In defence of mothers


Alex says: I’m a mother. I think I’m a pretty good mother. But, if I were to believe everything I read or heard, then I’d be having serious doubts about my abilities. The front page of The Times on Saturday screamed ‘Britain’s parents have got it wrong’, whilst inside Claire Perry, the Prime Minister’s advisor on the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood went further, “We’ve created a treadmill. It’s usually the mother that is orchestrating all of that and doing all the driving.” But, of course it is.  It’s always the mother’s fault. Fathers are just the poor, innocent put-upon bystanders in all of this. It’s the mother who blights her child’s prospects from the moment he or she is conceived. “Mothers-to-be who drink more than two mugs (of coffee) a day increase risk (of smaller babies)” was a headline from earlier in the week. Mothers who drink just a sip of alcohol when pregnant ruin their children’s lives. Mother’s who have c-sections ruin their children’s lives. Mothers who don’t breastfeed solidly for at least six months ruin their children’s lives. Mothers who organise too many activities ruin their children’s lives. Mothers who don’t organise any activities ruin their children’s lives. Mothers who work ruin their children’s lives. Getting tired of it? I certainly am.

Since when did mothers become Public Enemy Number One? Did I miss the announcement declaring Open Season on anyone with a (used) womb? Maybe it’s always been like this? Or maybe it’s because I now have children that I’m aware of just how much flack is directed towards mothers? I don’t think so. I think that some time in the last decade or so the thinking changed dramatically from ‘Mother knows best’ to ‘Mother knows nothing at all and we will castigate her for it at every juncture’. I’m not sure why it changed, what the exact reason is, although, whatever it is, I am sick of it. Without exception, all of the mothers I know do their best for their children. And, without exception all the children I know seem to be doing ok. Yes, there will be kids who go off the rails in 10, 12 years time. But there have always been kids who go off the rails. Just like there have always been kids who haven’t gone off the rails. A lot of it is to do with the mother, but a lot of it is to do with the father, the child’s genetic make-up and external factors (bullying, social pressure, fate) that we don’t have control over.

Of course I know that mothers have a huge responsibility to their children. I’m not bloody stupid. But, I also know that the vast majority of mothers are sensible enough to know what is right for their child without someone telling them (OH so you shouldn’t drink a bottle of wine a day when pregnant, OH I didn’t realise…I mean, honestly). Also, what seems to be forgotten in a lot of these reports is that mothers WANT to do what’s right for their child. And that a lot of that is down to common sense. It is obvious that headlines like these sell papers, that’s what they’re for, but it doesn’t make them any less damaging. For really, honestly, that’s what these reports are: damaging. They make you feel like crap. They make you feel guilty. They make you question your ability to look after your own children. And whose right is it to make mothers feel like that? It’s a hard enough role as it is, without people like Claire Perry weighing in to make it worse. Just leave mothers alone. Let us make our own decisions, let us raise our children how we feel it’s right to raise them. We’ll ask advice when we need it, from people we respect (our mothers, contemporaries, school teachers, doctors we trust), what we don’t need is unsolicited advice from people who really, don’t know much, if any, more than we do. Just give us a break.

Natasha says: There I was. feeling pretty at one with the world. I had a cup of proper coffee in my hand. The sun had the first semblance of warmth it’s had since October. I’d spent the morning with lovely friends, meeting Lucy’s new little boy (who is an absolute peach) and watching three rambunctiously adorable toddlers rampaging around. My new work-life balance is actually providing me with said balance – and a happier family. I was feeling pretty good about Life.

And then I glanced at The Times.

Seriously, are we still doing this? Mother bashing, I mean. It’s so lazy. Such easy posturing from a politician who feels they can casually toss around what amount to insults to the general populace. Actually, make that (mostly) the middle class helicopter parents. Why do anything like, oh I don’t know, improving schools, access to affordable childcare (do NOT get me started on the recent, insane proposal re nursery staff), job prospects for young people, when you can just throw around a few words and bash mothers who are just trying to do what is right for their children.

Let us study what Claire Perry said: our children’s lives are, in effect, blighted by over-intrusive parenting, in which every hour of time is scheduled -“we have created a treadmill. It is usually the mother that is orchestrating all of that” (of course it is). And “we worship this feminine motherhood thing and I don’t think our children have benefitted..they’re babied a lot”. Oh, but wait. We’re also afraid to lay down the law and set limits for our children. “If they don’t learn the limits from us, who is going to tell them?” she adds. Oh right. So we let them wander, wantonly, unfettered, around the internet, accessing God knows what, whilst we live in “digital oblivion”.

Let me get this straight. We’re apron-wearing, would-be domestic goddesses who helicopter parent but who, err, fail to set limits for their children or monitor their access to all manner of unsavoury material on the internet. Right. It barely makes sense, let alone constitutes a reasonable, helpful comment.

The only thing it does is add to our already sizeable guilty conscience. About not spending enough time with our children and going out to work. Or not working and thus failing to be a good role model as a woman power-player in the workplace. Not cooking every meal from (organic) scratch.Whatever.  My mother told me something very wise when I was pregnant: when you have a child, you were handed the baby with one hand, and a guilt complex with the other.

It’s true. And we feel bad enough. We are just trying to do our best. Okay, we’re not perfect. I’ve had days when I feel like I’ve failed my daughter, my family, myself. I’m prepared to bet every mother has. But on the whole I think I do okay – like Alex, I think, on the whole, I’m a pretty good mother. (Ha, despite that talk of scheduling our children’s lives, I actually feel guilty I don’t schedule enough into C’s days). So, please, Claire Perry at al, just leave us alone. Stop posturing. Stop preaching. Start doing something.


IMAGE: Dorothea Lange

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