Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Cult of Motherhood: Part One - Idolising the Perfect Mother

A typical day for a mother of the full-time variety (whatever that may mean) might look like this:
Mum gets up and puts on a pot of coffee and a load of washing. She prepares the children their breakfast, then the whole family eats breakfast together. Dad heads off to work, and the children play while Mum does the housework, carefully marking off each chore on her Master Schedule. She helps the children cook something delicious for morning tea, and after they have finished eating she sets up their craft activity. Once the craft is hung on the wall, and the mess cleaned up, Mum heads out with the kids do errands, and usually they’ll stop at the playground on the way home where she’ll push the kids on the swings, or chat with one of the other Typical Mothers.  After lunch, Mum might allow her children a half-hour of television so that she might have a well-earned break. Though it can hardly be called a break, when most of the time is spent online paying bills or reading Important Articles on the Latest Research on Child Development. She cleans up promptly after lunch, does a quick tidy around the house, and puts the children down for their rest time.  Rest time is very valuable to a mother: if she is lucky she is able to pursue a hobby or earn an income at home during this time, but usually it’s the first chance she’s had all day to get any housework done or have a break.  But after the children wake up, Mum spends precious time playing with her children.  They build cubby houses, have tea parties, read stories, sing songs, dance, imagine.  But, sadly, this time each day must come to an end, as Mum has to follow her Meal Plan so it’s off to the kitchen.  If Dad is home by this time, the children will play with him, but if he’s not yet she might resort to another half-hour of quality television. They eat, the children bathe and go to bed, and she pours herself a glass of wine and gets to work on her latest craft project, probably something that she’s seen on Pinterest, before heading to bed herself. 

My day looks nothing like that, except maybe the ‘puts on a pot of coffee’ part.  I’d be hard pressed to do all of those things just once in a week.  Usually my day involves a sink never empty of dirty dishes, dirty nappies, too much time online, my kids watching too much TV while I read a book, whatever I scrape together for lunch. It involves yelling, impatience, laziness, frustration. It involves beating myself up over not doing a good enough job with my kids.  Every so often it involves craft, cubby houses, or a trip to a playground. There’s plenty of coffee involved.  While I’m typing, my middle child is colouring himself in with a felt pen.  And there’s laughing and cuddles, games, lego constructions, lightsaber battles and books. 

The Typical Mother* isn’t typical.  She’s phenomenal, but she’s fictional. (Or possibly a liar.) And yet, I think many of us have got in our head that The Typical Mother actually exists. She does: she’s online.  She writes a blog (sometimes more than one), and others pin her creations on Pinterest. She updates us about her day on Facebook or Twitter.  She gives opinion and advice and kind words on parenting forums.  

These mothers are real women, and they may well be brilliant women. But the online world can only give you a certain image of reality. Anyone who posts something online is constructing an image of themselves, whether intentional or not.  We tend to post only our successes, rarely our failings.  If we do post our failings, it’s not often out of honesty, but rather for attention, or for someone to say ‘oh, you stuffed up, but you’re still a good mum’, or to give an appearance of integrity (that’s what I was doing up there, when I pointed out my own inadequacies).  And sometimes those failings aren’t even legitimate failings: we just haven’t measured up to the Perfect Mother image.  Online, we don't see what these women aren't doing. 

If you are a mother of little kids and your day looks nothing like my opening description, but you think it should: stop beating yourself up over it. 
Stop assuming that other mothers are doing those things.  
Get offline.  
Stop reading other mothers’ comments on forums.  
Stop reading blogs by mothers, especially the ones where they wax lyrical about their daily schedules and their ah-mazing children.  
Stop comparing yourself to your friends based on their Facebook statuses and photo streams. 
Stop browsing Pinterest for lists of 101 Easter Crafts for Kids and birthday cakes that would take a normal person 56 hours to create.  

We cry out against magazines creating unrealistic expectations for girls and body image, but need to see that we are doing the same with motherhood.  We’re looking at airbrushed images of mothers and comparing our messy, unstyled houses, our meal plans (or lack thereof), our kids who draw on the furniture, our hair that doesn’t quite sit right, our craft projects that never quite end up looking like the photo. It's okay that people publish their seemingly perfect lives online - who wants to look at photos of messy houses? - but remember that a lot of the time it is just staged. 

Use the Internet to connect and find inspiration, but don't let it be a source of discontent with your own life and circumstances.  

You don’t have to be The Typical Mother. You don’t have to be The Perfect Mother. You just have to be Your Children’s Mother.  BUT…I’ll write and post Part Two, um, sometime. There isn’t enough coffee or episodes of The Octonauts for me to guarantee when the next post will materialise. 

Leave me a comment, feel free to tell me I’m the only person in the world who has this problem, or that you are indeed a Typical Mother. 

* Maybe it’s just what I read, but ‘mothers’ always seem to be ‘mothers of under-6s’. Except around Mother’s Day, when all mothers have grown up children. That could just be my warped view, so feel free to ignore this statement.