Should motherhood define us?

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down a four year old’s determined resistance to dressing herself in the morning feels akin to watching the change in outdated gender norms.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

In her glory I find certainty that I might be a little more brave

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.

What would Flop do?

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?”

That’s right.

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.

Flop
No, Flop, I don’t know what I’m doing either

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 Book

 

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!