I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the portrayal of Motherhood. Motherhood as a social invention. I’m pretty sure that hundreds of years ago women gave birth, became mothers, got on with it. But ‘parent’ is now a verb as well as a noun. How do you parent? What is your parenting philosophy? Jeez.
I 100% fell into this trap when I was pregnant with number 1. It’s nigh on impossible not to when you’re like me and love to read up on anything and everything. I devoured all the baby mags, read one book on strict, routine led “parenting” and one on attachment parenting – basically polar opposite views on raising children. This led me into a state of utter confusion and anxiety. Each book I read was so persuasive that their particular style of parenting was the most successful, the most likely to produce a happy contented child.
When Baby number 1 became a toddler, I stumbled across “Positive Parenting”, and again read up on techniques to help with a tantrum throwing two year old. I did actually find a lot of this information really useful, and it’s helped, but all these “tips” out there, I believe, are responsible for creating the idea that there is one perfect way of doing things. “Positive Parenting” is all about connecting with your child, acknowledging their feelings and creating firm boundaries. But, sometimes, it just doesn’t come naturally to me to calmly say “I see you’re feeling frustrated, but I can’t let you smack your sister with a hammer. Thank you for letting me know you are feeling angry, I will now remove the hammer.” I just end up yelling “OH FOR GOD’S SAKE, STOP IT”. That is me. And maybe it’s not so bad for my kids to see that I’m human and have limits (I know followers of the Positive Parent Movement will say that children can still understand you have limits without you losing your shit, but what can I say? I do, quite frequently, lose my shit).
And then there’s the issue of the internet and social media. Here is a teeny tiny selection of images that pop up when you type “mother” into Pixabay
I swear, my pulse is quickening in anger. Where are the images of mothers pulling their hair out whilst answering the same questions seventeen times? Where’s the poor soul trying, unsuccessfully, to stop their baby pawing at their poo-covered bum during a nappy change? And those photos above of mothers on the beach? Give me a break. Every mum knows a trip to the beach is fraught with all kinds of happiness-destroying possibilities.
And yet, despite my annoyance at all this, I realised something. I too have bought into this crap and taken such pictures. I have shoved the camera at my husband and said “Quick, take a picture of me throwing B up in the air on the beach while he’s not crying/shovelling sand into his mouth!” Exhibit A:
Also, arms in the air = help in attempting to flatten out the stomach. Another thing I’m annoyed at myself about. Who cares? All I think of now when I look at that picture is “I posed for that because it made us look really carefree AND me look a bit slimmer than I really was”. So in fact, when I look at it, instead of thinking “Oh that was a beautiful moment”, it makes me feel a bit silly for being sucked in to the fantasy of motherhood and portraying my very own myth.
I vividly remember, years before I had kids, sitting on Primrose Hill in London and watching two thirty-something parents and their impossibly cute baby join their friends for a picnic. The baby was fussed over by everyone and sat happily chowing down blades of grass, whilst the parents looked utterly relaxed sipping champagne. “God, I can’t wait to do that!” I thought. What I wouldn’t have known is that the couple were probably late because of a fraught discussion over who had packed the nappy bag again and who had forgotten the suncream/hat/snacks. The outfit the baby turned up in was probably not the first of the day, as he may well have shat himself profusely just before they all tried to leave the house. The mum’s designer sunglasses were likely hiding the results of no proper sleep for the last 6 months. But all I saw was this perfect family having a perfect day. What a wally.
So, what’s the solution? Upload a few realistic pictures to Facebook instead of the usual “look at me and my adorable kids having the best day/week/life ever”? Avoid social media altogether? Or, accepting that we cannot avoid the “myth”, simply be really honest when chatting to other parents? There’s a tendency to gloss over the mundane, the desperation and the isolation but I think we should all be ‘fessing up to some of the horrors of parenting. I wouldn’t want to scare any mums to be – I’d still have my babies even knowing what was to come. And yes, I’ll still post the odd cute picture on Facebook, simply because there really are some wonderful moments. But I’m a big believer in honesty and support, so I think I’ll lay off those posed “happy ever after” photos for the time being. They don’t do anyone any favours.