Monday, 1 April 2019

THE PERFECT MODERN MOTHER







YESTERDAY was Mothers' Day here in Ireland. The day when those of us lucky enough to still have our mothers buy them flowers and chocolates and cards, and tell them that they're The Best Mother In The World.

And, with a bit of luck, those of us who are mothers get told the same thing. We're the best. For that day, anyway. Until the following day we're the worst again, because we've asked for something completely unfair and unreasonable like a tidy bedroom.

But there is a different species of mother alive today. She is the perfect mother: a sort of modern day Stepford Wife.

So who is she? The shiny-haired, perfectly made-up and amazingly thin woman in front of you at the checkout, three beautifully dressed and well-behaved children in tow?

What about that group of women in the coffee shop, who wear designer gym gear and sip skinny lattes while they exchange advice on the best nannies and schools?


Or is she the young mum who only posts airbrushed pictures of herself, her family and their wonderful meals and holidays on social media?


Is there a bit of her in all of us? Fuelled by an unspoken belief that as mothers, we must apply the standards expected in every other part of our intense, highly competitive 21st century life. 


I remember seeing the 1975 Stepford Wives movie when I was a child. It was funny and creepy and massively entertaining. But the weird thing was, I actually knew a Stepford Wife.


Of course, I was a child, so I didn't realise at the time that's what she was. Not even after seeing the movie. But she was perfect. At least, that's what she seemed to want everyone to think. She and her husband were friends of my parents. Not close friends, but the type who'd be invited to their house every now and again for drinks or afternoon tea.


They had two children: a boy and a girl. They were close enough in age to me and one of my siblings, so whenever my parents were invited up, we'd go along and hang out with them.

Their house, naturally enough, was perfect. It was pristinely clean. There was never anything out of place. At a time when there was no such thing in Ireland as playrooms for kids (the notions, because who the hell had that much stuff?), they lived in a FOUR BEDROOM house and had a whole bedroom just for their toys.


We just thought it was fierce posh (it was) and we were madly jealous. But it was more than that. They never seemed to fight. A brother and sister who never fought!! No matter how many times we asked them, they always denied it.


My siblings and I fought like cats and dogs. Or you know, brothers and sister. We couldn't get our heads around this perfect pair.


But I had an inkling where it all began. Once, shortly after one of those visits, I overheard my mother ask my father if she and my dad were doing anything right at all. Their friends seemed to be living a flawless, wonderful life.

She was always elegantly dressed, their children well behaved. Apparently, they were both doing wonderfully at school and excelled in everything they did. Not that we all did a lot of extra-curricular when I was growing up, (too many paper dolls to dress, balls to kick and trees to climb) but while most of us did one thing each, their kids seemed to do loads. 

And obviously, they were geniuses who would run the world when they grew up.


Looking back, she was the only person like this that I knew. I realise now what an enormous amount of pressure she put on herself. Not to mention on her family.


Fast forward to 2019 and we're surrounded by modern day Stepford Wives. Think about it: at a time when women have made incredible progress in workplace equality and female empowerment seems more tangible now than ever before, we make things as difficult as possible. For ourselves and for other women. How?


It's simple: women compete with other women. Whether or not we want to, whether or not we realise that we do it. And sometimes, the younger we are, the more insecure we are. We don't know whether we're getting it right. And we don't yet have the wisdom to know that sometimes it doesn't matter.


And this competition ratchets up a couple of notches as soon as we become mothers. The second we hold that small human in our arms, some weird transformation takes place. We compare ourselves with other new mums and find that we're not enough.


So we try to be it all, do it all - and do it perfectly. We hold down careers, or if we choose to stay at home, we turn the job of being at home into a business. If we can't be the best at our hard-won salaried careers, then we'll be bloody super women at home. And we'll make sure people know it.

So we don't just let our children play: we organise and supervise endless playdates. We ensure that our small humans days are filled with music lessons and Maths grinds, tennis and dance, football and art classes. Modern mothers are more far more focussed on their children's success than any previous generation.

Only it's not about our children: it's about us. Do we tick all the boxes? Fabulous job: check. Beautiful home: check. Instagram-perfect meals: check. Happy family: check. Accomplished kids: check. Toned body and groomed appearance: check.

The irony is, that in a society that increasingly hands out participation medals to children, their mothers daren't be ordinary. Because every advertiser, salesperson and media site - especially social media - equates ordinariness with failure. To be a success, we must be extraordinary.  


The reality is very different. Being a woman in 2019 is hard. (Being a man is hard too, but that's a column for another day). But being a woman, who must always pretend that everything is wonderful, is bloody exhausting.


On Mothers' Day, we celebrate and thank our wonderful mums for being just that: mothers. I don't have enough distance to know yet what sort of mother I've been to my own three children. I do know that if I'm half as good as my mother, I'll be happy.

Let's try to replace competitiveness with kindness.
And aim to live our best life, not our perfect one.

                                                                                *

Dear reader,

We've put the clocks forward here in Ireland for daylight saving, so we can look forward to brighter mornings for the next while. (Hoping it'll be easier to get out of my warm bed!) 

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Until next time, happy reading, take care and have a lovely April.            
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

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