The world has put Britney Spears' parenting skills under a microscope -- and while some say that no person could withstand such relentless scrutiny -- there is little doubt it's taking a toll on her career.
On Friday, New York City tabloids again pictured the 21-year-old pop star in an unsettling photo with her 8-month-old son. This time she's nearly dropping the child as she walks from Manhattan's Ritz Carlton Hotel with a glass in one hand and her son in the other.
The papers report that Britney's glass was filled with water, and that she merely stumbled on the hem of her jeans while wearing open-toed shoes. And while the boy wasn't hurt, and the minor near-mishap is something any parent can relate to, the publication of the photos shows that Britney's public pummeling seems to have no end.
"Momentum is not on her side. It's gotten to the point where the Britney Watch is for her badness, not her goodness," says Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at the NPD Group, a media consulting firm.
"The best thing for her to do is disappear for a while, and I mean that in all sincerity, because in the short term, even if she tries to do something good, the perception is that she can't do anything right. She has to leave the celebrity spotlight for a while, concentrate on her career, and re-emerge. Luckily, the public is forgiving."
'Toxic' Levels of Bad Press
The near drop was just the latest in Britney's motherhood woes. Just days earlier, she was pictured driving with Sean Preston strapped the wrong way in his baby seat as she drove through Hollywood in her Mini-Cooper convertible. Child experts say children less than a year old should be seated facing backward, not forward.
The incident might not have made headlines at all, except that Britney had been photographed behind the wheel of a car in February, driving with the infant on her lap -- with no car seat at all -- prompting a visit to her home by sheriff's deputies at the request of child welfare authorities.
Spears was visited by authorities again in April, after the baby reportedly fell from his highchair.
Spears has not been charged with any wrongdoing in these incidents. And a spokesman came to her defense earlier this week to say that California law, unlike in many other states, does not bar parents from seating their child facing forward.
Still, Spears' parenting skills have become something of a national issue, and one California newspaper hopes to use the car seat incident to change the state's law.
"We dislike politicians parenting parents. But sometimes the state needs to serve as a surrogate when mommy and daddy make uninformed decisions. Ensuring children are safe while riding in cars -- think Britney Spears with her baby on her lap -- is one of those times when the state has to intrude," writes the Long Beach Press Telegram in an editorial headlined "Take a Backseat."
"This is why we hope legislators approve Assembly Bill 2108, which would require children under the age of 13 to ride in the rear seats and extend booster-seat requirements, which currently end at age 6, to age 8, or when a child reaches 4 feet 9 inches tall. This proposal makes it easy for hurried parents to remember the safest way to transport children: teens to the front, preteens to the rear," the editorial says.
For Britney, the news comes just 10 days after she confirmed on David Letterman's talk show that she was pregnant with her second child. With her travails with husband Kevin Federline making news almost daily, it's almost hard to remember that the singer has sold more than 60 million albums and has been a major force on pop charts since she burst on the scene as a 15-year-old with " ... Baby One More Time."
With the subsequent release of "Oops! ... I Did It Again," Spears became the first female performer in the history of Billboard magazine to have her first three albums open at No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts. While she's been less successful in movies, her more recent hits, like "Toxic," confirm that she can't be sloughed off as a has-been.
Spears was once considered wholesome enough to be featured in national "Milk Mustache" ads, and did a major TV ad campaign for Pepsi. Don't expect to see major advertisers flocking to her as a pitchwoman in the near future, but she shouldn't be written off either.
"The American public is very forgiving," Cohen says. "If she disappears and concentrates on what she does best, this cloud over her head will disappear."
Spears might turn to Kobe Bryant for inspiration, Cohen says. The basketball star's squeaky-clean reputation was forever altered after he faced sexual assault charges. Even after he publicly apologized to his wife for his infidelity, and reached an out-of-court settlement with his accuser, it was unclear if the public would forgive him.
"Kobe was able to rescue his image. He's even doing product endorsements again," Cohen says. "If he can turn it around, so can Britney."