Why doesn’t Mothercare sell suits of armour, pointy swords and heavy-duty shields down the aisle from the breast pads and sterilisers? Protecting ourselves from attacks as a mother is sadly something we’ve all become accustomed to, but sometimes our puree-smeared, felt tip-tattooed skin just feels a little too thin and the barbs draw blood. It’s time things changed.
Yesterday the Daily Mail was out to get the “slummy mummies” – a group of women they have wilfully misunderstood – who apparently get a thrill out of boasting about their negligent parenting. So persuasive are this “foul-mouthed”, “outrageous” and “slapdash” gang that, according to the Mail, they may drive down parenting standards and put innocent children at risk. Individual bloggers were singled out for criticism and the perpetrator of this attack is (perhaps unsurprisingly) none other than a fellow mother.
The phrase “mummy wars” makes me heave, but I can’t deny that somehow we’ve been tricked in to thinking that we have to pick a team and defend it to the death. The pressurised world of motherhood in 2017 has conditioned us to believe that we are responsible for creating the perfect child and that all we do, say, eat, drink and believe will forever shape our growing infant for better or worse. Perfect motherhood is performed on the social media and celebrity stages. It is sold to us in a million products and through innumerable public health messages. It’s not surprising that, under such scrutiny, we can crack under the pressure and lash out at others.
Caesareans or home-births, breastfeeding or bottle, attachment parenting or cry-it-out, back-to-work or stay-at-home: mothers have been encouraged to choose a tribe, stick with it and ignore the fact that, for most of us, the reality is far blurrier. There are zen days when my children play with educational crafting toys, help me grow some lettuce and then actually eat it. I use Instagram more on those days. On the others – when I have a hangover, a deadline or just a really bad mood and am relying on freezer food and the iPad, eyeing up the wine bottle at lunchtime – my instinct is to hide away. It’s been liberating to find that there are women setting out to upset the trend to focus on perfection and deny reality. Women encouraging us to be more honest and celebrate our differences, whose determination to change the status quo is beginning to ripple out.
There are zen days when my children help me grow some lettuce and then actually eat it. Other days, I have a hangover or a deadline
It’s no coincidence that the critical gaze has fallen on this group, who dare to challenge the black-and-white narrative with a more realistic and inclusive approach to motherhood. Bloggers Katie Kirby, Steph Douglas, The Unmumsy Mum and Clemmie Telford, alongside comedians The Scummy Mummies, have all been named and shamed this week for nothing more than building an honest, open community that acknowledges our screw-ups as well as our successes.
The world they inhabit and describe is one that many of us can identify with – filled with love for our children, ambitions to be the best mothers we can and a regular series of challenges, failures and frustrations along the way. Talking, writing and laughing about that balance is rare, but it’s important work if we want to resist the urge to be pigeonholed and demand a fairer deal for mothers. And it’s work that has allowed them to build a loyal tribe of followers who haven’t taken the attempts to undermine them lying down. As Katie Kirby explains, “mums (and dads) need to know it's OK to not enjoy every second of parenthood – that it's normal to find it hard sometimes. Locking your thoughts and feelings away can actually be very dangerous.”
The Scummy Mummies podcast, hosted by Helen Thorn and Ellie Gibson, has resonated with women from around the world who email to thank the duo for “making them laugh and feel normal”. But daring to snigger at motherhood and revel in all its shouty, earthy, bodily-fluid filled chaos is offensive to those woman-hating forces who’d like us to be back in the kitchen striving anxiously for the perfect soufflé. Steph Douglas, also on the receiving end of a ticking off this week, insists that she isn’t “saying it's best to be slummy” but instead reassuring mothers that it’s OK not to be perfect, “because we are also women – sisters, friends, partners, people with passions and jobs in addition to being a mother. And we're in it together.”
Divide and conquer is the oldest trick in the book and one that the patriarchy has been using with boring regularity for countless generations. Last night thousands of mothers took to social media – posting under #solidaritea – to show their support for each other and their determination to have each other’s backs and resist the forces that try to pit them against each other. A compassion-filled resistance, celebrating the good, the bad and challenging stereotypes is surely one most of us can get behind. So let’s finish the mummy wars, signing the peace treaty in a mixture of formula, breastmilk and fishfinger crumbs, before raising our glasses to simply getting through the day and winning in whatever way we choose.