‘I am a bad mother— and I am proud of it’

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By MOLLY GUNN

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

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Daugh­ter be­ing told off by her mother.

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