try to change diapers between cardio sessions and spinach salads, press events and night scene!" You say she made that choice? So what, deny her motherhood then?
I'm not necessarily sticking up for E. Banks (I've only seen her in the Hunger Games, and 'meh'), but I'm sticking up for a lot of Hollywood moms who are pooh-poohed by rhetoric such as yours: "They have time to go to yoga, they have no idea what the 'hard' life of a mother is'!" Don't tell me you wouldn't take a minute to yourself if you could afford to. In fact, you should, for your mental health (and the obvious aggression you're feeling).
You cannot compare apples and oranges. Your life, versus Banks' life, versus a mother of seven in Africa, are all very different realities that have different joys and different trials. Nobody is 'better'. Also, you call celebrities out of touch with the 'every day world' we live in. They are in touch with their own reality. Their world is different from ours. Would it be fair to call you "out of touch" with the everyday world of being an inmate, a refugee, a woman on welfare, a person with a disability because you don't experience *that*? Those are every day realities and identities too.

What a sensationalist opener.

What a sensationalist opener. Elizabeth Banks' comments clearly have nothing to do with Mommy Wars and are simply about her mind being blown over motherhood. If you really took her comments as a jab at mothers of only children (a club to which she very recently belonged), you are being incredibly overly sensitive. I love BitchMag, but this is ridiculous. It's one thing to feel bullied about having an only child, but to find judgement where there is none? Come on.

She specifically said that

She specifically said that she doesn't think that E. Banks actually believes that one-child mothers aren't "real" and that she probably just chose her words poorly. She just used those comments as inspiration and a starting point for a discussion on larger issues in the culture.

RE: What a sensationalist opener.

I agree. I think this article definitely misinterprets her comments. She clearly didn't mean to even imply women with one child aren't "real moms," but that having another child made her really realise her title as "mom."It's not that she, or any other woman, wasn't a real mom with only one child, but that her second child really hit the "holy crap, I'm a mom" point home for her. I love bitch, but I agree, "come on."

I don't think I was

I don't think I was sensationalist at all, honestly. I feel this discussion is one with a lot of merit. I explicitly said that I *didn't* think her comments were an attack on moms of onlys and that she probably misspoke. I didn't feel personally attacked either. What Banks' comments did show - for me - is how weighted certain words are when we discuss motherhood, and it bears looking at those words.

We're so careful with our word choices when talking about an array of issues, but somehow, when it comes to motherhood, many things are given a pass. It all builds up though, and then you're left with a larger problem of adding to this falsehood of what it means to be a "good" or "real" mother and that can be really damaging.

Would I have blinked an eye if Banks had said that having two kids is much harder or challenging? Not at all. I agree with that. But that's not what she said. I think calling her out for her word choice and then using that as a jump off to discuss stereotypes and falsehoods around motherhood is perfectly valid and in no way sensationalizing (especially since I took great care not to demonize Banks).

You may have thrown the

You may have thrown the obligatory "I don't think she meant it/I take it back" comment in the body of the article, but then you have Bitch accusatorily tweeting "What's A 'Real' Mom, ELIZABETH BANKS???" and others retweeting similar ledes. It's misleading and inflammatory. It is possible to write an editorial without twisting some hapless celebrity's words, and I hope the next one you compose avoids that ploy.

I don't have any influence

I don't have any influence over either the title of this piece or how Bitch chose to promote it via social media. As I made clear, I did my best not to call out Banks but to use her quote to focus on the larger issue of the language surrounding motherhood which I think merits a thoughtful discussion.

Thank you and agreed that

Thank you and agreed that this was sensationalist at best. In my opinion, Elizabeth Banks is one of the more tolerable of the Hollywood Moms.


Much ado about nothing.
Slow news day, I guess.

How very Fox news

You've made some awesome points about cultural perceptions of motherhood that are totally overshadowed by the fact that it's clear Elizabeth Banks said nothing of the sort. You might wish she phrased her statement differently, but as the above commentor stated, she was only describing the fact that she was blown away by the reality.

I expect such misleading interpretations and sensationalist leads from other media outlets, not from Bitch.


I agree with Holly P. And I think it's too bad that Bitch has joined in with other media outlets in attacking Elizabeth Banks. She's a hard-working mom, too. No need to seek out opportunities to criticize other women. How disappointing.

Looking for subject matter?

I don't know Elizabeth Banks, but I know a few humans and I think her words have been twisted around to sound offensive. What she said is the same thing as saying, "Sure, last night I had dinner... but on Christmas, I had diiiiinner." It's not saying minimizing the normal dinner she had last night. Instead, it's putting a comedic emphasis on the ridiculousness of how different dinner was on Christmas.

I have two kids. And shit yeah, it's harder. And shit yeah, it makes having one seem so friggin' easy. In fact, as I write this, my 3 year old is at preschool and my 5 month old is in the living room with me and I feel like I'm taking a break. I'm not minimizing having one child, but having two is just plain harder.

I don't think Elizabeth Banks is being insulting... I think the author of this article is being too sensitive.

The author acknowledges what

The author acknowledges what many other media outlets did not - that Elizabeth Banks made an offhand comment that was certainly not aimed at insulting other mothers, but which may have the unintended effect of ruffling feathers regarding what a "real" mother is. She used this as an opportunity to discuss "real" mothers and the Mommy Wars, and did not seem to be arguing that life as a one-mom child is as hard, or easier, or harder than, life with multiple children.

mom of 2

I actually completely relate to Banks' statement. I don't mean that moms of one aren't real moms or that I wasn't a real mom before my second son was born but having two is different in a way that I didn't expect and can't fully explain. Having one child changed my life completely so I has as shocked as anyone by realizing that my life had changed even more w/ the second. There was a new rootedness. With one child I could take him where ever I went, I was still me but even better cuz now I had a sidekick. With two little ones I was the sidekick. That's the best way I can describe it.

Thank you all for missing the point

Like the author, I, too, am one of those "selfish" people who won't give her kid a sibling. My "psychic" mother in-law has seen the future and believes that my partner and I will have a second child, and many of my male co-workers have insisted that I MUST have no less than three children, because, apparently, this is women's "role."

I am told all the time that my decision to have one child makes me a bad mother. I am a bad mother for carefully taking into account our family's financial situation during the decision making process; I am a bad mother for making an informed decision about my own health and well being, and whether or not I am physically/mentally prepared to carry another child to term; I am a bad mother, because I refuse to sacrifice the level of care I am able to give my daughter BECAUSE she is my only child.

I can relate to this article--which isn't about what some celebrity of the week said in a dime-a-dozen magazine interview. Women are constantly being told what it is to be a REAL woman all the time, and mothers especially are receiving the brunt end of the criticism. Even if you ARE a "good" mother, chances are you're STILL not good enough. I think that this was the point the author was trying to make. And even if the sole purpose of the article was to criticize Elizabeth Banks (which it is not,) I hardly think she and her millions of dollars would really give a damn.

It has everything to do with the Mommy Wars.

As this piece defines the concept, the Mommy Wars consist largely of media statements about motherhood that carry judgment and result in mothers who feel judged slinging insults at each other along with plenty of people who are not mothers but think they know what a Good one looks like fueling the fire.

If it's in People magazine, you're supposed to compare it to real life. That is the entire reason anyone reads People magazine. The concept of the darn thing is that celebrities are people too, hence the title. They thrive on buying and printing photos of celebrities doing "normal" things.

As the author points out, this isn't about Elizabeth Banks. We don't know her, as much as People would love to give the impression that reading their interview allows us to get to know her. We were not there for the interview, nor have any of us, I presume, lived in her house and experienced her family's life. This is about the way the media presents motherhood to us, and what we, as consumers of media, do with that.

This reminds of a time I was

This reminds of a time I was recently standing in line at the drug store and saw the People magazine cover story about Drew Barrymore's baby. The having of this baby was apparently, "the coolest moment" of her life and it also apparently helped her to finally find happiness. As a woman in my mid-thirties who wants to have children but is unlikely to do so anytime soon for various reasons, obviously this cover story seemed like a bit of gut punch. But as I thought about it, the more I thought about how out of context that cover story really is. It's almost laughable to imply that Drew Barrymore, one of the sunnier people on the planet, could only be made happy by a baby. And, besides, happy or not, Drew Barrymore isn't a person I know. She isn't a person in my world. Her opinions and life choices have very little to do with mine. Reading that magazine is not the same thing as a close friend with a baby saying it has "finally made her happy," disregarding how that might make me feel. It isn't a thousand stories told by my parents about their friends' grandchildren. Eyeballing that cover wasn't a "thing" that really happened to me.
The moral of my comment is: There are plenty of land mines waiting for you if you're living your life outside of the traditional definition of feminity - if you have only one kid, or no kids, or are parenting alone. Take care or yourself and be kind to the people around you, and I think that also means not laying land mines. If you are a parent of a single child, don't make it an offense for a mother of multiple children to talk about that experience. Don't make things about you that aren't about you.


"Don't make things about you that aren't about you."


well put, Avital

<p>Really well said. Keep an eye out, by the way, for an interesting new book on the horizon by Lauren Sandler, called <a href="http://laurensandler.com/one-and-only/">One and Only.</a> You both have incredibly smart, insightful, broad-minded viewpoints on this all.</p>

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