12 Feb 2015

The Mummy Wars

The Similac video has been doing the rounds on social media over the last couple of weeks. You know the one - tribes of mums, all tearing each other apart, only to bond at the last minute over a baby in danger. Here's a link if you haven't seen it.

This video makes me sad because it seems to prove so divisive - because it's a formula commercial. I know there's a lot out there about formula marketing and the legalities around it, so I'm not touching that one, that's not what this blog post is about. It's more about the mummy tribes and why the media always portray us as being at war. Is it true - are we always at each other's throats over decisions that have very little impact on each other's lives?

When you become a mum - when you're pregnant even (is that when you become a mum? I think so, sort of) - immediately there are hundreds of decisions thrust upon you - and every decision almost becomes a visible statement you seem to be making about yourself.  Never since puberty has brand allegiance seemed to mean so much to so many - unintentional though it may be. But how you feed, clothe, transport or enable your child to sleep has very little to do with other mums - it generally has little - if any - impact on their life. So why do the media insist on portraying mums in such a way - and how true is it?

In all honestly, much like any situation with large numbers of women, things can get a little....unpleasant or judgmental. Breaking into mummy groups can seem harder and more complex than fraternity hazing traditions - and in some ways, it's a lot like school. BUT before I seem completely sexist and un-sisterly with my admission that shock horror, women can be bitchy and judgmental - if you have ANY large group of people, they're going to disagree on things and be judgmental. It's not gender specific. 

I think it boils down to the very personal nature of parenting and the decisions we make. Each one always seems fraught with risk - is this the very best option for our child? But no matter what you do, someone will be right there to tell you why it's wrong or why you're doing it wrong. This almost makes you more entrenched in your position, that what you've done is completely the right thing. And it is - for your child. Have no doubt about that, I firmly believe that parents know their child best and their decisions will be the best. No matter how things look on the outside. But that doesn't mean it's the right thing for other children.

I think this is at it's most incendiary when advice is sought. The difference between "try this, it worked for me, it might help" versus "do this, it works". If someone doesn't take your advice does that mean you're wrong or that your advice was rubbish? Obviously not - if it works for you, that's great - help  is help - and often times advice is great. But the way it's framed, to my mind, is key to why the media like to portray us all a vicious harpies, desperate to do down other parents' choices.

In some ways, I think those choices are used to shore up our identities - as I touched on above, the decisions we make in parenting can, on the surface, seem to say so much about us but do they really? Or is that we are looking for a new identity to fit with our new role, shape and position in society. One of the things I struggled with most in my depressive haze when Baby45 was tiny was my seeming loss of self. I couldn't identify with who I was prior to his birth anymore. The things I cared about, the places I went, the people  I saw, the responsibilities I had, the choices I made and how I looked had all changed. And I couldn't go back. I mourned for the person I was - and I hadn't really figured out who I was now I was a mother.

It's that label that you're given - mother - what does it mean? Do the connotations of mother fit with who I am now, can I identify with it? I don't know is the honest answer. At it's most basic, yes I am a mother because I have a child. But it took awhile for me to come to grips with what a Stupidgirl45 Mother was like. It's hard job forging your new identity and finding a new way of life. The last time most of us do this is in puberty when we play with our ideas of self and who we are and what that looks like. And then there are very few responsibilities attached to that - although the public levels of judgement are the same, if not worse, than when you become a mother.

So to come back to my original point - the divisive nature of the Similac commercial. The reason we are all so easily divided by opinion or commentary on (modern) motherhood, is because of the deeply sensitive nature of what it means to be a mother. The choices we make, the publicity of those decisions - our child on display in public, in cafes and playgroup and nurseries and of course, social media. So when those decisions are called into question, we naturally stick to those like us, to feel supported, to have confidence.

But really, aren't we all just winging it a bit. Doing the best job we can, at that moment in time, with the resources available to us. Sometimes it seems being a mum just means you're constantly risk assessing everything and making decisions based on current information. A little like Jack Bauer with a stroller (or a sling, yes). I think I've found it hard, when people haven't agreed with my parenting choices, or taken my advice. But now I know, it's not about me, or my child - it's about them and their child and doing the right thing for them. It's not a comment on how I parent or how good a parent I am, it's just a choice, at that time, in that moment.

When I look around me, at my friends, at mums I don't know, I am always so aware that I just don't know what they are going through right then. Are they running through dinner plans, shopping and bedtime schedules whilst they push someone on the swings whilst also texting someone? Are they worrying that the car seat is the exact right one? Are they lonely? Have they spoken to anyone else all day aside from their child and the Starbucks barista? It's impossible to know and so I assume all of the above and hope that maybe they might be a new friend for me, whilst I'm trying to figure this whole parenting thing out too.

Thank you and goodnight,

Stupidgirl has left the building

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  1. Jack Bauer in a sling!!! Love that mental image, thank you!

    Of course we're all winging it. It's a bit like a swan swimming. However elegant the outward appearance, there's loads of effort going on underneath.


    1. Ha, thanks! I agree with the swan analogy. That's the problem - we make it all look too easy! Thanks for commenting :)

  2. I am very much a believer of each to their own. This is a great post. At the end of the day, I love the saying 'don't judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes' and I think it really applies in this type of thing. Thank you for linking to #PoCoLo :) x

    1. Thanks :) I totally agree with that expression, I think it was made for being a parent :)