One of my very best, dearest friends is currently trying for a baby. She’s been attempting to get pregnant for almost a year, and she’s just had her second miscarriage. A few months ago, I tried to add her to a Facebook group and couldn’t find her account anywhere. “I had a revelation,” she explained, on the phone. “According to Facebook, my life is perfect. There are endless pictures of me and my friends, parties we’ve been to, days out with my husband. My profile picture is from our wedding, it was such a happy day. But I don’t feel happy at the moment, and I don’t want to talk about why I’m so sad – at least, not with 500 ‘friends’, people I met in the first year of uni and never see, my old teachers, random extended family members. It was just easier to suspend my account and disappear for a bit.”
I thought of her when I learned about the Facebook Motherhood Challenge. Mothers are invited to post a picture that documents why they are “proud to be a Mum” and tag other “great mothers”, asking them to do the same. Facebook is full of hopeful mums-to-be, struggling mums and women who simply don’t want to be mums. I’m sure the happiest Mums know how good they have it – and the Motherhood Challenge is going to make plenty of women feel more challenged than ever.
Every mother I know is a Great Mum. Sometimes when I’m chopping vegetables for dinner, or standing in a queue at the Post Office or just trying to do some laundry I think about the mothers, and how they deftly, fearlessly seem to handle the everyday activities that challenge me – a 30-year-old woman with some disposable income, and lots of time.
One of the aspects of motherhood that makes me think it isn’t right for me is the increasing pressure to be perfect
I’m obsessed with the scene in 30 Rock where Liz Lemon’s assistant Cerie assumes that her harassed boss is always late and knackered because of motherhood. “’Cause sometimes you have like food stains on your shirt and stuff. I just assumed that it was kids.” A few years ago, when I was single and less organised than I am now, I’d often wail, “If I had children and treated them as I treated myself, Social Services would take them away!” (I was eating a lot of Kellogg’s Krave for dinner during this period.) So I have nothing but admiration for mums, and if they feel the Motherhood Challenge gives them the chance to share and celebrate everything they do, all power to their elbow.
However, one of the aspects of motherhood that makes me think it isn’t right for me is the increasing pressure to be perfect. As women, we’re made to feel that it isn’t enough to just do everything – we have to do it beautifully. While I understand the urge to document the best bits of motherhood, when your children are at their most adorable, your oven-baked cookies are golden and you’ve managed to put together a great outfit even though you have minus three minutes to get dressed, I wonder how many parents think “Bloody hell, just existing is hard enough. If you want a Motherhood Challenge, check out this picture of my child pooing on the floor.”
The Motherhood Challenge reminds me of other Facebook photo based ideas – the No Make Up Selfie, and the Smear for Smear campaign. These have raised awareness and money for charity, and it seems mean-spirited to be bothered by them. Surely they’re harmless? Maybe I’m jealous because most of these people look better without make up than I do with it! Still, it’s hard not to compare these campaigns with Neknominate – stupid, dangerous Neknominate in which people drank goldfish, or actually died.
Men and women took part in Neknominate, but it still seemed to be a celebration of masculine bravado. When it comes to Facebook picture challenges, men are encouraged to do something, but women just appear. We’re celebrated when we’re at our most natural. Taking a #NoMakeUpSelfie is “brave”, and we describe the women who wear a lot of make up, or the ones who opt for cosmetic surgery – Katie Price, Kim K, the women of TOWIE – as “stupid”, “slutty” or “fake”. Even the #smearforsmear campaign, which is raising awareness of something of vital importance, plays on the fact that smudging our lippy and being visually imperfect women is almost comically weird. And we’re still made to feel that being a mother is the most natural, perfect expression of womanhood there is.
I’m not saying I want a #ChildfreeChallenge to balance the scales, although I’m very happy to take a picture of myself in my pyjamas on a Saturday afternoon, with Netflix and Monster Munch. But I could do without another “fun challenge” that’s based on telling women how to be, aesthetically, when being a woman is challenging enough in itself. Mums, we all think you’re great, and you don’t need to be tagged in a Facebook game in order to prove it.