Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Vive la difference

The brilliant Alphamummy blog just pointed me in the direction of a very interesting piece in The Times about the so called tyranny of motherhood that is holding a generation of earth mothers back.

The central kernel of the theory espoused by the French book, upon which the article is based, is that mothers are their own worst enemies; tying themselves down by trying to live up to a perceived ideal of motherhood, from eternal breastfeeding to organic pureeing and giving up on careers to become full time mums. So rather than being able to toss out a child or two and move on, we are becoming enmeshed in a web of our own making whereby our children become burdens that hold us back.

The author of the book who, at 66 has had three children and has scores of grandchildren, claims that if we could all lighten up a bit and stop obsessing about motherhood we would actually end up having more, rather than less children. Thereby boosting the birth rate and providing the workforce that will keep us in beer and fags in our old age, or perhaps in the French's case vin et Gauloises.

Much as it pains me to agree, as I have four children to my name probably as a result of a hugely lax parenting regime, I fear I must. You see people often tell me how calm I am despite being a mum to four boys aged six and under. My secret? I work, therefore I don't often deal with the grubby nitty gritty of parenting my boys. When I do I adore every moment of it, and often wish I could swap it for my days spent slaving at a hot keyboard, but if I really were to do the swap I think serene mummy would be the first casualty.

I also seem to have unwittingly followed all the other advice in the book. I didn't breastfeed, I gave up on organic purees in favour of pots and jars after baby number one, my boys have always had strict(ish) bedtimes and didn't sleep in our room with us beyond the first few weeks. Both the older boys were shipped out to relatives so we could go out and go away from babyhood, and went to nursery at 18 months, while the twins have been cared for by other people since they were born. I went back to work pretty quickly after each child was born and have often, to my shame, prioritised my career over my children's everyday needs.

Do I think this is the perfect way to parent? No, I wouldn't dream of claiming to have found that particular Holy Grail, but it is probably the reason why having four children hasn't been the burden it might have been to a more hands-on mother. I sometimes look at new mums who are grey with exhaustion after spending night after night awake with breastfeeding babies, and I do wonder if the nutritional benefits make up for the psychological trauma inflicted on those poor, sleep deprived mums.

I am far too scared of the pro breastfeeding lobby to ever voice these opinions at the time, but I know I couldn't have got through the early weeks without the support I got from my mum and my husband who did the lion's share of night feeds for me. I also know that I would be a far more frazzled person if I hadn't taken what is thought to be the easy way out and opted for most of the mod cons that make motherhood easier from an epidural to a nanny.

So perhaps this book does contain a grain of truth. If we could all chill out and let go of the notions of what makes a perfect mum it would allow us all to enjoy our children more. Of course some mothers will always get a huge amount of joy out of making their children into a lifestyle, and why the heck not? But does this mean we should condemn those mothers who want their offspring to be a part of their life, but not what defines how they spend every moment of it?


  1. I wasn't a good full time mommy. I need to company of my own thoughts for a good deal of the day and with little voices intruding continually this wouldn't have been possible. Also I like to tell the story of my daughter two and a half years older than her brother, who when I was staying at home with my youngest said to me, "Mom when are you going to go back to work. I want to go back to aftercare so I can play with my friends". Every family is different. I was moaning to my 20 yo son recently that I wish I could stay home and be looked after now and he said to me "Mom you would be bored out of your mind after a few weeks". It is true. If I stay home, I actually feel guilty. I need to work outside the home. Its all about knowing yourself and being at peace with the person that you are.

  2. Hear, hear momkat. I spend hours, days, months beating myself up about not being around 24/7 for my boys, but my husband regularly points out that I would be bored silly within moments and this probably wouldn't be any better for our sons.

  3. I wish that I could relax a bit. I am getting there, I am coming to realise that a missed nap is not the end of the world, and that we are happier if he misses a nap but we have had some fun too. I am starting to realise that as much as I thought I wanted to be a SAHM I think I need a couple days at work to remember who the hell 'I' am. Will be trying to follow your example.

  4. Kelly it takes a while, I was super uptight with number one!

  5. I think one of the hard things is that you don't really know what you're going to be like as a mother until you've got there. And then it varies through the stages. It's difficult for work to be switched on and off, or geared up and down, to fit in with how you're feeling as a mother. So it all ends up as a bit of a compromise.

    I loved being at home full-time when they were tiny, but could have done with part-time work when they were preschoolers. But I was too mired in it all by that stage to be able to think outside much. The one job I did do was a bit of a disaster, because I ended up trying to work part-time, and be a full-time mum at home too, so I just totally exhausted myself. By the time I'd worked out that I needed to let go of some of the home stuff, the job had come to an end (fixed term contract), and I felt I'd wasted an opportunity.

    What a gloomy read that is. Sorry.