Mad Mom Gets An Online Stoning

When Scarsdale mom Madlyn Primoff did what so many moms only threaten — stopped the car and let her kids find their own way home — her story turned into an online judge-fest.

Primoff's twelve-year-old daughter managed to chase the car and get back in, but her ten-year-old was left behind and — in an especially pathetic wrinkle — "was eventually comforted by a passer-by who bought her an ice cream and contacted the police." Primoff, an international finance lawyer, was charged with misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child, and is due in court May 21. As the Times points out, what might once have been merely a local story has become an online pillorying. Perhaps most egregiously, AOL chose to include Primoff's picture in a photo slideshow of abusive parents, including Shana Brown, who drugged her thirteen-year-old daughter so Brown's boyfriend could impregnate her.

Does the Internet just flatten everything out, so that a parenting misstep gets the same outrage as child rape? Or is Primoff coming in for worse criticism because of her high-powered career? Romi Lassally at the Huffington Post thinks so. She writes:

It's no surprise that Madlyn Primoff, a high-powered attorney from a high-income neighborhood is the latest to join the Bad Mother Club. Women like Primoff are expected to kick butt at work with a Fembot-like smile while simultaneously ruling the kitchen in an apron and high heels cooking organic dinners for the whole family.

Linda Lowen at about.com bears this argument out, writing, "The mom, Madlyn Primoff, should have known better. Especially as she's a prominent 45-year-old Park Avenue attorney and a partner at a well-respected law firm in New York City." But do the interwebs really have higher expectations of wealthy career women? In a comment on Lassally's HuffPo piece, Richard Wexler of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform begs to differ:

every year thousands of impoverished children are torn from loving parents who've done far less to their children than the emotional trauma Primoff inflicted on her daughters. Just a few miles away from where Primoff kicked her kids out of the car, in the Bronx, for example, the child of a subway station token booth clerk was forced to endure months of foster care solely because her mother had to leave him home alone for a short time after school. It was the only way the mother - by all accounts, an exemplary, loving parent - could keep her job.

Wexler goes on to argue that Primoff's punishment was appropriate, that removing children from their parents is often an overreaction, and that "my fellow liberals keep forgeting everything they claim to believe about civil liberties every time someone whispers the words 'child abuse' in their ears." His words hint at something disturbing — do we trivialize real child abuse, like the terrible actions of Shana Brown, when we flip out over people like Primoff? And by branding Primoff as a "bad mommy," do we set a standard by which less wealthy, less powerful families are broken up without good reason? Like Lassally, we hope "the public scrutiny fixated upon [Primoff] will further expose motherhood for the truly complex job that it is" — rather than drawing more shame down on moms who aren't perfect.

Atwitter About a Mom in Scarsdale [NYT]
Madlyn Primoff and the Branding of a Bad Mommy [Huffington Post]
Mad Mom Madlyn Primoff Kicks Bickering Daughters Out of Car Then Drives Away [Linda's Women's Issues Blog, about.com]
Mom Allegedly Ejects Girls, Drives Off [AOL]