It’s important to say from the start that I know this is not a real problem. But. It’s a week since I threw my toys out of my pram, had a tantrum and realised I… More
We can stop pretending now, right?
It’s been a month so, confession time… who handed over a present for their dad/ father of their children a few weeks ago, that was a bit crap? Who, at the last minute, cajoled the kids into sitting down to scrawl daddy a card? Or perhaps you didn’t bother at all?
Trust me when I say that those scenarios are suggested without judgement as I too have spent the last four years cultivating a tendancy to casually chuck Father’s Day in the bargain bin, alongside the cut price roses and past their best pumpkins left over from those other fictional celebrations, Valentines Day and Halloween.
In the meantime I annually revel in the outpouring of adoration that accompanies Mother’s Day. I point to the fact that Mother’s Day is in the Bible as evidence of its superiority in a world where card and gift manufacturers compete to invent reasons to get us consuming (Black Friday, anyone??!)
But what if Dads, as parents, deserve to be celebrated too? And what if our reluctance to do a proper job of celebrating Father’s Day is a symptom of our failure to take dads seriously on every other day of the year?
It was after reading a piece by Steph Douglas about Father’s Day gifts that I started to question my own habit of thinking dads should be happy with whatever they get. She ventures to suggest that perhaps what dads want is actually pretty similar to what mums want – something to read, something to drink, something to eat, some alone time to do all three, and some socks to keep our feet warm while we do it.
So what’s with the resistance; the resentment of them spending a few hours uninterrupted; what’s with the voice in our heads that says fathers don’t deserve this?
Could it be possible that, against our better intentions, against the feeling behind frustrated outbursts that They are HIS children! He is not BABY-SITTING!, and against our wishes for greater equality in the home as well as in the workplace, we are actually complicit in the continuation of the gendered norms we claim to want to dismiss?
Every time a BBC reporter asks a female tennis player how she juggles a tournament such as Wimbledon with motherhood, as happened to Victoria Azarenka, the assumption seems to be that her husband/ partner, the child’s father, must have something more important to do than look after his own child. The attitude is there is no way that he might be there in a supporting role – that her career might have taken priority – and oh how we bristle.
The spikiness is indicative of a wave of newly impassioned feminism that is sweeping popular thinking. We wonder incessantly why it seems such a stretch for a 36 year old woman to have what a 36 year old man doesn’t think twice about – a house, kids, and a kick-ass career – but maybe we are forgetting something.
Maybe the key to true gender equality lies in not only dismantling the entrenched gendered-norms that hold back women, but in challenging the toxic masculinity norms that suffocate men?
In some ways I understand our reluctance to give Father’s Day anything more than a sideways glance. In the jokes about dads being a bit crap, and our expressions of surprise or faux concern that the children are with dad while mum works, perhaps there is an element of us jealously guarding the only territory we have ever been bestowed.
While women occupy just 32% of the seats in Parliament; while it remains that female CEOs of FTSE 100 businesses are outnumbered by white men called John (not ignoring that the issue of gender diversity is even more problematic when taking race into account – 10000 words for another time…) perhaps the truth is that we don’t want to concede that men are just as good at being parents until we scrape together some ground that says we are just as good as them everywhere else.
The irony is that we are protecting society’s habit of elevating the mother to be the “better” parent when in fact this is exactly the “status” that holds us back. Because all gendered norms are toxic.
The damage done by the societal message given to boys – that to be a man you have to go out to work, provide for your family, never admit to vulnerability, and bury every emotion except anger – is as great as the harm done to women by the narrative around the sanctity of motherhood (amongst others).
And the only way we change this is if we all move towards the middle.
Even families where men and women want to fulfil traditional gendered norms. They are not precluded from this because it is in our minds that the greatest shift needs to happen. Mothers and fathers have to explain their choices with a simple This is what works for us, rather than buying into a narrative about what women, and men, mothers and fathers should do.
But of course this movement towards “someone has to look after the children” has to also happen in practical places – workplaces, businesses and homes.
So far in this country men have been reluctant to ask for flexible working while the newer Shared Parental Leave has also failed to gain much traction. Really this should not surprise us. Men have witnessed (and been complicit in) the treatment of the women who have paved that way before them. The eye-rolls, the questions about commitment, and the assumptions about productivity: men have seen this happen to their female contemporaries countless times, so why wouldn’t they be afraid?
And perhaps women also need to concede a little of their “territory” – the territory that almost automatically places them as primary care-givers when a family breaks down (I acknowledge this is an epic over-simplification – it’s just something we should consider if we’re serious about gender equality); the territory that assumes women will want twelve months maternity leave but does not ring-fence extended paternity leave for men (in Scandinavian countries with almost total uptake of extended paternity leave, this time is not transferable – if the father does not use it, the time is lost); the territory that finds many of my friends not wanting their menfolk to take on their share of the household duties because they don’t do it properly.
And while I don’t for a second imagine that thinking ahead to next year’s Father’s Day and planning a thoughtful gift is going to have much impact in the face of a ten thousand years of gender inequality, perhaps giving up that particular piece of turf would be a good place to start.
I’ve always cared, but when hatred landed on my doorstep on Saturday night it dawned on me for the first time (naively indeed) that this is our new normal. We have been living a privileged life and now we are faced with one that felt so far away. And while we grieve for what is lost, this pain exists in tandem with the knowledge that as a society we are experiencing a fraction of the terror that is daily reality for so many around the world.
We are only learning what it feels like to not be able to keep our children safe.
We thank those who serve to protect and save us when the unimaginable happens. Yes, the emergency services did us proud. Yes, a response time of eight minutes is impressive. And yes, we come together in grief and determined defiance, as we’ve always done.
But truthfully, when there is evil amongst us, shouldn’t we be more angry?
Pledging to continue living our lives the way those who would murder us – have murdered us – despise, when not one person on Saturday night thought, “Today is the day”, is a hollow pledge. We continue because we have to but how many of us will change our plans when we’re freed of those obligations?
I won’t be the only mother who has decided against taking her children into the city because while I am able to Run, Hide, Tell, how do I do that with a two and four-year old in tow?
How do we stay strong when evil makes it clear that we are all but random targets?
How do we stand together when hate-filled voices and actions seek to divide us – when it’s not the division between the terrorists and us that threatens our society, it’s the division the terrorists seek to sow in our midst?
And how does talk of hope not hate, love, peace and unity feel anything but trite and futile when people are dying in our streets?
All the words have been said too many times, but none are ever enough and they are tired. We’re all tired of being defiant, resilient and pretending we’re not scared. And there is an alternative rhetoric that at times like this, with our resolve chipped away at, our conciliatory words threadbare through overuse, becomes increasingly seductive.
Take action! the angry voices implore, the implication being that those who could stop this are choosing not to. We look to the Muslim community to take responsibility and we ignore that those who commit these crimes are to Islam what the Ku Klux Klan are to Christianity – when was the last time we heard the Christian community having to answer for those who pervert their faith?
The same voices choose to ignore that Salman Abedi was reported five times to the Police by his community.
And the same voices look for cheap answers and easy blame without pausing to consider what the root causes of radicalisation might be.
Extremists, the mentally ill and psychopaths have always existed but now they have the ability to reach inside the homes, minds and hearts of vulnerable, marginalised people to twist their thoughts and darken their hearts.
Many of their targets are people who already feel the society they live in does not welcome them, does not offer them opportunity or belonging, so when someone comes along and tells them this is where you belong, we value you, then surely the seduction is easy to not condone, but understand.
We only have to look at the rise of UKIP, with its single issue platform of immigration, to understand that when people feel ignored they will change their views and move away from their fundamental values in order to feel represented. People will cut off their nose to spite their face in order to “stick it to the man” and when they do this the rest of us have a duty to ask But why?
Of course UKIP members and representatives are not murdering in the name of their cause (although we must never forget that Thomas Mair murdered Jo Cox motivated by extreme right-wing views – he was a terrorist too), but if we can understand what has driven people into the right-wings of their rhetoric, then surely its no great leap to understand how people can be radicalised and turned into terrorists?
But instead of trying to understand, those who Brendan Cox said “lick their lips when people die and use it as a chance to spread hatred” tell us the extremists are laughing at us. Theresa May tells us that we are too tolerant – we are to blame because we’re not angry enough.
Claiming to have the answers, “arrest, incarcerate, deport, repeat”, says that trumpeting abomination of British values, Katie Hopkins – and when we’ve been hit with bombs and vans and knives, it seems fair to question the validity of vacuous platitudes of love, harmony and togetherness. We wonder how can we justify only arming ourselves with words?
But discomfort with this narrative should never be far away. Of course more needs to be done – no one is suggesting we should condone the actions of the few that terrify the many – but when there are calls to arrest and imprison people we have to ask, “At what point?”
Laws in the UK already ban incitement to hatred and violence, including on the grounds of religion or belief, so how much further do we go? Are we really prepared to take steps towards the chilling precedent of Thought Crime set so far only in fiction? Are we ready to indefinitely incarcerate people without trial?
Defending British values by echoing the policies and behaviours of nations we criticise and claim to be morally superior to – Saudi Arabia for example – is stark in its hypocrisy. Are they the example we really want to follow?
I’m no expert. The questions are huge and many, the solutions so far are few, and as those with the knowledge and power wrangle for the best course of action I am left uncertain and scared about our future, often breathless with incomprehension at the horror that just keeps coming.
But while I accept love and hope are useless in physical combat with bombs and knives, it seems to me that the biggest falsehood exists in the narrative that insists aggression is strong where compassion is weak; love is naive but hate holds the answers.
Deep down we know the truth – history tells us hate has never resulted in anything except more hate; peace is born from peace – and its a truth to which we must keep returning.
To look after each other; to refuse to turn to hatred and be eaten up by anger; to stand together, are actions of power and significance.
Alone they are not enough – the solution, should it ever be found, will be varied and complex. But nothing will work if decency does not exist as its foundation, and it’s a foundation we can all help build.
Image credit Cleo Wade
How are you? I hope this finds you well and you’ve not been caught too unawares by the social media storm your article in today’s Daily Mail has caused. I somehow suspect you haven’t.
I took a moment to google you after reading your piece and spent some times reading some blog posts on your website, and skimming your Twitter feed. All in the name of research, you see (and for the avoidance of doubt that is spelled R E S E A R C H and is defined as the systematic investigation into a study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions, NOT take a couple of sentences completely out of context and use them to support lies and misinformation to further your own agenda).
It appears you enjoy Strictly Come Dancing, dislike Katy Hopkins and think Jeremy Hunt is a bellend – so far so good. But then you had to go and spoil it all.
To be honest I’m struggling to decide what motivated you to write the article – I suppose only you will really ever know but these are my best guesses:
- You really believe what you say and want to extend a comforting arm of support to those who are miserable because they absolutely love motherhood. They can’t figure out how to press unfollow on the social media feeds and blogs of the women you feature so you’ve written your piece as an act of solidarity.
- You made different choices to the women you featured, and feel threatened that they are doing things differently.
- You are jealous because they are more successful writers than you.
- The Daily Mail contacted you and paid you an incomprehensible sum of money to write the article and compromise your own believes – SO much money that you’d have been a mug to turn it down.
- You really need the £50 – £150 The Daily Mail usually pay for articles like this one.
- This is a cynical publicity stunt to market your book – by throwing these women under the wheels of the bus (go round and round) you can (this little) piggy-back (goes to market) on the outrage of their combined hundreds of thousands of social media followers and perhaps pick up a few sales.
As I’ve already said, only you will ever know the truth about why, but one thing I can say for certain is YOU’RE WRONG.
You’re wrong to call them “bordering on neglectful” and accuse them of “dimwit narcissism” . You’re wrong to call them deceitful, arrogant, and suggest that none of them have ever experienced or expressed “a sense of wonder about their baby”. You’re wrong simply when you say their target audience is “mostly new mothers”.
Either you really haven’t done your research, or you don’t care that these accusations are untrue. Neither of these scenarios suggest to me you have the right to any moral high ground.
But beyond the startling hypocrisy of telling women to “pause in their feverish mockery of motherhood” while you single out some brilliant mothers for verbal abuse that borders on slander, there is a more insidious narrative behind your words.
The narrative you suggest where “having a new baby is a gift” that some women never get to have, that is “precious” and “should be cherished” isn’t untrue but to suggest it should be the only narrative is dangerous.
It is irresponsible to suggest that a woman, who is not enjoying the early days, is suffering the psychological and physical impact of a traumatic birth; perhaps her relationship is under strain and she lives many miles away from her family; or maybe her baby has reflux and rarely sleeps longer than an hour at a time and is always crying when he/ she is awake, should put up and shut up, and be grateful for what she has.
Just a few days ago the tiny corner of the world wide web that I inhabit was awash with messages of solidarity and support about Maternal Mental Health. As a woman who suffered enormously with post-natal anxiety, flashbacks, dark thoughts and a general desire to escape my life following the birth of my daughter, your venomous dismissal of women who have done so much to open the closed doors behind which many a mother has sat and cried, is offensive.
And in response to your token defence of mothers who didn’t struggle like I did, the mothers you describe as feeling patronised by the alleged suggestion “that a home cooked meal, laundered baby clothes and clean nappies are beyond the wit of most mums”, consider this – they are not the ones trawling the internet at 3am desperately seeking reassurance that they are normal for wanting to scream FUUUUUCK OOOOOFF everytime their 2 week old baby’s gums clamp solidly round their bleeding, blistered, thrush-infected nipples.
They are happy with their lot. They have everything they “ever dreamed of”, as did you. So why the determination to pit those women against these?
Rule 1 of the sisterhood, Anna, is that you can’t defend one group of women by attacking another – it just doesn’t work like that.
So put your faux-concern aside, let’s lever those judgey pants right out of your crack and kick them off from around your ankles, I’m sure they must be keeping you up at night (and we all know how sleepless nights can make one a little nutty). Just give yourself and other women a break and even you Anna, are welcome to sit with us.
But should just one mother read your article and feel guilty and alone with any negative thoughts and feelings she is having then I sincerely hope your sleep is disrupted and your fanny feels on fire for eternity.
But that’s ok because you’re #grateful, right?
Yours faithfully flipping the middle fish finger,
Thirty-five of the things I’ve cared about in the last 48 hours:
- The refugee crisis
- General Election 2017
- Cuts to education and the NHS
- Benefit cuts which have hit women hardest, and which have been blamed for a 60% increase in prostitution in Doncaster since 2015 as vulnerable women struggle to support their families
- Tory fuckers
- Ethical fashion
- The fur trade
- Palm oil
- Mental health
- Maternal mental health
- Destigmatising mental illness
- Wasting food
- Eating non-organic food
- Feeding my children non-organic food
- Not cooking food from scratch
- Giving into requests for “just one more tiny one” when attempting to not feed my children food that is barely food
- (Not) exercising
- (Not) living in the moment
- (Not) knowing what to wear
- (Not) wearing make-up
- Rampant facial and body hair
- Farmer’s hands
- Flaky winter feet
- What example am I setting my daughter by being a stay-at-home-mum?
- Should I focus only on raising my children well and care less about the world?
- Why aren’t I doing more to help the world?
- Why aren’t I doing more to stimulate and support my children?
- Do we need to take vitamin supplements?
- Am I drinking too much tea?
- Do my teeth look yellow in pictures?
Obviously some things stand at the “oh chuff off” end of the spectrum (looking at you online article on How to be bikini ready this summer), while others exist in an “out of my control” realm that apparently means we shouldn’t worry about them.
But worry we do in a mindless Why did we bring these perfect little beings into such a funked up world type way. Although we necessarily move on there is a little weight added, a slight staining of the day.
The other day though, when my heartfelt response to the meme
was FFS something else to think/care about/ do, it was clear there was a problem.
The self-care message is one I find annoying mainly because I know it’s right and yet find myself unable (unwilling?) to find the room to do it. Whenever I get a few hours away from the demands of the house/ work I rush away desperate to start working on a new piece of writing. I tell myself that I love writing so it is practising self-care to just crack on with it.
But actually, much of the time writing is torture. Sometimes I wonder if I’m purely addicted to the endorphine rush I get when I find the right words, the right sentence construction to make sense of the tangled mess of thoughts in my head. The rest of the time I feel pretty shit about it – I don’t actually love writing it seems, I love having written (thanks Dorothy Parker for the inspo).
But I digress. Because really my point is how did I get to the point where a message about taking on less, made me feel more pressured to do more, to care more, even if only about myself?
Compassion fatigue is something I’m vaguely familiar with. In a previous life my colleagues and I once completed a questionnaire to see how empathetic we were. Turns out we were all raging psychopaths incapable of even looking at someone else’s shoes, nevermind walking in them.
Even for teachers this seemed a little harsh, especially as we worked in an inner-London comprehensive school and felt assured of our moral superiority. After laughing for longer than was appropriate, we assured ourselves that we were “merely” suffering compassion fatigue, so used we were to dealing with good people existing in shitty situations.
But this felt different.
This was not about feeling resistant to helping people who were suffering (including myself in some small way), this was about not wanting to know in the first place.
I was all cared out.
These days we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us the gumpf they contain is THE MOST IMPORTANT INFORMATION IN THE WORLD and YOU MUST ACT NOW!
Many of us use social media to keep track of the main news stories of the day, and the work of charitable organisations, but alongside that undeniably important “stuff” are the brand and lifestyle messages, many from Real People. Traditional advertising is predictable and easy to avoid but the scroll becomes a heady concoction of people and subjects the user genuinely is interested in, alongside things we feel we should care about – other people care, it must be important, what am I missing?
The equal importance given to these messages, the amplification of doing yoga with perfect hair and immaculate makeup, while wearing only ethically-produced organic cotton and drinking something suspiciously green, means the boundary between perceived, and actual, importance is blurred. As demonstrated by my use of the word “important/ce” five times in two paragraphs, the overall effect is we become overwhelmed by ALL OF THE IMPORTANCE (six).
It’s not even as straightforward as being ruthless and unfollowing the things you are not interested in. For me that means coming to terms with the fact that I’m not that bothered about exercising or eating well. I mean, who wants to admit they essentially want to die young?
I know this is BAD, I really should care, and so I carry on following the feeds with an unrealistic idea that one day I will find the room in my life to do something about it.
And so we arrive back at the #selfcare induced rebellion.
I’d lost perspective, my filters had failed, and I’d jumbled together the important and the trivial until my synapses trembled with a dial-up warbling of no-connection. The only thing to do was to turn my back on it all and let my echo chamber ring silent.
I tuned out, ignored the news, retreated from Twitter and immersed myself fully in the latest domestic drama about a popped balloon or a doll’s missing shoe. I shoved my head into the bottom of the washing basket, and spent time digging out errant socks. I lifted up and replaced multiple items of handwash-only clothes that I bought in a previous life before procreation rendered my main function as a tissue. I decided that this was where I was supposed to be. This is where I was needed.
It was nice. For a while.
But being an opinionated person with no opinions is disorientating. It wasn’t long before my mind pushed at the self-imposed boundaries and I started to wonder what was happening in the real world.
So is this the conundrum – live a disconnected life, calm and unfettered by worries about the state of the world/ your wardrobe but be a bit bored, OR take it all on, be interested in everything, look at what other people care about and why and, when you can, use their experiences to improve yours? Taking a middle ground of caring but not too much just feels a little lame – I’m sure it works for some but I’m an all or nothing girl.
So, for now I’m back in the game. I’m drinking it all in and for now I feel confident about my priorities. I’m also pretty certain my filters will get blocked from all the sludge-slinging at some point in the future but this time I’m paying more attention to the off button. Every now and again I’m not going to be afraid to hit it because it will definitely all be there waiting when I return.
Even that fucking meme.
Why not take this overly-simplified, horribly stereotyped test to tell you what you already know?
I know, I’m selling it HARD.
When you open the curtains to find the weather is grey and drizzly with that fine rain that apparently gets you really wet, you know, wetter than other water falling from the sky, do you:
(a) Fist pump the air, skip into the kitchen and gleefully set up a craft activity? Wet weather is to be celebrated with paint, glitter and glue!
(b) Cry into your coffee, scan the weather forecast on your phone for any glimmer of hope, and then set up “camp” on the sofa with the kids duvets, some popcorn and stick on Frozen for the eleven-thousandth time?
2. When you arrange to hold playdate at a friend’s house do you:
(a) Worry because there might be access to toys/ food/ tv that you don’t approve of?
(b) Fist pump the air because 1. You don’t have to cook 2. You don’t have to tidy up 3. you don’t have to cook 4. You don’t have to tidy up?
3. When your kid begs to bake some cakes do you:
(a) Break out the food processor, pastel hued Joseph&Joseph mixing bowls – one per child – and matching silicone baking tins?
(b) Buy a Peppa Pig packet mix from the Co-op and precariously balance the paper cases in a roasting tin. Referee between children who ALL want to stir the cake mix AT THE SAME TIME IT’SMYTURNMUMMEEEEEMYTURNMINE!
4. On a trip to the playground, do you:
(a) Lead a game of hunt the Gruffalo/ bear/ witch in amongst the trees with your kids and any others who want to join in?
(b) Send them to hide, count loudly to ten, and then pretend to look for them while you sit on a bench and shout, “Are you behind the swings? Are you under this leaf? Nooooooo… I wonder where you could be…”?
5. When you’re at soft-play do you:
(a) Throw yourself with wild abandon up and around the curiously sticky plastic surfaces, without wondering why they are quite so tacky?
(b) Send them into the melee alone – they’ll be fine, the REALLY big kids are at school?
6. Do you cook up elaborate plans for day-trips because:
(a) It’s important to show them the world outside their little bubble?
(b) The more time spent out of the house, the less mess there is for you to tidy up?
7. Do you look at friends without children and:
(a) Pity them the fun and laughter they’re missing out on?
(b) Envy the lack of contact with bodily fluids that they make on a daily basis, and the adult conversations that they get to finish without requests to be accompanied to the toilet for a poo?
8. When negotiating with a two-year-old about whether its reasonable to use kitchen scissors do you:
(a) Get on their level, look them in the eye and explain calmly that scissors are dangerous, are not toys, and offer a hug in exchange?
(b) Swap them for a KitKat?
9. When you want to shower/ wash hair/ defuzz do you:
(a)bribe the kids with snacks and sit them on your bed with Paw Patrol?
(b) Get up early and do it before they wake up?
10. When off on a childfree overnight jaunt do you post on social media:
(a) How much you are going to miss the kids (
b) How much you are going to miss the kids but also now much you’re looking forward to guilt-free drinking/ bacon you don’t have to share/ reading newspapers/ maybe a bonk?
Now, in true 1990s Smash Hits fashion, count up the number of As and Bs that you chose:
If you answered mostly A: congratulations! You are a mum and you love your children unconditionally. You are doing your best to keep them alive and happy, while hoping they don’t turn out absolute arseholes, and that really is all that matters!
If you answered a mixture of As and Bs: congratulations! You are a mum and you love your children unconditionally. You are doing your best to keep them alive and happy, while hoping they don’t turn out absolute arseholes, and that really is all that matters!
If you answered mostly B: congratulations! You are a mum and you love your children unconditionally. You are doing your best to keep them alive and happy, while hoping they don’t turn out absolute arseholes, and that really is all that matters!
Never was the saying “the grass is always greener” more apt than it is for this but since I was about 15 I’ve never understood any woman’s desire for big boobs.
A teenager of the 90s and well-versed in the pneumatic vitals of the Baywatch brigade, perhaps I should have been happy to sprout a pair of mahoosive funbags. In reality they’ve been nothing but a literal and metaphorical pain in the chest and if you’re an owner of excess chest-flesh you too might recognise some of these reasons why:
- The never-ending conundrums of clothing – shirts (gape), jackets (don’t fasten), roll necks/ high-necked blouses (matronly/ make you look like you’ve slung your boobs runs your waist as a belt), crew necks (frumpy), v-necks (slutty), strapless tops (useless strapless bras), backless tops (don’t be silly).
- The torment of going bra shopping.
- The torment of going bra shopping for something sexy.
- The torment of going bra shopping and realising you’ll need to sell your car before affording more than one black and one nude bra. The sexy(ish) stuff will have to wait anyway it seems.
- The misery of going bra shopping with your B cup friend – even nursing bras look cute when your mams are less-ostrich-more-fried egg.
- Thinking bra shopping was bad enough and then having to buy a bikini. At least ugly, frumpy bras get hidden under clothes.
- The horror when you find out your boobs grow when you’re pregnant.
- The surprise when your areola stretches to the size of a side plate.
- The terror when you attempt breastfeeding and realise a single boob is bigger than your baby’s head. There is a very real chance you may suffocate him/her.
- The agony of spending the first three months bending your neck at an excruciating angle to ensure at least one tiny nostril remains uncovered.
- The lingering disappointment when you realise the Netflix and Chill version of early motherhood is nowt but a dream – one hand is needed for the baby’s head, the other hand is needed to stop your boob disappearing under your armpit. You have no more hands and you realise too late that the remote control/ your phone is out of reach.
- The pain of thinking “sod it” and reaching for the remote control/ phone only for your carefully balanced boob to slip out of the baby’s mouth with an agonising slide of tender nipple over surprisingly sharp gums.
- The “hilarity” of someone wearing your bra as a hat.
- The reality of back fat. Chest fat. Upper arm fat. All extensions of breast tissue apparently.
- The sadness of realising that the last time you passed the pencil test was when you were twelve.
- The discomfort of attempting any exercise without a sports bra/ scaffolding. Even walking fast can produce a distressing level of tremor.
- The annoyance of being told, “I wish I had big boobs”. Oh really? See above.
The scale of the adjustment from no children to one has never since been matched despite the best efforts of the arrival of a second child and the departure of my career. There’s no doubt that motherhood has changed me.
I’m confident I’m not alone in that assertion but does motherhood, should motherhood, define us?
Elements of the media clearly feel motherhood does define women who squeeze out a sprog or few. The obsession with labelling women as mumboss, mumpreneur, Instamum, the grandmother of them all yummy-mummy, or its backlash slummy-mummy, make it clear that whether a woman is groomed or not; running a household, a business or a team; or perhaps is vlogging and flogging herself to the highest bidder on the internet, the most significant thing to remember about her in every context is that she’s someone’s mum.
For most mothers at least trying to do a good job, the centre of every decision is occupied by their children. Where they live, the hours they (don’t?) work, whether they pursue career advancement, how often they wee – children are generally speaking the Most Valued Players in every game.
But what is insulting is the obsession with reducing the rest of a mother’s life, personality, interests, abilities, qualifications, passions and experiences to bit-parts in a mother’s world. We see them relegated to the subs bench, only allowed onto the pitch once the real work is done and the most important player, Mum, has received the right amount of attention.
Not everyone feels these terms are negative – some people insist they are a compliment, shorthand for, “Wow she’s a mum AND a boss/ entrepeneur/ looks good – she’s smashing it!” but isn’t this a bit patronising?
It suggests that managing to spin all the plates without them smashing all over the floor is surprising – you clever girl! But this exclamation mark is one that never gets applied to dads – no one ever questions how a father can have children and be successful elsewhere – and so you start to apply a question mark instead.
If it takes two to tango, why, like DNA, is the raising of a new life not split 50-50? The possession of a vagina does not determine the superiority of one’s ability as a parent. Once birth and breastfeeding are out of the way, what exactly can women do that men can’t?
Facing down a four year old’s determined resistance to dressing herself in the morning feels akin to watching the change in outdated gender norms. We all know it needs to happen, it’s for everyone’s benefit, but progress is painfully slow. Cheek-biting and concerns about the future are shared responses to both, but society’s obsession with defining women with children as mums first is a problem that is not going to be solved with stickers and a trip down the supermarket toy aisle.
Men have their status as entrepeneurs, bosses, or just plain old breadwinners taken for granted. They are committed to their graft, their attention is never divided so the words used to describe them have no need to be either.
In contrast, the mum-isms suggest a mother’s attention is always divided and whenever a woman grows a new one the assumption is triggered that to be a good mother she must always be available to her children.
Being called a mumboss or otherwise is only a compliment when we assume we are congratulating a women for managing to juggle it all. The absence of a fatherhood equivalent suggests dads are never even expected to do the juggle. Being a good father does not hinge on being available – being a mum comes first, we are told, but being a dad doesn’t.
This problem is huge, systemic, wrapped up in generations of gender norms and predetermination and simply changing the words we use is not even close to the whole answer. But is a start.
And while we’re at it, perhaps we also need to reject the premise of the question that asks does motherhood define us – a question that pits women against one another and often tells us nothing other than what an individual believes “define” means.
Instead, until we adjust the compass to make it possible for fathers to be dadbosses, or mums just plain old bosses, the pointing, probing, relentless question we should all continue to demand the uncomfortable answers to is, should motherhood limit us?
Image credit: Lola Hoad Design
I’ve been afraid recently. Afraid that I can’t keep my children safe. It’s something all parents know we have to deal with, but recently I’ve been feeling heavy with it.
The attacks on Westminster shoved my breath sideways a week or so later when I stood outside the exit to the tube. The tarmac seemed to have absorbed the shock, hurt and horror of that day. As I looked around at the streets, those buildings and the people, the thought, They never thought it would happen to them pulsated in my mind and I hurried away with heaving breaths.
With the help of friends I’ve reframed that fear since – stabbings happen and cars mount the pavement every day somewhere in this city, this country and the rest of the world. It does not diminish the tragedy of the lives lost or permanently affected by the events on that day, but it does diminish its power.
But even reframing it leaves a nag catching in the back of mind because regardless of the method, or whatever madness it’s attributed too, it’s the hate I can’t handle: the dismissal of another human being as being less than you.
Hatred breeds hatred, the worn words proclaim, and as the pixels and airwaves exploded following the attack on Westminster, their exhaustion was explained. The pace and vitriol of those looking for someone to blame, a reason that suited their rhetoric, spoke tellingly of people just waiting for an excuse.
But in this picture I find hope.
It’s a different place, a different issue but it’s a response to the same hate. Her insouciant smile in the face of his spitting aggression; her disdain and bemusement at his impotent, ignorant rage, so clear and cutting for everyone to see.
So, as she stares with no-nonsense contempt, I find my self challenging the despondancy I’ve been feeling – nothing is getting better, the world is full of nobheads and bigots and arseholes and Trump – I should just take shelter in a simple life well lived, raising my children, keeping my peace.
It’s a feeling borne of small things – a conversation, a comment by a stranger, a series of headlines that eat away at the validity of the burning feeling deep in my gut and the prickling behind my eyes. But this picture has solidified my resolve.
How can I feel beaten down by a mere conversation when, hands in pocket, she looks hate in the eye – and smiles?
It was a disorientating conversation to be fair – the woman was intelligent, articulate and passionate about what she was saying. She insisted that young women are being sent the wrong message about being able to “have it all” – that they need to be told the truth about how hard it is and adjust their expectations. I suggested perhaps we need to expect more from men, not less from women, to which she responded, “My husband can’t even put an empty packet in the bin. We are years away. Years.”
While she’s probably right on the timeframe, I was wrong to turn inwards, mask the eye-roll and feel that her certainty qualified her to convince me I was wrong.
And what about the mother outside the hospital who yelled at her daughter for swinging on the bike racks? “You’ve got to be a girly-girl,” she shouted as we walked past. My heart plummeted and “What’s the point…?” were the next words out of my mouth.
The wave of hope The Women’s March awakened in us all has been drowned out by a never-ending stream of attacks on our conviction. The backlash against “Legsit” did nothing to quell an emboldened, “anti-political correctness” right who continue their onslaught to undermine every hard-won increment of what we’re allowed to say.
The Co-op advert, be it an unfortunate error or intentional publicity stunt, was thought up by someone, apparently questioned by no one with the power to change it, and is just a small part of a limiting picture being drawn by people determined to use only the blue and pink crayons.
On the other side of an ocean but magnified by status and disbelief, Trump continues on his quest to, this time metaphorically, make a grab for women’s bodies. Meanwhile, the rule changes on Child Benefit here are the latest peculiar and insulting discriminatory attack against vulnerable women least able to stare down their aggressors.
But Saffiyah Khan has reminded me that fighting bigotry, and its insidious bedfellow injustice, on all fronts is worth it. The fight for women’s rights does not have the visceral urgency of a Pakistani-Bosnian-brummy woman standing up for her city against a misguided mob of white-English-men but still I find strength in this picture and I can’t stop looking at it.
I gaze at her grace and her glory and find certainty that I too might be a little more brave.
Because when you’re right you have to stand up, in your own way and however you can, because there is always a point.
Every so often, parenting has been going a bit too smoothly so I suggest something I know I’ll regret as soon as it starts/ the words are out of my mouth: “Let’s do some baking!”
I don’t quite know why I do this – perhaps it is the glee and excitement on the girl’s face whenever the B-word is mentioned? Maybe it’s the guilt that I ship us off to the park at least once a day, partly (mostly?) so I don’t have any mess to tidy up at home? Or maybe it’s the last shredded remnant of The-Mum-I-Thought-I-Would-Be speaking – all exploration and experiments, you know, letting them be little – the reality being, fine, as long as it doesn’t involve glitter.
I’m a person who once used gravy powder to make chocolate muffins; the last time I made a cake I set the microwave on fire with my efforts to soften the foil-wrapped butter.
I’m not good in the kitchen.
It should come as no surprise then that the next discovery, after I’ve reminded myself that I hate baking but appear to love shooting myself in the foot, is that my cupboards do not contain the correct combination of staples.
Coats, shoes and pushchairs have to be wrestled with as we face the trip to the shop that I know is going to end with someone crying, and/ or a parental crumble (I find at least two parts topping to one part parent provides the best results) as I resentfully buy the latest edition of CRAP magazine.
Ingredients purchased, plastic tat broken, magazine discarded, its finally time to bake. But not before I’ve struggled with a conundrum – bake while the boy is asleep but sacrifice a cup of tea and a sit down, or wait until he wakes, aware that 90 minutes is not enough time to evolve the eyes in my arse I will require.
To be honest, baking with one child or two isn’t really the issue. I just hate even the threat of the mess. (Fortunately the boy performs a veritable cornucopia of household appliance roles – he hovers up the crumbs, deposits them in his internal dustbin (he once ate a stone with no noticeable side effects) and then celebrates the sugar high by doing a passable impression of the washing machine spin cycle.)
The fact that the girl who loves baking doesn’t really like cake is not entirely motivational either.
Despite not being The-Mum-I-Thought-I-Would-Be though, I do occasionally try. I live for the moments that I manage to make the small people happy, and to be honest I get bored doing the same-old all the time too.
Positive pants slapped back on I whip out the whisk, take a deep breath and preempt the imminent patience-drain by silently chanting my fallback mantra, “What would Flop do?”
Just as I credit Peppa with successfully preparing my daughter for the dentist, sharing her room with her brother, and teaching her to say “No” in an impressively dismissive manner, I also look to Bing’s tiny potato-shaped parent (weird how genetics work, huh?)for lessons on how not to eff up the small people.
Unorthodox it may be but anyone familiar with that moany Bing Bunny brat will already harbour healthy respect for Flop’s parenting. His ability to make Bing see sense where any other preschooler would see only rage and a reason to make their parent pay, is legendary, and from him we must learn.
Girlchild asked to ride her bike to the park, but doesn’t want to ride it back – what would Flop do?
Boychild insists on stuffing toy cars down his sleeping bag – can’t fall asleep without them, can’t stay asleep lying on them – what would Flop do?
Or, as in Easter Eggs, when one child drops her chocolate egg and it breaks all over the floor – what would Flop do?
Well, apparently he’d use some sort of witchcraft, Jedi mind trick or sleight of hand bribery, glossed over in the pages of the book, because Bing shares his egg.
I admit its unlikely, and absolutely makes me question my parenting ability, but if my kids can learn a bit of empathy while tormenting me at bedtime then I’m on board with that book.
But what about the baking?
With my mantra tucked in my parenting tool belt to stop me from cracking up, I break out the eggs and dust off the flour but if I’m honest there are also times when it’s less the cookie and more my sanity that is crumbling. Enter stage left, Bing Baking.
Nothing can quite replace the concentration-flour-clouds that accompany a baking four-year-old’s breath, or the surprising amount of strength required to cream sugar into butter, but when you just need to keep yourself afloat or the family alive it turns out there’s an app acceptable for that.
Bing Baking means your wee-one can practise the method with none of the madness – the rolling, the cutting, the baking and decorating, it’s all there with none of the mess and for what its worth, I reckon that if Flop really was a parent, that’s exactly what he would sometimes do too.
Written in collaboration with Bing Bunny, Acamar Films (with thanks for the bundle of Bing fun) but rest assured that all comments, opinions and hatred of baking are wholeheartedly mine.
Next stop on Bing Bunny’s Easter blogger’s tour is @laurasidestreet www.sidestreetstyle.com
Easter Eggs – RRP £5.99 from Amazon Bing and Sula are hunting for Easter eggs in the playground, in this egg-shaped board book based on the hit CBeebies TV series. But when Sula drops her chocolatey egg and it breaks, Bing decides to share his to cheer her up. Sharing an Easter egg… it’s a Bing thing! This Bing storybook is recommended reading for Bingsters aged 2+.
Bing Baking – RRP £1.99 from the App store (Apple Devices) or Google Play (Android) For the first time, your child can be part of Bing’s colourful and playful world by joining him and Flop in their kitchen for a joyful, fun and messy baking experience. In this child-friendly, super-creative app, your Bingster will get the chance to make and decorate a new batch of biscuits each time they play. They can roll the dough or squidge it with their hands, using an array of cutters to make different shapes. Once their biscuits are decorated, they can be popped in the oven but you’ll need to keep an eye on Chicky Timer to make sure the biscuits don’t burn. If they do, it’s no big thing – you might not be able to eat them but you can still decorate them. Don’t forget to tap on the camera to take a snapshot of your yummy delicious treats before you and Bing sit down to eat them together. Yum, yum, yum!
Driving a car, operating heavy machinery or being wrist deep in a shitty nappy, are all things best done while not looking at your phone. Death, maiming, the upsetting realisation that your finger has pierced a wipe and the whiff of poo under your nail is going to inexplicably linger for hours, are all reasonable motivation for not titting around on Twitter, or fiddling with filters.
But at a playgroup?
A few weeks ago I was shamed and consigned to staring at my child while he stayed still and played with the same toy for 45 minutes. He did not want me to touch the cars – a firm out-stretched fore-finger and the words no, mummy made that clear – and naturally, as I could not exploit the time for my own purpose, he discovered hitherto unknown, and since unvisited, levels of concentration.
To begin with I was sat on a twelve-inch-high chair, two feet and a flicker of an eye-ball away from my son. My phone was in my lap and I was tweeting (for my course aka study aka my new future aka how I hope to pay bills and buy stuff) when there was a tap on my shoulder accompanied by a conscending smile and, “Sorry, can you put that away? We don’t allow phones inside.”
In a click I worked my traitorous-face away from my first thought of, WTF? Do you KNOW how much work I have to do?! through to the reasons why this was their rule. I figured they were concerned that parents might not interact with each other/ their children/ keep their children alive if they were distracted by screens, and I was on the verge of a self-congratulatory I’m-such-a-good-adult-it’s-not-the-end-of-the-world moment when…
“You can use it outside though…”
WTF? smeared itself back across my face as I struggled with the logic of this, but fortunately the member of staff had moved away to deal with a squabble over a half-functioning plastic vacuum cleaner.
I observed as one tiny hooligan’s owner extricated herself from conversation and did that large-stepping, half-stooping walk we do when we realise our children are being feral. Its as though we are trying to reasssure any onlooker that we’re moving quickly and are ready to get down on their level and make eye-contact because we’re such a good mum who was in no way, nope, nada, not at all, distracted.
I (ironically) waited for the, “Sorry can you look after your children? We don’t allow conversation inside,” judgement to descend but unsurprisingly there was none.
What had dawned on me though was that this may not be about interaction or safety – this was (sort of) akin Chamillionaire’s tales of racial profiling and police brutality in his 2005 hit Ridin. I had been judged and juried for using my phone in the presence of Prince Procreated – they’d seen me scrollin’, and they were hatin’.
It appeared bizarre that we weren’t to use our phone inside while our child was playing quietly, but using it outside in an arena reminiscent of the Hunger Games was a-ok. The part of the film when all twenty-four tributes enter and make a dash for the most covertable weapons, picking off the weaker contestants along the way, while displaying vein-rupturing levels of aggression, can only have been imagined by someone familiar with the average preschooler tussle over the Little Tykes. But apparently parental distraction was to be welcomed here?
And what exactly is the difference between someone being engrossed in a Twitter thread about Piers Morgan being a penis, and being crotch deep in a face-to-face discussion of Brexit/ school catchment areas/ how your blood bubbles every time your husband fails to see “the stairs pile” (a common and bonding annoyance I have found)?
Who hasn’t, mid-conversation, vaguely heard a child yelling “mummmmmyyy, heeelllpppp” in the background but carried on chatting? Seconds later you’re yanked away by the flapping realisation that the yell is coming from YOUR child who has climbed into the toy washing machine. Thanks to genetically-acquired-and-one-day-to-be-grateful-for-freakishly-long-legs she is now jammed and can’t get out, and yet no one has ever told me not to chat.
The fact is that levels of attachment to a screen is definitely NOT an accurate prediction of a parent’s attention to the scream, so why the Rule, heavy as it is with all its implicit judgement that a parent on their phone is a neglectful one?
I am friends with enough working mums to know that receiving emails, messages and phonecalls during their “days off” is not unusual, and in many cases is expected. One friend told me how, when receiving calls from work, the person on the other end would hear the children and say, “Oh is there a better time?”. She would think, Yes, when I’m in the office. This is how I spend ALL my time when I’m not, you ignorant childfree chump – most people have nowhere to stash the small people whenever they become “inconvenient”, so what’s with the sniffy?
The world is also awash with parents (dare I say mums, because in the main it is?) who have been booted out of the traditional workplace so are setting up for themselves. As makers, cake-bakers, social media managers or clothing designers, they are in a classic chicken and egg situation – the money they need to pay for childcare comes from working more, but they can’t work more until they have the childcare.
So in steps the safe, friendly, entertaining stay-and-play where emails can be checked free of whines and requests for a few minutes, and you can be reasonably certain that no one is going to die.
And besides the working mums, what if, starved of empty minutes spent commuting, the stay-at-home-mum is using her phone to connect with family and friends? She’s had a pretty shit day, or week, or month, and that connection with other people gives her comfort and reassurance.
But oh no. Bad mum.
I once saw a woman stand up (with a microphone no less) and say, “Whenever I see a mum walking along or in the playground on her phone, I wanna trip her up and tell her to look at her kids.”
The jarring lack of thought and empathy could have sent me sliding down Guilt Gulley midway as I was through the training to be a social media manager that had me treating my phone like an extra limb. Instead, in a moment of rare confidence and certainty I decided to view her as a few bars short of Instagrammable wi-fi.
But this Rule at the playgroup has made me think again.
The implicit assumption seems to be that whenever you see a mum on her phone in the presence of her kids, 1. what she is doing is unimportant, and 2. that it is all she ever does.
I’m not suggesting that parents shouldn’t limit their screen time when around their kids. I’ve definitely been guilty of using my phone too much and have seen how my children turn from charmingly cheeky rascals into feral wildlings as a result.
I also don’t want them to ever think that I find my phone more interesting than they are so I do my best to limit it.
But the main thing is that, like everything in this parenting lark, judgment is cheap and easy when compassion and understanding would actually go much further.
So next time you see a fellow mum with her face in her phone, maybe challenge the first thought you have. Maybe speak up at work when a colleague says, “Let’s just give Nicola a quick call” with its unspoken suggestion that she’s only looking after her kids, or you could even join The Women’s Equality Party who have affordable childcare as a cornerstone of their manifesto.
At my local playgroup meanwhile, I might just (probably anonymously) suggest they display signs which say, “If you hear a scream, look up from your screen”, because next time they see me scrolling, I don’t want to feel them hating.