Saturday, November 18, 2006

On Yummy Mummies...

What a monster we have created.

Who decided that we should professionalise motherhood? Now don’t get me wrong, I object to the double shift that most women work as much as the next card carrying feminist. And I have always believed that raising our children should go down as our best achievement as we prepare to shuffle off this mortal coil. But when our sisters in the 60's, 70’s and 80’s fought for the private sphere to be made political – for women’s work in the home to be recognised as, indeed, work - did they realise they were tilling the ground for the emergence of a new form of child abuse in the form of the career-mother? I suspect not.

Everybody knows one. The stay-at-home mother who feeds her pre-school child on a diet of Tumble Tots, Monkey Music and Play Group For The Gifted Child, followed by an hour of Mozart, a soupçon of French for toddlers, and some basic pre-verbal algebra. They relax by making pictures with macaroni or baking organic, wholemeal fairy cakes and the day hasn’t ended successfully until daddy has read a chapter from ‘Homer: the Picture Book’. The poor child ends another day wondering whether it has made the grade.

Do they realise that, as mother subjects them to yet another round of work toddler stylee, she is doing this out of love? I suspect not. Do they somehow recognise that mother is doing this out of a desire to offset her own fears of inadequacy? That their own emotional needs are secondary? Eventually, I suspect, they do.

Just for the record, children (in particular very small children) require relationship above all else. Over-structuring their time leaves little room for the spontaneous development of attachment that will provide the blue print for all of their later relationships. That is not to say that intellectual stimulation and structure are not important. But they must take second place to the child’s capacity to experience itself in relation to a loving and accepting other. Sitting with your child in front of CBeebies, chatting and taking pleasure in their pleasure, is, ironically, probably far better for their emotional development than any number of outings to Professional Toddler Stimulation plc.

You know who you are. Just stop it.

PS. I know of a friend of a friend of a friend who is über Yummy Mummy. Her husband is an entrepreneur who earns decent money by working 60-hour weeks. She refuses to do his washing or ironing (she does her own and the children’s) and hires a cleaner (probably an African psychotherapist, but that’s another story) on the grounds that ‘[her] job is motherhood’. I must admit – child development issues aside - I can’t help but admire her chutzpah.

4 comments:

Rachel said...

It's sad when you see it. It's one of the things that scares me about having children ( not had them yet) : the scary other middle class mothers. I'm not sure that love and anxiety about the child achieving are the sole drivers; I think there is quite a lot of ego and competitiveness in it as well.

Ms Melancholy said...

I think you are spot on, Rachel - ego and competitiveness play a big part. If you do decide to have children it's ok for you to opt out of that crap though - it really won't make you a bad mother!

Helen said...

I feel so relieved after reading this. All my baby boy wants to do is play. What I love doing is watching him play, while having a cuppa and smiling at his funny antics. I can almost hear him breathe a sigh of relief when we're home for the day and he can get stuck into his toys.

But I feel as if I'm under so much pressure to enrol him in playgroups and classes and spend any "free" time "stimulating" him. I'm actively resisting that pressure right now because I trust my instincts about what's right for him, but the guilt is awful. I've had to cut off all contact with a group of aggressive, competitive mothers because they freaked me out so much and would question and criticise me. I even feel guilty about not wanting to be around them, despite knowing I did the right thing. I now live in fear of seeing them around the town and them asking me: "Why isn't Kiko doing X, Y, Z?"

This is the type of remark that particularly gets to me:

Competitive mother: "If he's not in playgroup/childcare/classes, he won't be socialised and independent."

Me: "Um, he's one-year-old."

Thank you for reminding me that I'm sane!

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