If you’ll give me a moment, I need to get on my soap box. Because last weekend, something really got under my skin ( and it wasn’t just becoming the proud owner of VIP tickets to Glastonbury and then NOT BEING ABLE TO GO, though there was that too).
It was, instead, yet another article in the weekend papers that pitched itself as a rallying cry to mothers whilst effectively just belittling us all.
It’s a funny thing that while pregnancy very often unites us as women- we happily compare due dates, lament our common ailments and fret about our mutual fear of labour- motherhood itself has an extraordinary capacity to divide. Instead of muddling through the whole endeavour together, our friendships are very often drawn up or tested along battleground lines that are both coarse and wholly unrealistic.
Are you a ‘natural birth hippy’ or ‘too posh too push’?
Are you a Gina Ford advocate or an attachment parent?
Are you a pinny wearing stay at home mum or a hard nosed working mother?
Not only are the lines far too black and white to be relevant to anyone- surely we all occupy a space somewhere simply along the spectrum set by these extreme boundaries and even then it can depend on the day- but they pit one mother against another in a war that can not be won, and in which we, as women, are the ultimate losers.
In this regard we are absolutely our own worst enemies. It is noteworthy it is only women at the healm of this debate, creating the camps and then slinging the mud, fuelling the cat war in a way that no man would dare.
The article in question was by Daisy Waugh, whose mothering book is out some time this week (and I am yet to receive and read it so will reserve judgement there- she can certainly write). The jist of the article was her expousing her own particular brand of laissez-faire mothering that seems to be all the rage at the moment (a reaction, perhaps natural, to the last parenting fad that had us all in pinnies, baking flapjacks and busting domestic goddess moves in the kitchen as the key to perfect parenting) . There was no doubt that it contained a lot of salient points – that the pressure on women to conform to an ideal is suffocating and futile, that we should throw off the mask of the perfect mother and be a bit more real, and a bit less ‘simpering’ and that there are a lot of mothering tasks that are really quite boring – all true, all relevant.
But, and is a big, big but, she feel into the trap that I suspect we all sometimes do (if we are honest)- that in order to defend her own corner she had to belittle the choices of others.
She describes motherhood as ‘ a journey that leads us, tinkly teethed, through ghastly antenatal group-breathing exercises, through pointlessly agonizing natural births, through headache inducing, toddler tambourine classes, through a million hours of grindingly dull and unnecessary breastfeeding to the position we find ourselves in today: reduced to home-baking cakes at midnight, for fear that by failing to do so, we will somehow be seen to have ‘failed’ our children.’
Clearly, none of the above is her bag. No problem there. Its not all mine either. But, what it if it some other people’s? And what if, contrary to her belief, other women do those things, not to conform to some sort of ideal, but because they want to. Because they get a genuine sense of satisfaction out of an empowering natural birth, or an oxytocin fuelled breastfeeding experience, or out of friendship forming toddler groups or simply helping the school by baking cakes for the fete?
I have never been much of committee person. Sure I will gladly be roped in to running a stall at the school fete, but it will never be me organising it. But there is no doubt that I am hugely grateful that other people do. My children go to an amazing little village school, a few minutes drive from our house. It is a very special place; the setting is idyllic, Tolkien used to drink in the local pub and with only 89 children in the whole place, it is a living example of small being beautiful. But what really makes it a cut above, is the incredible sense of community that springs out of it, and that community is created not by the likes of me who parachute in for some face painting on occasion, but by the really dedicated women behind the scenes who have wholeheartedly taken the task of mothering and community building to hand, and have made a life out of it.
To my mind, we belittle the ‘small ‘ stuff at our own peril. Not only does the world turn on the back of the small, incremental and unremarkable things that the vast majority of us do every single day, but like it or not, motherhood has its unfair share of it. To the untrained eye, much of what we do as mothers isn’t especially noteworthy. And like it or not, whichever camp you throw yourself into- stay at home mum, working mum or, as I perilously juggle, a slightly unsatisfactory version of both- the small, often mundane but ultimately important little tasks will be part and parcel of our daily lives.
True ‘mummy feminism’ will never come from judgment or mudslinging, or a rallying cry for us all to become versions of one another. It will come when we recognize and respect that every mother out there is just muddling through, living a compromised version of their ideal to the best of their ability. And when we start to make peace with the tasks of motherhood and recognize that we are all very often doing extraordinary things in quite ordinary ways.