Britney Spears. She's so easy to make fun of. Even her song titles conspire to mock her: "Oops, She Did It Again!" But the latest headlines about America's most maligned mother are evoking a new sentiment from fellow moms.
Almost tripped and dropped a baby? PLEASE, they're saying. What mom hasn't? Give the girl a break!
When little Sean Preston entered the world last September, the blessed event only intensified Spears' fame, as celebrity births do nowadays. But unlike, say, Angelina Jolie or Gwyneth Paltrow, Spears had a way of appearing maternally challenged. First it was the sight of baby on Mom's lap in the driver's seat. (OK, that was bad.) Then, the accidental tumble as he was lifted off a high chair. Next, the car seat facing the wrong way in the convertible.
Not good, the celebrity mommy patrol said. We'd never do that.
Until ... the almost-baby-dropping incident.
Suddenly — and there's nothing scientific about any of this, mind you — but suddenly, it seems fellow moms are doing something a bit surprising: defending Britney.
"The woman just can't get a break!" says Lenna Janick, a mother of two in Ijamsville, Md. "I mean, I'm not gonna say that I love her. I don't know if she's a good mother or not. But she's human."
No 24/7 scrutiny for most new moms
And as all moms know, "baby bobbles" happen all the time. Luckily, says Janick, news outlets weren't watching when she walked into a door years ago holding baby son Timmy, whose head hit the door jamb. Her other son, Alex, once fell off the bed as a baby. (Both are fine.)
The media also mysteriously missed the moment when Stacey Thaler, an actuary in New York, was sitting on the edge of the tub holding her 2-year-old son and fell in, with the toddler.
"If someone was watching me 24/7, I'm sure they would find any number of things I've done that would be questionable," Thaler says. "Almost dropped my kids? Definitely. Raising kids is hard — no one can really stand in judgment unless they're much closer to the situation."
Thousands of mothers apparently agree. This weekend, the Web site parenting.com asked readers whether the media "has gone too far in its portrayal of Britney Spears as a bad mom." In a figure that surprised the editors, almost 10,000 people answered. The results: 75 percent said yes, 25 percent no.
"I think this last incident is the tipping point," says Janet Chan, editor in chief of Parenting magazine. "I'm not sure this means Britney Spears will be in every mom's Hall of Fame. But this one caused them to say, 'Hey, now we're picking on her.'"
The celebrity magazine US Weekly sensed a similar reaction. The photo of Spears nearly tripping (for the record, her very long jeans appeared to get caught in her espadrilles) elicited an unusually strong response on the magazine's blog, says editor Janice Min. Out of 700 responses, 60 percent were pro-Britney, she says.
Multiple situations in the news
"Anyone who has babies knows there are always near-misses," Min says. The problem with Spears, Min says, is that she got herself into multiple situations that didn't look good.
"Any one incident alone would not merit that much attention," she says. "But in the aggregate, they paint a picture that meets expectations the public already has." In other words, that Britney's a bad mom.
None of the mothers interviewed for this piece deny that Spears has shown questionable judgment, at best. But many noted that motherhood has long been subject to changing standards. Was it so long ago, for example, that kids roamed free in the car, unbelted? How long have kiddie bike helmets been around?
Some also noted that there's a silver lining to the various compromising photos of Spears: at least they show she's WITH the baby.
"Look, there are probably a number of celebrities who would have someone else caring for their baby while they went gallivanting around doing whatever," Thaler says. "So maybe we should give her credit for wanting to be with him so much."
So Britney, things may be looking up, just in time for your next baby. Your latest misstep — the one that almost had you and Sean sprawled on the ground — may have been a blessing in disguise.
"It may just be that it took tripping on the curb," Chan says, "for Britney to become part of the Mommy Club."