‘I am a bad mother— and I am proud of it’
I offended a close friend the other day by calling her a good mother. The friend was telling me about her weekend plans, which involved National Trust properties and back-to-back kids’ clubs and parties.
As a weekend of nothingness yawned ahead of me, I praised her mothering skills. I genuinely meant this, but I should have known better: because to commend someone on their mothering skills these days is a backhanded compliment.
My friend cried “I am not a good mother,” and then reeled off a list of ways in which I was wrong.
You see, for my generation — the Y Generation—“imperfect mothering” is the trend du jour. Late twenties to early forties mums are revelling in the freeing feeling that we don’t have to do things “right”.
Websites like my own, Selfish Mother, and blogs such as The Unmumsy Mum and Hurrah for Gin have given credence to warts-and-all motherhood, with an almost competitive amusement in how laissezfaire our parenting is.
At Selfish Mother, our bestselling top is one that says “Winging it”. Last year’s surprise hit TV show was Catastrophe, which saw Sharon Horgan encapsulate the imperfect mum who felt like an outsider because she wasn’t doing things “right” and in the autumn the BBC launches a much-anticipated comedy, also written by Horgan, called Motherland.
And the new film, Bad Moms, which opened last month, is another celebration of women letting loose and sticking it to the unrealistic expectations placed on mothers.
With Sex and the City, we related to bad dates, bestfriend bust ups and caring too much about our clothes; the characters in Bad Moms bond over boozy brunches, falling off bar stools and “muddling through” motherhood.
This is the backlash against high standards inflicted on the generation of mums slightly before us, when Nigella Lawson’s Domestic Goddess book was on everyone’s Christmas list; every new mother got a copy of Gina Ford’s strict baby routine book; the National Childbirth Trust fixated on the “right” way to give birth, and the only online parenting website was Mumsnet — with forums obsessing over tiny details like which “sippy” cup to give your toddler. Perfectly slim, perfectly dressed, perfectly poised: motherhood was approaching fetishisation.
The new generation of mums are more likely to say “f*** the birth plan” and “what is a sippy cup?”. We realise that trying to do everything “right” can only lead to anxiety and stress.
Because the truth is that on the whole, parenting standards are better than ever. Skip back a few decades, when “latchkey kids” let themselves in after school, kids’ tea was Marmite on toast with Angel Delight for pudding, and few people had even heard of the word “parenting”.
Research by a leading sociologist at Oxford University in 2010 found today’s parents are spending triple the amount of time with their children than the previous generation did. That’s despite the fact that many more couples are now both working (in 1971 around 23 per cent of mothers were employed; today the figure is 68 per cent).
A friend remembers how, when she and her brother were six and eight, her parents would pop into the local pub for a drink and leave them in the car in the pub car park.
The new interest in imperfect mothering suggests we’re starting to take a leaf out of our parents’ books, relaxing our standards a bit and revelling in honesty.
The reason I launched Selfish Mother in 2013 was that I felt at wits’ end trying to follow all the “rules” with a toddler and a new baby. I had an epiphany that to do things in my own haphazard way was far better formy mindset, and therefore better for us all.
All of this honesty and solidarity in the face of kid-induced life chaos is brilliant at more than just surface level, because women now feel they can talk about anything. Things that were pushed underthe carpet before— such as postnatal depression, anxiety or just how bloody hard it is — are now very much out there. This can only be healthy.
However, some folk have wondered if we’re now veering too much the other way— with mums almost competitively saying how “crap” they are, and failing to mention when they do things well.
As an antidote, Telegraph journalist Lucy Denyer wrote a brilliant piece for Selfish Mother recently about how she loves that archetypal Fifties mum activity: housework. She says “It’s quite common when I seemy mum friends to roll our eyes at the state of our homes and dismiss their untidiness as a badge of something like pride. But the truth is, I love it when my house is clean and tidy. Admitting to domesticity may not be the done thing these days, but it does feel great for me as a person.”
And I guess that is the key. While we lower our parenting standards it’s helpful to also pat ourselves on the back and admit when we do something that one of those imaginary ‘perfect’ mums would do.
Like the fact that last night I got my kids to bed at 6.30pm and read them an hour’s worth of children’s books instead of letting them stay up late and watch the iPad like they sometimes do. My sons and I all benefited as a result.
So, it isn’t actually bad to mix parenting styles. Probably the most healthy type of motherhood is “good” and “bad” all rolled into one. The author is the editor of SelfishMother.com
Daughter being told off by her mother.