As far as giving birth goes, there are many things that happen that unite mothers in the experience – the choices we make (water birth? Gas and air? Epidural? Home birth?) and the decisions taken by doctors and midwives (C-section? Induction? Stitches?). I remember sitting, with my NCT friends, in a sleep-deprived haze, comparing notes on our birth experiences over a (cold) latte and feeling like we all understood what each other had been through.
But at no point during any of our births were we handed a form which asked us what kind of mother we planned to be. Tick the box if you’re planning to be a Smug Mum. Tick this box if you think you’ll be a Tiger Mum. Tick this box if you’re going to opt to be a Slummy Mummy and lastly, this is the box for the FML Mums amongst you.
Because that would be ridiculous, right? Asking mums to choose a parenting ‘tribe’ and sticking with it is as bonkers as the notion of Donald Trump being the president of the United States of America. So why then, does the media, continually peddle the myth that all mums fit neatly into one stereotype?
Apparently there’s a backlash against the picture perfect image of parenthood portrayed by celebrities and social media users, who make motherhood look easy. An army of mums who regularly drink gin to numb the pain from the day are rising up to show the world that raising kids is hard work and it’s OK to talk about it. This Guardian piece even calls it a “trend for mothers to make themselves look bad”.
Except, I don’t think it is a trend, and I don’t think it’s realistic. When I look around my mum friends, I can’t actually place any of them firmly in a Mum Category. One of them is incredibly positive about her life and family on social media, but when asked about it, she maintains that she’s genuinely a positive person who’d rather focus on the good bits in life. Is she a Smug Mum? Hell no. Read more than a handful of her posts, and you’ll see talk of sleepless nights, behavioural issues and honesty about her postpartum body. I’ve got a couple of friends who could be labelled as a Tiger Mum but actually, it’s more just a strong desire to encourage their kids to reach their academic potential rather than daily hothousing.
The truth is that we probably all have a little bit of each Mum Stereotype in us. In an average week, I might have a lovely day at the park with my daughter, feel warm feels, think to myself how much I love her as she stomps through dry leaves on the ground and take a cute snap to share on Facebook (Smug Mum). Then I might find myself losing my temper with her because she is refusing to let me brush her teeth and get into bed, before mentally working out that it is exactly 23 minutes until I will be sitting on the sofa, with a large glass of wine in my hand (FML Mum). The following day I could easily write a note to her school teacher to say she needs a more challenging reading book, please (Tiger Mum) and despite my Instagram feed depicting my home as tidy, anyone who has ever been round mine will testify that my middle name is Clutter. As I type, in fact, my desk is piled with papers, there’s clean laundry on the chair next to me and the breakfast dishes are still in the sink (Slummy Mummy).
Slummy Mummy: My living room is never normally this tidy
Sure there has been a rise in popularity of blogs like Hurrah For Gin, The Unmumsy Mum and Brummy Mummy of 2 but even these women have balance in their lives. I’m pretty sure none of them spend their days in dressing gowns, hating motherhood and counting down until wine o’clock (well not every day, anyway). In fact, all three of them have written heartfelt posts as well as the funny ones, and I reckon they’d all agree with me that motherhood for most of us is a mix of highs and lows, gorgeous moments and tear-your-hair-out moments, laughter and tears.
But worse than the stereotypes, I think, is the implication that each group of mums is making other mums feel bad. The Smug Mums make everyone else feel inadequate and apparently, even the FML Mums are secretly smug (I’m not even kidding – Ros Coward, the author of Speaking Personally, a book about the rise of subjective and confessional journalism is quoted this week in the Guardian as saying, “There is this sense of, ‘Look at me! Look at me! With my glass of sauvignon and four gorgeous children running wild!’ It’s entertainment but just occasionally it can be as irritating as the alternative. Instead of smug/perfect, what’s coming across is smug/hopelessness.”)
So basically, not only do you have to choose a camp and stay in it, you should be aware that your choice will make others feel bad. It’s like the media are on a mission to pit mums against each other, and won’t be happy until we’ve had a massive public cat fight, to which the reaction will be an eye roll and a derisive “Women, eh!”
But instead, I think we should refuse to acknowledge these labels, stop using them ourselves, even in jest down the pub, and focus on just being the best kind of mum we can be. Speaking of which, I really must put this clean laundry away…