It is the greatest privilege in the world to be a mummy, though there are days when I ponder why God (the higher power I believe in) would allow such a fickle, clueless woman such as myself to have children. I’ve said before that prior to having my daughter Alison, I did not have the slightest clue what raising children involved. My hesitancy to have children was directly related to my complete lack of knowledge of what was involved. I was certain that it was hard work; I had many a friend bemoan to me about how they had become social pariahs since having children.
I knew also that there would be sacrifices when having children. I was told that I would always be broke because the cost of nappies and formula is ridiculous. Children also tend to outgrow their clothes and shoes quickly. Then there’s the cost of childcare, school and, eventually, college. I mean, why bother? All the little brats seem to do is sap all of your financial resources!
If I was totally unprepared for the role of care-giver, then nothing could have prepared me for the phenomenon of the judgemental mother and the power that other mothers had to make me feel shit. Some say that there is no right way to parent, there are no rules. This is a lie: there are too many rules and the goalposts are constantly shifting. You can’t do right for doing wrong when you are a mummy.
The question mummies seem to get wound up about the most is whether or not they should be out working. Because women are choosing to delay having children until their careers are established, many are reluctant to leave the workplace when junior arrives. It wasn’t too long ago in Ireland that women had to leave their jobs once they get married. Now, despite having the option of staying at work, many mothers struggle with the guilt of missing out on precious moments with their children. This tug-of-war is compounded by the ridiculous cost of childcare, which leads many to question whether they are doing the right thing.
Alas, are mothers ever doing the right thing? Why do we, as mothers, judge each other so harshly? Is it mainly to validate our own choices? And unless these choices are adversely harming our children, why do we feel the need to justify them?
It seems that you can’t win in the mum world. If you are a working mum, you are judged as being selfish, farming your children out to be minded by other people while you pursue your career. If you’re a stay-at-home mum, you should have time to keep your house spick-and-span, your children spotless and a nutritious meal cooked from scratch every evening. If you wear comfortable clothes, such as trackies, you obviously don’t give a shit about your appearance. But if you decide to dress up, or ‘do’ your hair and makeup, you have too much time on your hands, time that could be otherwise invested in raising your children.
A campaign was launched in the US in late 2013 called ‘End the Mommy Wars’, which encourages mothers to be proud of their own parenting choices and not to judge the choices of other mothers. As part of the campaign, mothers were photographed holding placards such as ‘I breastfeed’, ‘I formula-feed’, ‘I work outside the home’, ‘I’m a stay-at-home mom’. These women are trying to remind us that each mother has their own value system, and try to do what is best for their children based on this belief system. None of these choices are ‘wrong’ but they are intensely personal. The campaign aims to deconstruct the ridiculously high standards mothers set for themselves and others and instead to support each other and to understand that our way of parenting isn’t the only way.
Pressure on mothers is both external and internal. Every day, we are bombarded by images of the glamorous mother in the media; the mother who has time to get her hair and nails done; the mother who juggles five bags of shopping and two smallies with her mobile phone; the mother who runs her own business in between baking organic cookies with her kids. Let me tell you that the stay-at-home mum in her trackies who is constantly wiping puke out her hair and spends the day cleaning after a mini hurricane and hoping to God that the brown smudge on her jeans is chocolate and not poo (again) is equally as deserving of our respect. Other mothers are increasingly yardsticks for us to measure ourselves against, and invariably we either don’t meet the invisible, ambiguous standards, or we feel superior to others, as if others’ shoddy parenting somehow justifies the choices we make for our own children.
I often wonder how strong this tug-of-war was between mothers in the ‘eighties. My mother isn’t around to regale me with such tales, but I’ve read accounts on the Internet and from this I’ve devised an unrealistic utopian lifestyle: mummies from the same neighbourhood befriending each other and inviting each other for coffee; in the absence of work, mothers needed to meet each other to stay sane. I remember my mum exercising her intellect with our neighbour Patricia, over Scrabble and cups of coffee. I remember Alice and Maureen popping in for coffee or wine, depending on what time of the day it was (although sometimes the time of day didn’t really matter !). Mum’s not here to answer my questions but I wonder did she feel the pressure I and other of my generation feel now. (Anyone who would care to admit that they’re of mum’s generation are welcome to discuss this in the comments section).
As a child, I remember us three girls wandering the streets of our estate on our bikes, sometimes till 10pm on a summer’s night, with no mobile phones to let the folks know that we were okay. And yet, despite our mum not being a helicopter parent, we kids turned out okay. I’m not sure I’d have the confidence to let Alison have the same kind of freedom. Every day it seems a child is abducted or goes missing. God forbid, if a child were to be abducted, who is at fault? Do we sympathise with parents, or judge them for their carelessness? I know I would probably judge, so what does that say about me?
I have spent three years of my life trying to be perceived as a capable and worthy mother for my little girl. I went on television to talk about how acutely aware I was of how people judged me for being a disabled mother, because I was worried that people would think that my daughter would be deprived in some way. But deep down, I don’t think I was trying to prove anything to anybody other than Alison. She’s the only person who will ever be able to say whether or not I am a good enough mummy for her. At the end of the day, every mother wants to do the best by their child and hell, it’s difficult enough pandering to the every need of your children without constantly wondering what the woman across the street thinks.
I may not be the perfect mummy, but I will always strive to be the best I can be. I know this applies to every single mummy I know.
(Psst, you, yes you, well done. You’re doing a great job. Let’s hold each other up instead of tearing each other down).
Took a while to think about this Sarah. As I too had my children in the 80’s we seemed to just get on with it, and we didn’t buy into the media thinking on good or bad parenting. We seemed to have good friends who looked out for each other and our children. Surround yourself with good friends and family.
I was waiting for your reply Mary, thanks for that!