NS March 29th, 2010
This article appeared in yesterday’s Observer magazine, about the so-called ‘mummy wars’ and why women are so critical of each others’ parenting choices. The journalist, Lucy Cavendish, makes the majority of us out to be guilt-ridden, shame-inducing, competitive bitches who stab each other in the back at any given opportunity in attempts at gross one-upmanship.
Mothers are each other’s nemeses, bickering among ourselves about our own particular style. Parenthood has become a fractured and fractious scene. Working mothers can’t stand stay-at-home mothers; older ones think their younger versions are too overindulgent. Those who choose not to have children are militant about those who end up having four or more. Hothousing mothers with their endless Kumon maths classes look down on the more laid-back ones who think children should do what they want, when they want.
Really? I can honestly say I’ve not seen this exhibited on a large scale. Sure, you get the odd control freak who has her kids enrolled in every class and activity under the sun and who loves to boast about their accomplishments, but I (and most of the other parents I know) just shrug it off as that mother’s particular brand of neurosis; after all, we all have one. Unless one’s self-confidence is so wrecked as to require the constant approval of every parent one comes into contact with, most mums just do the best we can and try to keep our noses out of other people’s business. Yes, there’s the odd twinge that says ‘Gee, am I doing it right?’ but that’s pressure we put on ourselves, not something that other mums made us feel. Can there really be that many women who feel like this?
Consequently, there’s a war out there. You may not see it, it may not kill you, but if you are a woman with children, you’ve had shots fired across your bows. I bet, like me, you’ve been questioned, taken apart, broken down, demoralised and criticised until you feel like crying.
If any ‘shots’ have been fired I either caught them and threw them right back at the offending person so quickly that the dagger never pierced my armour of indifference or I’ve missed out on this ‘battlefield’ I’m meant to be dodging every day. I hate to break it to you Lucy, but using hunting references and telling us we’ve all been these predators’ prey won’t make it any more true for me. And the war clichés? Yawn. If I see one more bottle being wielded like a weapon by a woman wearing army fatigues, I may be induced to bash the unimaginative and collectively absurd media over the head with a weapon of my own choosing, though I suspect it will hurt a lot more than a rubber nipple would, and leave a much redder mark.
Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet (always held up as some magical portal into the ‘real world’ of parenting) is quoted extensively throughout the article and at one point she says:
“We are all trying to be ‘good mothers’ but sometimes we don’t feel we are doing very well at it. There is not a working mother alive who doesn’t feel pangs of guilt about leaving her children. There are probably very few stay-at-home mothers who don’t feel frustrated sometimes that they are not fulfilling themselves. It’s a culture of ‘having it all’ and yet very few of us can do this, which is why we get defensive about how we are seen as mothers.”
And then later, Lucy writes:
Every time I talk to another mother, they seem to be doing a better job of parenting. Their children play more sports than mine, they are academically more competent, they read books all the time, they are constantly on playdates, they are popular, witty, funny. Their mothers cook food from scratch, have coffee mornings with other mothers, help read in school, enrol them for extra tuition. I do none of this and it makes me feel useless.
At this point I would just like to say: Grow a pair! Stop feeling judged and just live your lives! It’s not that difficult to find judgment in every thing you do if you’re looking for it. Being hypersensitive to these slights and using them to ‘prove’ just how horrid and exclusive the other mummies are while you — dear, poor you! — innocently attempt to peacefully co-exist with these pieces of work reeks a little of attention-seeking manipulation. Perhaps a big, fancy war in which two types of soldier (those on a mission to seek and destroy, and those there as peacekeepers) battle it out for the top accolade of Perfect Mum is a great way to keep one feeling important, hmm? Perhaps? Have a drink and think about it.
Finally, this nugget of information is imparted to us:
Why do we do this? Why do we criticise each other all the time? As Kate Figes points out: “When it comes to work-life balance, little has changed in 10 years. While the fact that many mothers want and need to continue working may be more accepted and talked about, practical support is thin on the ground. Few families can manage now without both parents earning a living. But it is the mothers who bear the brunt of this stress. Most would not want to have it any other way. They love being mothers to their children. But their expectations are still shaped by stereotypical notions of how ‘good’ mothers ought to behave and they strive to be perfect in both roles (as worker and mother), which in turn takes its toll on their sense of self and well-being.”
What kind of crap reporting is THAT? No follow-up, no further probing, not even a cursory investigation into why it might be that women have all this stress to be so ‘perfect’ and to ‘have it all’; no mention of the children’s fathers, social expectations, traditional gender roles or the capitalistic system that requires two incomes but few accommodations for childrearing. Absolutely no anger that, 40 years after the previous generation fought to get us some basic rights, we are still stuck at an infuriatingly unfulfilling crossroads of Self and Mother, where the only choices go off on divergent paths at right angles to one another instead of following a curve that can change and stretch and grow alongside our lives.
It amazes me, it really does. This is why feminism is not dead and why it can’t be laid aside. Can so many women truly not see how we have been pitted against each other by a patriarchy-constructed and media-peddled diversion that keeps us from paying attention to all of the ways in which the system and society still fail us? Have we been distracted that easily, lured in by breast-or-bottle debates and plastic toys vs. wooden?
We’re at war all right, but not with each other. So take that grenade of criticism you thought you just saw lobbed at the school gate by the mum who parents differently to you and throw it back where it really came from.