Before my wife and I swapped roles and my wife went back to work, she wrote a weekly column about family life for one of Britian’s biggest selling women’s weekly magazines. Every Monday, I’m going to go through her archives and reproduce one of her ramblings on my blog.
This week’s theme: How come we mums are being blamed for everything from obesity to global warming?
‘This is possibly my last day of freedom. You see, any minute now I’m expecting the police to crash through my front door, wrestle the bag of frozen chips I’m holding from my grasp and cart me off to jail.
My crime? You name it, I’ve done it!
It all began this morning with the military-style business otherwise known as ‘getting the kids ready for school’. Once I’d poured out three bowls of cereal, run an iron over a couple of school uniforms, fought my way into the bathroom, remembered who needed PE kit, who was staying on for after-school club, who was going to whose house for a playdate and what time everyone needed picking up again, it was almost time for lessons to starts.
So instead of walking, we drove. As we inched our way through the traffic, a little voice piped up from the back seat. It was my seven-year-old.
“You know, Mum,” she said, “driving to school is not very good for the planet.”
“I know,” I said, “but we’re late.”
“And kids should walk so they don’t get fat,” she went on.
“Yes, love,” I said. “I know.”
There was a pause. Then she said: “And, Mum, I’m not being horrible but I don’t think we should have chips as much as we do. They’re not very good for you.”
Welcome to the world of the Slummy Mummy. You’ve heard of the Yummy Mummy? Well, Slummy Mummy is her real-world alter-ego. Unlike the Yummy, the Slummy doesn’t have perfect children, a perfect home, and a perfect career. She’s has kids that give her sleepless nights, a house that often looks like a bombsite and a career that’s a laughing stock.
Oh, and virtually all the ills of humanity are blamed on her head.
Global warming? Well, you drive those kids to school, don’t you?
Knife crime? Did you remember to give them enough quality time?
Obesity? Didn’t you know frozen chips don’t actually count as one of your five-a-day portions?
In Slummy Mummy’s world, a mother’s place is in the wrong. Whatever you do, you will be criticised, frowned upon, pointed at in the street and generally made to feel like a fugitive on the run from justice. Even your kids will turn on you.
How has it come to this?
Once, the word ‘mother’ commanded respect and even awe. Mothers were adored and revered and treated as though they’d been dipped in gold. Now, ‘mother’ is a by-word for worn-out, past-it and, frankly, a bit rubbish.
‘Mum’ is an advertiser’s nightmare. No one wants to be like their mum anymore. Being ‘mumsy’ means being frumpy and out of touch.
Mothers are no longer role models for the next generation in the way they once were. Instead, we’ve handed that job to celebrity mums such as Angelina Jolie and Victoria Beckham – women so unattainably perfect you know for a fact they have never once dashed home from after-school gym club and raided the freezer thinking: “Please God, let there be some chicken nuggets in here”.
This attack on ordinary motherhood is getting me down. And I am not alone. Internet site Mumsnet has discovered that images of celebrity mums make ordinary mothers feel depressed. In a survey, one mother called herself a “heffalump”, while another described herself as “saggy, baggy and without the energy to do anything about it”.
Worryingly, the effect is worse on younger mothers with 40 per cent of those below the age of 26 admitting to despair when they saw pictures of flawless celebrity mothers such as Posh, the television presenter Myleene Klass and the model Nell McAndrew.
The other image of motherhood that’s served up to us is even more damaging, however. Daily, we are fed a diet of mums shoving pasties through school railings, or watching daytime TV while their feral offspring wander the streets, mugging and stabbing.
Both the yummy mummy culture and the feckless parent syndrome are subversions of motherhood. Yes, there are bad mothers. But how many do you actually know? And how many more are hard-working, decent, loving and responsible?
When it comes to mums, the blame game starts early. Before your little lovely is even out of the womb there are legions queuing up to wag an accusing finger in your direction. Don’t eat this, don’t drink that, and don’t even think about enjoying yourself.
But all that pales into absolute insignificance compared with the birth itself. Nothing stirs up so much passion in the casual onlooker as the debate over home versus hospital, and Caesarean versus natural. Whichever you choose, someone will tell you you’re in the wrong.
It continues on and on throughout your child’s life. I have friends who’ve stopped speaking to each other after rowing over the relative virtues and vices of breast versus bottle. And don’t even consider weaning the little darling on anything other than home-cooked organic meals. After all, we now know that the seeds of obesity are planted before a person reaches the age of five – so that’s something else we can blame the mother for.
But, of course, our biggest sin comes when we selfishly return to work, or selfishly decide not to. As if working mothers don’t feel guilty enough, the world’s leading children’s organisation Unicef has decreed that mothers who tear their babies from their breasts, squeeze themselves into a suit and return to work are in danger of damaging their child for life.
Thanks. Like we needed that!
But you won’t fare any better if you decide to stay at home. Instead you’ll be regarded as a drain on society or, worse, you’ll be letting the side down. When former cabinet minister Ruth Kelly quit her job to concentrate on raising her young family, she was treated to a verbal battering. And who was delivering that beating? Other women.
The columnist Liz Jones wrote: “When Ruth Kelly announced that she would indeed be leaving the Cabinet to spend more time with her children, I literally felt like pulling on a pinny and baking a Victoria sponge, so mortal was her blow against 30-odd years of feminist struggle.
“With her ill-timed actions she has, in one fell swoop, made it OK for men to continue to treat female politicians and co-workers and bedmates as the hormone-driven hysterics they always suspected they were.”
For goodness sake, calm down! The woman was simply trying to do what was right for her and her family. And what business is it of anyone else anyway? At times, we are our own worst enemies, attacking one another for our decisions when most mums are simply trying to do their best in tough situations.
No wonder modern mothers feel so stressed and depressed. Instead of being at the heart of society they have been edged out and marginalised, picked on, isolated and treated like dirt. In a survey of Take a Break readers, a whopping 92% of you said society doesn’t take loneliness among new mothers seriously enough.
What a terrible indictment.
The supreme irony is that the ‘blame the mother’ culture implies that, far from being human wallpaper, mothers actually wield an extraordinary amount of power. So why not treat motherhood as the full-time, full-on, incredibly important job it actually is? One way, perhaps, would be to pay mothers a decent living wage for doing it properly. That way, mothers who don’t want to go back to work won’t be forced to, simply to keep a roof over their heads. It would also be an acknowledgement that being a mother is actually a job in itself – with 24 hours shifts, no pay and no days off. As my friend, a mother of three, puts it: “If you advertised it, no one would apply.”
Becoming a parent isn’t so much a choice as a biological imperative. Those who say “you shouldn’t have had kids if you can’t cope” miss the blindingly obvious. None of us would be here at all without our mums. And in our old age we will be grateful for a generation of mothers – and fathers – who provided us with the workforce that will care for us in our final days.
The saying goes that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. If that is true, and I believe it is, mothers deserve a bit more credit and a lot more respect for what they do. And if, at the end of a 12-hour shift at the coal face they sometimes feel too shattered to manage to produce anything other than some strangely-shaped nugget of vaguely meat-related origin for tea, so what!
Children tend to grow up more or less OK as long as they know they’re loved and valued, and surely that is the most important thing? Far more important than whether or not they were breast-fed or had ballet lessons from the age of three, or ate only organic beansprouts.
Thankfully, my brood have no time for organic whatnots. They’ve never tried them, so they don’t know what they’re missing. So, as the police have not yet turned up to take me away for my crimes against humanity, I’m going to put the chips in the oven for tea.
The seven-year-old is on my case.
“Are they frozen chips, Mum?” she asks.
“Yes,” I reply, feeling another Slummy Mummy moment coming on.
“Brilliant,” she says. “Proper chips. None of that potato rubbish.”
That’s my girl. She’s learning!’