How Fathers Day is key in the battle for gender equality (yes, really)

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.

steph2bcafe1
Steph Douglas – she talks sense does that one…

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.

azarenka-boyfriend-with-son
Oh yes BBC, I see what you mean. The father of Victoria Azarenka’s child look completely inept. I mean look how he’s cuddling that baby and smiling

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.

Why I choose love and hope even when they’re useless

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

Dear Anna


Dear Anna,

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:

  1. 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.
  2. You made different choices to the women you featured, and feel threatened that they are doing things differently.
  3. You are jealous because they are more successful writers than you.
  4. 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.
  5. You really need the £50 – £150 The Daily Mail usually pay for articles like this one.
  6. 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,

Nicola Washington.

PS.

 

Over-caring is wearing: the day I told #selfcare to do one

Thirty-five of the things I’ve cared about in the last 48 hours:

  1. Trump
  2. Russia
  3. Syria
  4. The refugee crisis
  5. Brexit
  6. General Election 2017
  7. Cuts to education and the NHS
  8. 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
  9. Tory fuckers
  10. Ethical fashion
  11. The fur trade
  12. Recycling
  13. Palm oil
  14. Mental health
  15. Maternal mental health
  16. Destigmatising mental illness
  17. Wasting food
  18. Eating non-organic food
  19. Feeding my children non-organic food
  20. Not cooking food from scratch
  21. Giving into requests for “just one more tiny one” when attempting to not feed my children food that is barely food
  22. (Not) exercising
  23. (Not) living in the moment
  24. (Not) knowing what to wear
  25. (Not) wearing make-up
  26. Rampant facial and body hair
  27. Farmer’s hands
  28. Flaky winter feet
  29. What example am I setting my daughter by being a stay-at-home-mum?
  30. Should I focus only on raising my children well and care less about the world?
  31. Why aren’t I doing more to help the world?
  32. Why aren’t I doing more to stimulate and support my children?
  33. Do we need to take vitamin supplements?
  34. Am I drinking too much tea?
  35. 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

You cant pour
#selfcare

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).

Dorothy Parker

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.

What kind of mum are you?

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!

I haven’t passed the pencil test since I was 12, and other woes “well-endowed” women will understand

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:

  1. 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).
  2. The torment of going bra shopping.
  3. The torment of going bra shopping for something sexy.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Thinking bra shopping was bad enough and then having to buy a bikini. At least ugly, frumpy bras get hidden under clothes.
  7. The horror when you find out your boobs grow when you’re pregnant.
  8. The surprise when your areola stretches to the size of a side plate.
  9. 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.
  10. The agony of spending the first three months bending your neck at an excruciating angle to ensure at least one tiny nostril remains uncovered.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. The “hilarity” of someone wearing your bra as a hat.
  14. The reality of back fat. Chest fat. Upper arm fat. All extensions of breast tissue apparently.
  15. The sadness of realising that the last time you passed the pencil test was when you were twelve.
  16. The discomfort of attempting any exercise without a sports bra/ scaffolding. Even walking fast can produce a distressing level of tremor.
  17. The annoyance of being told, “I wish I had big boobs”. Oh really? See above.

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