Has Judith Warner gone too far?

The Times columnist uses a tragic MySpace suicide to illustrate a trend in motherhood.

By Sarah Hepola

Published December 4, 2007 8:45PM (EST)

A friend recently sent an e-mail with the subject header: "Has Judith Warner gone too far?" The friend (who is also a mother) is generally fond of Warner, by all accounts a writer of fierce intellect, but Warner's recent "Domestic Disturbances" column in the Times made her uneasy. The column concerns a trend toward maternal overparenting -- moms who love too much, who become embroiled in the lives of their children, sometimes to dangerous consequence. As a former English teacher (and non-mother), I nodded my head vigorously at Warner's bottom line. It felt true and important: "We have all caught ourselves spending a little too much time worrying about (or gloating over) our children's popularity. We spend a lot of time feeling our children's pain and put a lot of thought into shaping their world to offer them the greatest possible degree of happiness. But our kids really need something much bigger from us than that. They desperately need us to grow up."

Don't get me wrong. Being close to your mom (or your daughter) is a wonderful thing. But something unfortunate happens when moms refuse to be moms. (See: Lindsay Lohan.)

"It's all so much finger wagging," said my friend of the column. "Ten years ago moms were blamed for working too much and neglecting their kids. Now our problem is we're overinvolved." Maybe she's right. We could argue this point. If you'd like to, I will direct you immediately to the comments section.

But the real problem with the column -- and it is a big problem -- is that Warner guides us into her larger sociological point by talking about the sensational/tragic/horrific MySpace incident that ended in a 13-year-old girl's suicide. Perhaps you've heard about the notorious MySpace Mom case. It's a doozy. In short: Lori Drew, a then-47-year-old mother, masqueraded on MySpace as a 16-year-old boy, alternately wooing and verbally abusing Megan Meier online. Drew did this to get revenge on young Megan for hurting her own daughter. But I'm not certain this case is indicative of much more than the fact that some people in the world are sick fucks who do horrible things, especially when the immediacy of the Internet fuels their lack of impulse control. Overparenting is a problem, parents wanting to be siblings rather than parents is a problem; but the hideous suggestion that maternal overparenting leads to tabloid-style death (!) and suicide (!) seems, well, a bit hysterical. It also feels like finger wagging.

Last night, Anderson Cooper interviewed the 13-year-old's mother, Tina Meier. She was sick with grief, and there wasn't enough concealer in the world to mask how much she'd been crying. Cooper asked if Meier blamed Lori Drew for her daughter's suicide. She did. But she added something important: "And the father. The father knew what was going on also."

Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, "Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget."

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