After I had my first son, three years ago, I was completely at sea. I’d just moved miles away from my friends, to a town where I didn’t know anyone and had almost no family support. All the local antenatal classes were either booked up or held in outlying villages I couldn’t get to. My midwife always seemed too busy, so when I needed answers to a parenting question, I turned to the internet.
But all the internet did was terrify me. If it didn’t show me information that this lump on my baby’s arm was definitely a second head, it was a mummy-blog featuring soft-focus, cutesy depictions of impossibly spotless households, recipes for edible Play-Doh and rigorous sleep-and-play schedules. I, meanwhile, was hallucinating with tiredness, had no time to read anything and never felt quite up to par as a parent. I just wanted something helpful, relatable and reassuring, but everything on the internet was just making me feel worse, more worried or completely alienated.
Then I found The Scummy Mummies on Instagram.
The Scummy Mummies are a comedy duo who skewer the concept of perfect parenting with poo jokes, shiny metallic jumpsuits and treatises on the sexiness of various CBeebies presenters. I’d been to one of their live shows when I was pregnant and, while most of their references had flown over my head then, boy, did I need their irreverent realism now.
Other mothers were experiencing nappy blowouts and food-refusing babies. I realised I wasn’t doing it wrong and I wasn’t alone
The simplest post – like a shot of the mess after a craft experiment or a grumpy 5am no-makeup selfie – would help me to feel less alone with the constant firefight that was new motherhood. Other people, it turned out, were drowning in muslin, night feeds and lack of sleep, too. Other mothers were experiencing nappy blowouts and food-refusing babies. I realised I wasn’t doing it wrong and I wasn’t alone.
Personally, Instagram and some of the funnier, more realistic parenting blogs got me through some pretty dark moments of motherhood. Following a traumatic birth I was (eventually) diagnosed with postnatal depression and PTSD. But for a long time, it went undiscovered, and I spent a lot of time obsessing on my (lack of) perfection as a parent.
Books and the older-style of “perfect parenting” mummy blogs have their place, but I don’t think it’s in the trenches of new motherhood. Having a baby is such a culture shock that you need to know that other people are in the same boat. Seeing real-life shots of messy living rooms, and selfies that straddle exhaustion, frustration and joy, were all things I could relate to. Three years on, I have a new baby and I still appreciate their honesty for helping me to normalise my own experience – and I follow them all to this day.
These mums include:
Real talk about her life with two small kids, whether it’s about chasing them round a muddy field or chasing her boyfriend (retired Olympian Greg Rutherford) around a long-jumping track.
Mother of two and founder of the “Make Motherhood Diverse” movement, Candice is always rattling cages online, whether she’s capturing candid family moments or interviewing other mothers about feminism, race and gender.
Founder of mum-gift company Don’t Buy Her Flowers, this mum of three is hilarious and heartfelt when it comes to family, fitness and hustling.
Unsurprisingly, recent research* shows that millennial mothers are turning their backs on traditional parenting sources and taking advice from blogs and social-media influencers (27%), and parenting sites and forums (47%).
I wonder why this could be. Might it be because traditional sources like parenting books tend to be Bible-thick, and filled with tiny typeface that says things like, “If you’ll remember we covered cortical development in toddlers back in chapter 893?” Could it be because each parenting book usually focuses on a very specific aspect of parenting, which means that – in order to become a decent parent – you’d need to read roughly infinity parenting books?
Or could it be because, once you actually have a baby, all your time is taken up with looking after that baby. You don’t have time to read the back of a shampoo bottle, never mind an enormous tome, whose advice probably became obsolete the minute it went to print.
I realise I’m shooting myself in the foot if I ever decide to write a parenting book myself, here, but still. Traditional parenting resources can be problematic.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Breastfeeding is best for your baby. Follow on Milk should only be used as part of a mixed diet and not as a breastmilk substitute before 6 months. Use on the advice of a healthcare professional.
*Research conducted by One Poll on behalf of Aptamil Follow On Milk in June 2018, surveying 1,000 mothers between the ages of 25 and 38.