By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 5/10/2006 9:11:42 AM ET 2006-05-10T13:11:42

As Mother’s Day approaches, it’s appropriate to pay homage to some of our nation’s most memorable moms. Not the likes of Betsy Ross, Eleanor Roosevelt or even Bobbie McCaughey (mom of the Iowa septuplets).

We’re talking Angelina, Britney, Katie, et al.

Let’s first, though, give our gratitude to the foremothers — trailblazing mamas such as Demi, Pamela and Madonna.

They taught us moms a lot. They were among the first to demonstrate that pregnancy can be gorgeous (at least on them). Post-pregnancy even better (especially with the help of the right trainer/nutritionist and millions on the line). They showed us that moms are cool — they can wear sequins and have tattoos. They can attract really young studs and employ the f-word with abandon on late-night television. Really, moms can do a lot of interesting things.

Of course, there have been missteps.

Britney's well-documented failure to buckle up little Sean Preston resulted in a visit by the L.A. police. Kate Moss was no model mother when photographed snorting cocaine. And concerns over Katie and Tom's home sonogramming even triggered a bill in the California Legislature to restrict the use of ultrasound machines for personal use.

If Gwyneth Paltrow really wanted iron in her diet, a nice drink made with spinach, apricots and molasses may have been more efficient than the Guinness she was spotted drinking (although a single beer during pregnancy may not be entirely evil, drinking in excess certainly doesn't befit a role mother).

And Catherine Zeta-Jones, we loved her when she belted out show tunes very pregnant with her second child during the 2003 Academy Awards but when she was busted lighting a cig in all her pregnant glory? Hmmm … well, with the right song and dance you can get away with murder (or at least a cigarette).

Still, most celebutots don't exactly need help from Child Protective Services. In fact, the people most likely harmed by celebrity mommyhood are us spectators.

We devour news of their baby bumps and relationships. We covet their physiques. Many of us want to buy the same diaper bag or children’s clothing (even though the celebs usually get their loot gratis).

We’re obsessed!

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You don't really know me
“The theory I use to explain all this is ‘parasocial interaction,’” says David Giles, a psychologist and celebrity-worship researcher at the University of Lancaster in Britain. Parasocial is the process by which we come to feel we "know" celebrities even though we have never encountered them in an actual real-life social context.

“We see and hear so much about celebrities that we sometimes feel we know them as well as, if not better than, people in our immediate social circle,” explains Giles.

Trouble is, by giving over too much to celebrity mom worship, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. In previous times we would use neighbors, friends and family as benchmarks for our own behavior — the "keeping up with the Joneses" phenomenon.

That was hard enough. But now the new Mrs. Jones is Mrs. Smith (Angelina) — or Gwyneth or Sarah Jessica Parker.

“If SJP has bought the latest stroller, then all her virtual neighbors will need to purchase the same thing just to feel contemporary and fashionable,” says Giles.

If celeb moms like Denise Richards and Reese Witherspoon lose pregnancy weight in a flash and don’t skip a beat in their careers, the rest of us start to think that’s how life should be. If Angelina is globe-trotting, flying planes, saving the world’s children throughout pregnancy and mothering two young tots already, we start to ponder why we’re such losers.

Why are we getting bogged down with morning sickness and swollen ankles? Why are we losing it when all we have to do is go to work and take care of one or two kids?

Logically, we all know they have nannies and trainers and nutritionists and makeup artists and housekeepers and stylists. They have publicists who often help cultivate their images. They have people giving them all kinds of expensive, chic crap for free! And, obviously, neither they nor their lives are as glamorous as the pictures often make them look.

But, still, in the low times, we can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with our lives. In fact, researchers have found that the more you follow celebrities the more likely you are to suffer from depression, anxiety and social dysfunction because, inevitably, the average mom doesn’t measure up.

Or does she?

You're a star in their eyes
Richard Gallagher, an assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University Child Study Center, says even the plainest mother among us may actually be a whole lot like Gwyneth, Angelina and Sarah Jessica already.

“To kids the most important person in the house is usually the mother,” says Gallagher. “Mothers are people kids feel attached to and they look up to and respect. In most cases, they are the celebrities of the house.”

You heard it right, mama. You're a star, too. 

Victoria Clayton, MSNBC.com's Growing Up Healthy columnist, is a freelance writer based in California and co-author of "Fearless Pregnancy: Wisdom and Reassurance from a Doctor, a Midwife and a Mom," published by Fair Winds Press.

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