Mamma Maia

Maia Dun­phy sur­veys mod­ern moth­er­hood

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Front Page - says Car­olyn Moore

STEP­PING out of the rain and into Dublin’s Drury Build­ings last week, the trendy loft space was abuzz with as­sorted me­dia mums gath­ered to meet broad­caster Maia Dun­phy and dis­cuss the re­sults of Su­docrem’s To­day’s Mum re­port.

Some are preg­nant, oth­ers have ba­bies in tow, but all are sur­prised when, asked what ad­vice she would of­fer one ex­pec­tant mum, Dun­phy replies, “None”.

In doc­u­ment­ing her par­ent­ing jour­ney, she has po­si­tioned her­self as a cham­pion of mums, but Maia Dun­phy doesn’t do ad­vice. “Giv­ing preg­nant women ad­vice is gen­er­ally un­help­ful,” she clar­i­fies. “When I was preg­nant, the most use­ful thing any­one said to me was, ‘It’ll be grand. If you need any­thing when he ar­rives, just ask.’”

In the spirit of this laid­back ap­proach — help­ful sup­port rather than smug ad­vice — she started The M Word. A Face­book page that be­came a blog that’s soon to be a book, “it’s taken on a life of its own”, she says. With a grow­ing com­mu­nity of ‘M Word mums’ shar­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences, it’s now a thriv­ing plat­form for judg­ment-free sup­port.

While the book will chron­i­cle her first two years of moth­er­hood, when it comes to the blog, she says, “It’s great to have ad­di­tional voices there”.

“At the end of the day, I can only share my sto­ries, which are spe­cific to me and my com­pli­cated sit­u­a­tion,” she adds, al­lud­ing to her un­ortho­dox liv­ing ar­range­ment with hus­band of six years, co­me­dian Johnny Vegas.

“We lived apart un­til three years ago,” she says. “When we de­cided to start a fam­ily, I moved to Lon­don, but as the say­ing goes: if you want to work in Dublin, move to Lon­don.”

With shared cus­tody of his 14-year-old son keep­ing Johnny in Lon­don, Maia ini­tially tried com­mut­ing to Dublin when she re­turned to work — no mean feat with a baby in tow.

“Tom and I did 60 flights in two years,” she says. “He’s a great lit­tle fella and a great flyer, but it be­came too much, so now I’m based in Dublin.”

As of last month, Tom is also in crèche here; just two days a week, she says, “but my God, it’s ex­pen­sive”.

“It’s a life less or­di­nary,” she con­cedes, “but that’s fine. We have a mod­ern, blended fam­ily, and we make it work.”

It’s a prag­matic out­look from a woman who seems to have ev­ery­thing un­der con­trol. She re­jects the term ‘con­trol freak’ but ad­mits she “likes or­der”.

“I’m an anx­ious per­son. When you im­pose or­der on the things you can con­trol, it makes other things slightly eas­ier.” When she had Tom, a month shy of her 39th birth­day, moth­er­hood threw her for a loop. “In your late 30s, you think you know your­self and what you’re ca­pa­ble of, then this lit­tle per­son ap­pears and throws ev­ery­thing off kil­ter.” Two years on, she has found her stride, but it’s dif­fi­cult to marry the en­vi­ably stylish, com­posed, pol­ished woman sit­ting in front of me with the chaotic tales of moth­er­hood on her blog. She says the first time she breast­fed in pub­lic, un­able to man­age cof­fee, baby, and a bad choice of dress, she was re­duced to a blub­ber­ing mess.

“Whether you’re a young or older first-time mum, the first few months are over­whelm­ing.

“It’s like turn­ing up for a job you’re not qual­i­fied to do. Peo­ple say, ‘Just en­joy it’; but you can’t be­cause you’re ter­ri­fied.

“What struck me was how much sup­port I needed, that I gen­uinely didn’t think I would.”

Ex­am­in­ing chang­ing at­ti­tudes to moth­er­hood, the Su­docrem study of 400 mums and 400 grand­moth­ers whose daugh­ters are mothers high­lights sup­port as be­ing crit­i­cal to the sat­is­fac­tion of to­day’s mums. Not one to sug­ar­coat the re­al­i­ties of be­ing a mod­ern mum, even Maia ad­mits some of the find­ings were star­tling.

“The sur­vey found that two in three mothers don’t feel val­ued by their fam­i­lies,” she says. “It’s sad to think so many women are sit­ting at home feel­ing un­ap­pre­ci­ated. To be re­al­is­tic, five-year-olds are not go­ing to say, ‘Mum, thank you for iron­ing my py­ja­mas.’”

In­deed, 35% of mums said they are rarely thanked, but as Maia ad­mits: “My mum came to live with us in Lon­don when Tom was born; he stayed with her last night. I thank her all the time now, but I wasn’t thank­ing her when I was 12 and com­plain­ing about what she’d cooked for din­ner.”

As one of the 20% of mums re­ly­ing on their own mothers for sup­port, Maia says, “If you’re lucky enough to still have your mum in your life when you have a baby, you see her in a whole new light.

“As a mum, you have to ac­cept, you’re not your kid’s mate, you’re their mother; you’re there to love them and raise them, and if you’re lucky they’ll turn around at 35 and go, ‘Wow! Thank you!’

“What’s more im­por­tant is feel­ing val­ued by your part­ner, and by so­ci­ety.”

But as she points out: “In the work­place or at home, women are very hard on them­selves, so why would moth­er­hood be dif­fer­ent? If you’re not feel­ing val­ued, look in the mir­ror and ask, are you un­der­valu­ing your­self? Even in lit­tle ways, like say­ing you are ‘just’ a full-time mum.”

She’s “not sur­prised” work­ing mums feel more val­ued by so­ci­ety, with 55% of work­ing mums say­ing they feel val­ued com­pared to 40% of their stay-at-home coun­ter­parts. “I think they feel they have some­thing else in their arse­nal; ‘I’m a mum, but I also work’. And that’s great, but stay-ath­ome mums shouldn’t feel in­fe­rior for that.”

Es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that two in three mums sur­veyed said they would like to be rais­ing their kids full­time. “I won­der how many would ad­mit that pub­licly,” Maia asks.

“With all the dis­cus­sions about equal­ity, I think women who ad­mit that feel like they’re let­ting the side down. But it’s OK to say ‘I can’t do it all, so I want to do one thing well, and I want it to be this’.

“Go­ing back a gen­er­a­tion, 36% of mums sur­veyed felt more val­ued — is that be­cause they had fewer op­tions,” she won­ders. “They had to give up work, so they just got on with it. We ob­vi­ously don’t want a re­turn to that, but we still have a way to go in fa­cil­i­tat­ing women to make the right de­ci­sion and feel sup­ported in do­ing it.

“There are tan­gi­ble ways we can tackle this, and sup­port from the gov­ern­ment in the shape of child­care would make mums feel that what they’re do­ing is im­por­tant.”

Em­ploy­ers also need to look at cre­at­ing more flex­i­ble work­ing en­vi­ron­ments, she says. With a re­cent study re­veal­ing 87% of the Bri­tish work­force would like the abil­ity to work flex­i­bly, this isn’t just an is­sue for work­ing mums.

“There are ob­vi­ously jobs where you can’t work from home, but on the last doc­u­men­tary I did, we had a sin­gle mum on the team and I’ve never seen any­one get so much work done out­side of nor­mal work hours.”

Strik­ing that work-life bal­ance is a con­stant jug­gle, she says. “But I’m in­cred­i­bly for­tu­nate that I can be flex­i­ble in my choices. If you’re go­ing back to work in a bank, you can’t say ‘I’ll come in Mon­day and Wed­nes­day this week but I won’t be in next week.’”

She’s also for­tu­nate to have a hus­band who is “very ca­pa­ble around the house. Be­fore I came along, he was tak­ing care of his son, do­ing packed lunches and wash­ing rugby kits.”

Al­though 62% of both mums and grand­moth­ers sur­veyed cited their part­ners as their main source of sup­port, the find­ing that one in five part­ners to­day un­der­takes no house­hold chores sug­gests they could do more.

“I think men nowa­days pull their weight more than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions did, but un­til the day comes when men have ba­bies, they won’t know how you’re feel­ing,” Maia says. “So if you need help, ask!”

And if it frees up some pre­cious ‘me time’, don’t feel guilty about how you spend it. “Women put so much pres­sure on them­selves that even our ‘me time’ feels com­pet­i­tive like we should go to yoga or do some­thing that looks good on Pin­ter­est,” she says.

“But we en­cour­age hon­esty on the M Word, so if some­one says, ‘I had half an hour to my­self last night so I watched Coro­na­tion St and ate a bar of choco­late’, then I say great, don’t beat your­self up and feel you should have gone for a walk.”

As for her ‘Maia time’? “I used to de­vour books,” she says wist­fully, “so I’m mak­ing my­self read again. Even if it’s only a cou­ple of pages be­fore I fall asleep, it’s some­thing. I love cook­ing but I don’t have time to cook nice things any­more. “Af­ter Celebrity Masterchef, I got re­ally into desserts, but these days, hon­estly, where am I go­ing to find five hours to make a de­con­structed tri­fle?”

Spe­cial baby and par­ent­ing edi­tion

Pic­ture: An­dres Poveda

MUMS UNITED: Maia Dun­phy with Sophia Opris, age 1, and mum An­drea, at the launch of Su­docrem’s ‘To­day’s Mum’ re­port, com­piled by Amárach Re­search.

Maia Dun­phy and hus­band Johnny Vegas, who have a ‘com­pli­cated’ liv­ing ar­range­ment.

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