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Mum fail: 7 matriarchs show you how to cook up epic disasters

The Star/ANN | J. Kugan | Sunday, May 11, 2014

One unwritten rule we all live and abide by is that mother knows best. But for these seven mums, perhaps it's best to file them under 'disasters'.

No one is thoroughly perfect - no, not even mum. In fact, some of the most unbelievably terrible people who ever walked the face of the Earth were, in fact, mothers. One can argue that some mothers have done unspeakable things out of love, fear or desperation.

But the actions of some mothers - like Hollywood actress Joan Crawford, whose less than exemplary maternal disaffections were chronicled in daughter's Christina's tell-all memoir Mommie Dearest (later turned into a campy cult hit film starring Faye Dunaway) - just leave you in a state of mouth-a-gape disbelief.

For a look at how not to be a mother, here are seven mums whose flirtations with disaster went overboard.

Nadya 'Octomum' Suleman

When news broke in February 2009 that a 33-year-old American woman had successfully given birth to octuplets, people around the world responded with awe and well-wishes. But then came the backstory: Nadya Suleman was already struggling to bring up her existing six kids when she asked her IVF doctor to transfer six embryos into her womb for a last shot at having more.

Not only was it illegal - the limit is three - because it could've killed her, Suleman's IVF doctor, Michael Kamrava, eventually lost his medical licence because of it.

With the bubble burst, joy turned to anger as people from around the world demanded to know who this baby-crazy woman was, and so it began: the trainwreck we have come to know as Octomum.

Aside from numerous talk show appearances, Suleman's done solo porn (which won an award), live strip shows (where she got booed), reality TV show (which was more horrifying than insightful), celebrity boxing match (from which she was fired for the negative publicity she brought), and music video (which flopped).

Despite these money-making attempts that have earned Suleman more condemnation than praise, she had to file for bankruptcy in April 2012 with debts amounting to US$1mil. The sum of her desperation came to a blow in October 2013 when Suleman checked into rehab for stress and exhaustion.

But that didn't solve much - she was charged for welfare fraud and tax evasion in January 2014 when she failed to declare more than US$30,000 in earnings. Octomum, perhaps it's time to go back home.

Patricia 'Tanning Mum' Krentcil

Hot on the heels of Octomum's litany of embarrassing deeds is Tanning Mum. Notorious for taking her six-year-old daughter Anna to a tanning salon in April 2012 and getting charged for child endangerment, Patricia Krentcil is not evil per se.

She's always denied that she put her child on the tanning bed and eventually the charges of child endangerment were dropped. But the minor celebrity status she's received - thanks to her freakish tanorexic look and erratic behaviour - has since led this 45-year-old mother of five down the road of tabloid misadventures.

Among her more notable non-achievements: joking about her husband's small penis at a stand-up comedy night, appearing in a gay porn flick (though not in a sexual role), challenging Octomum to a boxing match, doing rehab after she was found intoxicated at an airport, and most recently, falling flat on her bum on the red carpet at Howard Stern's 60th birthday bash.

Oh well, at least she doesn't look like burnt steak anymore.

Amy 'Tiger Mum' Chua

Chinese mothers, for better or worse, can be nefariously overzealous in pushing their kids to become over-achievers. Amy Chua, Yale law professor and best-selling author, certainly knows this, if her 2011 parenting memoir Battle Hymn of the Mother Tiger is anything to go by.

Chua writes of her experience bringing up her two daughters as a strict disciplinarian, based on her reasoning that Chinese mums rear better kids because of their tough love approach. In the book, Chua describes how she invoked her inner 'tiger mother' to get her daughter to learn a difficult piano piece: "I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have The Little White Donkey perfect by the next day."

When Lulu gave her the so-what treatment, Chua upped the game by threatening to deny her birthday and Christmas parties up to four years, and even withheld dinner and toilet privileges. For this and other revelations, Chua came under attack from US media, with some accusing her of promoting and legitimising oppressive parenting methods.

(Funnily enough, in China, her book was marketed as a 'normal' parenting manual.)

More recently, Chua drew fire for The Triple Package, a book in which she and Jeb Rubenfeld, her Yale professor hubby - yes, they're an Ivy League power couple - lists three traits to explain why Americans of certain ethnic backgrounds are more successful than others. Critics called her a privileged racist.

Talking about being racist ...

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