Recently, in the New York Times, Diksha Basu, commented that motherhood was in need of a rebrand saying that the trend, led by social media, was to sell motherhood to the masses as the ultimate sacrifice. “It’s no wonder that most of my friends have chosen not to have children and women are embracing the term “child-free” as if they are free of an illness,” Basu writes. “We already don’t get paid maternity leave, and child care and health care are expensive, there’s little state help, and now we’re telling each other that motherhood is pretty awful anyway?”
I couldn’t help but wonder if I held some responsibility in that shift towards selling motherhood as a one-way-trip to the sacrificial altar.
It’s a tricky line to walk. My blog has always been about honesty in parenthood. That has meant acknowledging the shit bits and, perhaps at times, foregrounding them, but I suppose my assumption has always been (maybe wrongly) that the fact that we love our children, that we enjoy being their mothers, sharing our lives with them, watching them grow is a given. Not So Smug Now starts from, “I know we all love our children and being mums…” and goes on to, “…but it’s ok to not love it all, to want to throw in the towel sometimes, to hide in a cupboard and stuff your face with Dairy Milk and cry a bit because motherhood is just so damn brutal at times,” and I’ll stand by that sentiment till the day I die (especially the bit about Dairy Milk).
My blog has never been about making parenthood seem like the last thing on God’s green earth that you’d ever want to do if you’ve got half a braincell and a social life. Instead, it’s been about dispelling that myth that we’re all flourishing as parents, that there’s this natural instinct that kicks in that magically prepares us for everything parenting has to throw at us. It was always about supporting women and men as they figured out this brave new world full of mewling, spewing, weeing and almost no sleep. It was about removing the judgement and creating a safe space where “people who happen to be parents” (thanks @Mother_Pukka) could find a moment of solace, perhaps occasionally laugh but most importantly feel like they’re not alone.
The very hardest thing about being a parent for the first time was dealing with that underlying, passive, judgement that seemed implicit in every discussion I found myself having about childbirth and parenting. Everyone had an opinion – some were forthright about it, others less so. Because of my own insecurity in my new role as a mother and that overwhelming sense of imposter syndrome I wasn’t equipped to deal with this kind of judgement. I found it debilitating. I found myself not wanting to be with other new mums, or with other experienced mums. I didn’t want to hear what my mum had to say or my mother-in-law. I just wanted to hide away until this whole motherhood thing was done and I could emerge, victorious like a butterfly, about 18 years later.
And so, the blog was born and the response showed me that I, actually, was not alone. There was a whole world of women and men out there just waiting for a chance to talk about how ‘imperfect’ their parenting experience was. It was therapy for me, it was therapy for those who engaged and followed. We grew in confidence as we realised that this was what it was like for everybody, even those that seemed the most perfect, the most together, the most ‘all-over-it’. It allowed me to take that experience to real life – I was the first in a group of mothers to say, ‘Man, I’m over this today,’ only to find a chorus of voice reply with a huge sense of relief. Once we started to take down the “I’m totally fine” masks, we could actually begin to really, and truly be fine because we’d found our people, our support network.
So yes, motherhood and how we talk about it has changed. We’re no longer accepting that old-fashioned, idealistic concept of the perfect parent because not only is it 100%, top grade bullshit, it’s not helpful. It’s detrimental to us all if we’re forced to exist in parallel with an unachievable goal. It’s harmful to promote only the uplifting, inspiring and positive moments – if that old version of motherhood was an advert it would have been reported to Ofcom, the ASA and all the other bodies because it’s simply not true.
Having said all that, I am left asking myself one very important question: is it possible that we’ve gone too far in one direction? Are we too quick to focus on the shit bits, to promote the negative? Is there room for the balance to be redressed? Are we in a personal place of strength and self-belief, where we can appreciate those wonderful, magical moments that do exist? The times we win at parenting? The times we can’t quite believe how lucky we are? Can we do it without being accused of being (heaven forbid!) smug?
I hope so.