The Daily Telegraph
Yes, motherhood is a slog but I would not change a thing
Mothering Sunday. Yay… or maybe nay?
Apparently, men spend far more on their mothers than their lovers – Valentine’s Day sales lag behind by 68 per cent – but sons make a bigger fuss with good reason: we’ve bloody earned it.
Yes, there is a sophisticated part of me that cavils at such a vulgar, commercialised occasion as Mother’s Day. But with every year that passes, I can feel myself getting a bit more mercenary about how much my family thinks I’m worth.
In fact, I have to try really very hard not to organise the whole shebang myself. Instead, I get all antsy because my husband is in charge.
Breakfast in bed = Uh-oh, muggins here will have to vacuum up the crumbs.
Flowers = OMG, where did he find blue chrysanthemums? Teamed with gypsophila? I’ve not seen anything as crass since… this time last year, actually.
Homemade cards from the children = If that slapdashy mess really is their best effort, we need to talk about tuition. I mean, they still can’t spell “Congratulations”?
Fizz = I swear if all I get is prosecco, I’m going to frighten them with my Caesarian scars again.
A day spa without any of you = Now you’re talking. At last, someone read the Mummy Memo…
If that sounds cynical, then that’s because it is. A key ingredient of mature mothering is maintaining a healthy distance from the sentimental syrup that rots a lot more than just baby teeth.
Speaking of which: shame on all you parents whose toddlers need extractions because of rampant decay. I’m hardly Mother of the Year, but giving over your kids’ teeth to caries is beyond slacking, and well into the realms of disgraceful.
Patronising, moi? But, of course. We older mothers are programmed to scold. It confirms our hard-fought place in the hierarchy.
Blame biology – motherhood rewires the brain circuitry in a way that resembles the obsessivecompulsive element of falling in love. The grey matter shrinks and the amygdala, the area associated with empathy, nurture and fierce protectiveness, expands to the size of the domestic universe.
So when we see our own baby, our pleasure centres light up like the Blackpool Tower, and (whisper it) I have noted that for many mothers of one child, those illuminations never do switch off. The rest of us, with more children to be delighted/annoyed/ exasperated by, need to conserve our energy.
This Mother’s Day, there is no doubt that the face of 21st-century parenting is changing. The average birthrate has fallen from just under three babies per woman in 1962, to 1.83 in 2015 – and, chances are, today they will be born to women over 40, rather than under 20.
Figures released this week point to a 50 per cent drop in teenage pregnancies over the past eight years, due to girls wanting to focus on education and the peer pressure of social media. That still amounts to 20,351 in England and Wales, but it’s the lowest level since records began in 1969.
Meanwhile, IVF conception rates among the over-40s are on the rise, which is cheering for those battling with the heartbreak of childlessness – but at this age, assisted conception is no guarantee of success. For every Mariah Carey having twins at 41, there are many more women whose eggs have so decreased in number and diminished in viability as to spell an end to any hope of success.
Emma Thompson was 39 when she and husband Greg Wise underwent IVF to have their daughter, Gaia, now 18, but they have spoken of their great sadness when attempts to have another child failed. To anyone who has known the yearning – the physical ache – to have another child, their pain will be horribly familiar.
And what of those who have no children? Women who put their family plans on hold for too long, who never met the right partner, or for whom that much-longed for baby simply never materialised? Statistics show that women in their mid-40s are almost twice as likely to be childless as their parents’ generation. One in five women born in 1969 is childless today, compared with one in nine women born in 1942.
I think, as a society, we have grown kinder about women without children. The narrative of uncaring careerists who put their job first and pay the ultimate price has been shown to be oversimplistic, glib, judgemental.
One study has estimated that 80 per cent are not childless by choice. A meta-analysis of research from the US and the Netherlands has revealed just ten per cent of women actively decide not to have children. We know from those courageous enough to speak out – Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, Kim Cattrall – that not having a family is most often one of life’s random sadnesses that must be accepted.
For the rest of us, complaining about the privations of parenthood, from sleepless nights to vicarious exam anxiety, naughty four-year-olds to even naughtier 14-year-olds, we would do well to pause occasionally and appreciate our lot.
Yes, motherhood often feels like a Sisyphean multitask too far that literally never ends. Once they can walk, talk and eat vegetables, it’s time to flog the offspring through university and start rearing our children’s children unpaid.
That’s the other counterintuitive thing about mothers. We need to be needed, even though it’s horribly stressful and the ingratitude is sharper than a King Lear quotation. So this Mothering Sunday, let’s remember that for all the grief and the grey hairs, we wouldn’t have it any other way.