Mummy bloggers in the UK woke up earlier this week to find themselves splashed across the Daily Mail. In treatment usually reserved for the Daily Mail’s favourite straw man, immigrants, the paper opted to take aim at another group they fear will bring about the downfall of society, bad mothers.
The writer of the article observed that ‘there is a booming trend in women confessing to their gin soaked shortcomings as mothers’ and a ‘race to the bottom to prove yourself the worst mother ever.. ..incapable of caring for children’s basic needs, revolted by the reality of changing nappies or simply bored to tears by the monotonous routine of bringing up a little one.”
It pains me to import this faux controversy to Australia (and give the Daily Mail any more clicks), but I think it’s important to point out (yet again) that there is not a booming trend in bad mothers, but a booming trend in mother shaming. And this is taking hold here in Australia, with potentially serious consequences.
Just a week after Facebook launched a ‘Thankful’ button (the digital equivalent of #blessed), we now live in time when it is increasingly hard for women to admit that they find motherhood anything other than the zenith of their existence – an existence they feel obliged to carefully curate on social media.
They feel reluctant to admit that they like to work or that they have help to look after their children, rather than stoically staying home and going it alone — as a ‘good’ mother should.
A comment piece entitled, “Being a mum is not hard. Stop pretending it is”, chastises women in Australia for presenting a version of motherhood ‘tinged in grey’.
Chrissie Swan is snapped by the paps taking her kids to Macca’s and the subtext is clear. No good mother would feed her kids junk.
A high profile conservative commentator warns, ‘don’t let your career make you a bad mother’.
And here, at Women’s Agenda, Georgina Dent is reluctant to admit she has an au pair for fear of the backlash.
(For the record, I have had two lovely au pairs and I couldn’t have managed without them. Take that bad mother trolls. Now I’ll retreat to the troll proof bunker with Georgina and a glass of wine. Oh wait, that hasn’t been invented yet.)
With their tongues firmly planted in cheek, these UK mummy bloggers and their counterparts in Australia are providing mums and dads with a bit of much needed humour during those sleep deprived early years and sending a powerful message: it’s okay to say you’re not coping. It’s okay to say it’s not all kisses and butterflies. It’s okay to maintain some part of your identity apart from being a mother. And it’s okay to ask for help. Research tells us Australian mothers need to hear this.
Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia recently released a report revealing that although the Australian public believes there is little or no stigma attached to postnatal depression, the perception of ‘what people think’ can still prevent new mums from seeking help.
Indicating a growing compassion and understanding so clearly lacking in the latest offering from the Daily Mail, 80 percent of people said they believe postnatal depression is not a sign of weakness. And 92 percent of people believe that postnatal depression does not stop a woman from being a good mother.
PANDA CEO Terri Smith said that the public acceptance was not reflected in the feelings of callers to their National Helpline. “The majority report that they feel shame about how they are feeling,” she said. “And this shame is preventing them from seeking help early”.
Well, that is a great pity. I’m sure seeing other mums raked over the coals for being honest about their ambitions, vulnerabilities and imperfections doesn’t help.
But fear not mothers. You can always count on the sisterhood when the chips are down, something that has also been helpfully facilitated by social media. It’s a kind of alternate #blessed universe.
The response to the Daily Mail article was swift and damning. Using #solidartea, women across the UK posted photos of themselves engaging in the behavior the Mail heavily critisized. (Apparently serving frozen fish fingers to your children is a crime against Motherhood).
My favourite image from the uprising is the two fish fingered salute. The collective outrage is a powerful statement to mums that they are not alone.
Thanks to the high profile of violence against women in recent years, many of us are now familiar with the tragic consequences of victim blaming. Now spare a thought for the potential impact of mother shaming. They both derive from a similar desire to impose a very stringent set of acceptable behaviours on women and blame those who deviate for their own misfortune. Mums deserve better than that.