Let me clear up one thing, before I go on with the rest of this: I’d never normally re-post or even comment on anything from the D*ily M*il. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you genuinely read it, if it’s your main source of news, I don’t think I want to be friends with you.
However- and it’s a big however- there are some instances in which it’s necessary to draw attention to it. They say the best way to deal with a troll is to ignore it, that they’re looking for attention. I say why should they get all the fun? Sometimes it’s necessary to trump them at their own game. Recently, parent bloggers were in an uproar as ‘journalist’ Anna May Mangan threw up her her hands about the rise of the ‘slummy mummy’.
You probably know the type: ones like The Unmumsy Mum (who was namechecked at length), who proclaim their children to be mini-antichrists, who send said children out as dishevelled riots and rely on chain-smoking, gin and profanities to drag them from sunrise ’til sunset. A parent blogger’s merit, she says, is judged on who can be the ‘most slapdash’. If you dare to say you enjoy motherhood, you’re bottom of the pile. Something is rotten in the state of motherhood, and these scummy, gin-riddled, neglectful wretches are to blame.
Mangan decries these women, stating that their vulgar lifestyles and constant moaning are an insult to feminism, organised mums and women who can’t have children. There’s nothing funny about being ‘too busy checking Facebook’ to make your children have a proper breakfast. Mangan also throws her hands up at the thought of mothers throwing together frozen meals as a quick fix (sometimes not even defrosted). The worst thing about them, though? They’re not slummy at all. No, in a daring feat of investigative do, she hazards a guess that these women are actually well-educated and middle-class, with well-fed, ruddy cheeked cherubs for offspring.
I can only guess that she did zero research on her subjects if she finds this surprising. Had she ever thoroughly read the books and blogs she was berating, she’d realise that they reek of middle class. Mangan is clearly not someone with an awareness of poetic licence, or indeed exaggeration for comedic effect. I’m not all that enamoured with the phrase ‘slummy mummy’ for one thing. I’m sure it’s meant in jolly japes, but it feels oddly classist. I mean, if the D*ily M*il considered these women ‘slummy’, then what was I? Unmarried, working in customer service, living in a one bedroom rented flat in one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow, who took a pregnancy test after a bender in Berlin and- gasp- a bottle feeder? Unmumsy mummies wouldn’t even have looked in my direction to toast hurrah for gin.
Reading The Unmumsy Mum didn’t make me gape in horror. Rather, I felt the opposite. I knew she and I were on an uneven keel when I read that she planned her babies (I didn’t) and was in a good, well-paying, steady career (I wasn’t). No one really thinks of parents like these as ‘slummy’ because they swear and don’t abstain from a drink or three. In the face of most other baby books, though, it was almost a reassurance. It reminded me that it’s OK to be overwhelmed, and have a moan, and swear, and eye-bang a bottle of wine with the kind of lust that got you into this mess in the first place.
Sure, so-called slummy mummy bloggers might not be tanking Tanqueray as soon as they wrestle their little hellions into bed. I seriously doubt that they can’t stay sober long enough to feed and clothe their children. Mangan takes this to the n’th degree, stating that they’re making up the whole damn thing for likes and shares. Umm, hardly. A slight exaggeration for comedy value, perhaps, but wouldn’t it be dull if all they offered was the minutiae of their day? What they have done, though, is offer a different take from traditional parenting books. The kind that enforce routine, order and military precision (Gina Ford, I’m looking at you).
Motherhood has long been an exalted undertaking, a miraculous blessing that we should fall to our knees and be thankful for. God forbid we say anything about feeling scared or overwhelmed, or that the first few weeks with a newborn are anything less than hallowed. The fact that women are making public their fears, frustrations and pitfalls chips away at the veneer of perfect motherhood. It might not be their verbatim experience, but it’s a damn sight more relatable than perfect celebrity mums who snap back into their pre-baby clothes. No one tells the absolute truth of what motherhood is like, but they’re offering a version I can concur with.
I’ve written before about how my initial reaction to impending motherhood wasn’t sheer joy. That scared me more than anything else. The thought of pregnancy, labour and childbirth didn’t faze me. I was terrified of the fact that I wasn’t turning cartwheels at the sight of those two blue lines. What if this was how I’d always feel? What if I resented the baby for what it was? I was at an age where friends were settling down and trying for a family, and some weren’t having much success. I knew of people who’d been so desperate to fulfil their familial wish that they’d opted for IVF. I hadn’t planned any of this. When I thought about all of those people who’d struggled to conceive, I almost felt like I didn’t deserve to be pregnant.
Pregnancy brought with it a resurgence in blogging and I sought out other parenting books and blogs with aplomb. There, I found books like The Unmumsy Mum and How To Have A Baby And Not Lose Your Shit. Sure, there are plenty of mums who are always on the ball, planning meals and appointments and enjoy doing so. The point that Mangan missed was that being one type of mum isn’t a ‘fuck you’ to the other. I eventually want to go back to work, but I have the utmost respect for people who want to be stay at home mums. My house is clean(ish) but untidy, my sink is a permanent rotation of clean and dirty dishes and I sat down to write this after washing butternut squash puree out of my hair. I admire those people who can maintain a child and a home, because I can’t. Hats off to ya. Sure, I get frustrated when Lucas cries endlessly despite trying everything to settle him. I like the (very) rare occasion where we leave him with grandparents and I can get in about a large rosé. It doesn’t make me a bad mum. It makes me imperfect, but what doesn’t?
Bloggers like Sarah Turner help to remind us, in their own way, that motherhood can be hard. More importantly they tell us that it’s OK to admit that. However, for every dirty nappy anecdote there’s another heartfelt one about loving her children, or how hard it was growing up without a mother. Being an imperfect mum doesn’t mean I don’t love my son. He never has to go without. There’s always an abundance of food, nappies and clothes in our house. And at the end of the night, when one large rosé has turned into last orders, I’m the first to get my phone out and flip through the 1500 pictures of him (and counting). After all, children don’t care that your house is clean, whether you’re wearing make up or whether you’re nursing an ‘adult headache’ and bright lights and noise bring physical pain. They don’t care that you have your meals prepped for the week and they could eat them from your sparkling floor. All children care about is that you love them. If you can offer them that, you’re doing OK.