Among the offensive, infuriating, and outright terrifying bits of news this week, a welcome bit of lightish relief: Cheryl, of Cole-Fernandez-Versini-Tweedy fame, has had her baby. The week before Mother’s Day, a baby boy was delivered to her and Liam Payne, and as a next step they are temporarily moving Cheryl’s mother, Joan Callaghan, into the Cole-Fernandez-Versini-Tweedy-Girls-Aloud-One-Direction household, to help out after the birth.
I think this is a terrific idea. New parenting can be awfully lonely, especially if you’re a single parent, or you’ve moved to a new town where you don’t know anyone, or you don’t have shared parental leave and your other half returns to work obscenely early in proceedings, leaving you alone with this new and entirely terrifying responsibility for the bulk of the day. Having a mum around would have made such a difference when my son was born. Just someone bustling around, turning on lights and making tea would have normalised things after I arrived home from the hospital and stood staring blankly at my baby, in the dark. Perhaps, with a mum on hand, I could have had more than a weekly shower, dragged a brush through my hair once in a while, enjoyed some essential naps, and occasionally eaten food that didn’t have to be consumed one-handed. Maybe I could have ventured outside the house in the first three months without feeling that any minute I was going to be mown down by a lorry/the breastfeeding gestapo/child kidnappers.
Notice here, though, that I said “having a mum on hand” and not “having my mum on hand”. That wouldn’t have worked at all. Without going into it too much, my own mother’s personality has altered over the years, and she has is now permanently estranged (her choice). Having my mother around would have meant coping by myself anyway while an uninterested party smoked, played mah jongg in the corner, and entirely ignored me and my life choices. That wouldn’t have been particularly helpful.
New parenting can be awfully lonely, especially if you’re a single parent, or you don’t have shared parental leave. Having a mum around would have made such a difference when my son was born
I have heard horror stories about post-birth life from friends who have bad relationships with their own mothers, too: “My mother constantly called me lazy for not taking the baby grocery shopping when she was only three days old and I was recovering from an episiotomy,” says my friend Andi. “But at least I could close the door on my mother at the end of the day. If she had lived with us I would have gone fully insane.” Another friend, Saira, had her mother-in-law was around a lot during her daughter’s first days, and “came down from a shower to find her feeding the newborn baby milky tea from a bottle.”
But Joan has been Cheryl’s plus one to glitzy events, and she even moved in to help her daughter recover in the fallout post-Ashley Cole. They’re clearly close. And that’s what you need when you’ve just had a baby: someone to pick up the slack, not judge you, or your vomit-stained pyjamas, or your suddenly scarred, stitched-up body. You need someone to show you how to warm a bottle properly, and not mind too much if you yell at them because you’ve only had two hours sleep in three days.
Also, Joan has successfully raised five – five! – children herself, which means she must know that Cheryl needs care, too. That she needs more sleep than just those flittery, light, anxiety-filled dozes you fall into when the baby naps. That she needs to do all the cute new baby stuff, like buying new baby clothes and taking adorable photos, and not just the soul-weary midnight-feeding stuff. That she needs new clothes that aren’t covered in spit-up, and decent coffee, and to feel the sun on her face, and to remember that books exist, and to see other people. That it’s imperative that she remembers she’s a valuable human person with important thoughts and feelings, and not just a mother-milk-machine-cow-thing.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think mums should hire themselves out to new mothers. “My mother-in-law told me that breastfeeding would make my daughter a lesbian,” Saira reminds me. All right, fine, decent mums should hire themselves out to new mothers.
To this end, Joan Callaghan, please consider this an official offer of a temporary home once my second baby is born, four months from now. I can only pay you in chocolate buttons, but rest assured you would be welcomed with open arms.