Tuesday, June 05, 2007

On Yummy Mummies...

Something has gotten under my skin today. I shan't tell you what it is. I wondered whether to blog it, and then remembered that I already had, back in the days when I didn't have any readers. First aired in November, now to be found on UK Gold.


What a monster we have created.

Who decided that we should professionalise motherhood? 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 sixties and seventies fought for the private sphere to be made political – and 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 really should 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. Please just stop it.

PS. I have a friend of a friend who is über Yummy Mummy. Her husband is a surgeon. She refuses to do his washing or ironing (she does her own and the children’s) and hires a cleaner on the grounds that ‘my job is motherhood’. I must admit – child development issues aside - I can’t help but admire her chutzpah.


Caroline said...

I love you Ms Mmmmmm.

You have taken away my guilt. Just like that.

Today I had a spare 30 minutes in a silly busy moneywork day. I lay in bed with littlie and read a book. Then it was back to work. No Tumble Tots, Monkey Music and Play Group For The Gifted Child. But she did play on the cbeebies website and make her queen doll less scary by pulling off the head.
La la la.
I am trying to be guiltfree. Honest.
(what you reading?)


Ms Melancholy said...

Oh lovely Caroline, I imagine that littlie is loved beyond measure. Along with middle and eldest too. Taking them to Tumble Tots doesn't necessarily tell them that we love them.

As it happens I am reading the most wonderful book. I have just had a little weep in the bath with it, and I shall shortly be taking it to bed. I don't know if you've heard of it? It's called In Search Of Adam by an unknown author, who will soon be huge. In a good way, of course. No reference to thighs there at all.

Big cuddles for you and littlie.

trousers said...

Your post makes me think of the parents who try to instill knowledge and learning in their children (not a bad thing in itself of course) but then don't seem to have a clue about how to deal with them when they're being naughty, having a tantrum or whatever.

Surely being able to do both to a reasonable degree isn't mutually exclusive?

As a non-parent however, one could easily ask, who the hell am I to judge? I can't help but judge when the guilty parties are sat at a table near me in a coffee shop or wherever. But I shan't go on for fear of sounding bitter and intolerant ;)

Should I ever have kids (would they be known as shorts?) I won't let them near my copy of "Semiotics for Beginners" unless they express a natural curiosity about it.

Prada Pixie said...

The thing with motherhood above all other things is there is no text book.

We do the best we can, so said Winnicot in the 50s.

And those of us who do the best we can are sometimes rewarded by our children loving us, however we fucked it up.

Reading the Signs said...

Sometimes I think that a lot of (middle class, at any rate) mothers forget that children are perfectly capable of just getting on and playing by themselves - with mother or trusted adult nearby so not alone or lonely, but mother doesn't have to be down on hands and knees playing with them all the time. Children need to see that adults are going about their own business while they get on with theirs. And playing is their business, their work. My kids were pretty bright - nothing to do with anything I particularly did, but people often used to ask me and didn't believe I wasn't doing some kind of secret hot-housing. I used to tell them - I didn't do anything, just let them play, and we sang songs together and had stories and I was, like most good enough parents, a bit hit and miss. That's it really. And another thing: it wouldn't have bothered me either if they weren't as bright as they happened to be, as long as they enjoyed life. They would have been precious for whatever they were.

Dandelion said...

According to this, isn't the problem simply the mother's fears of inadequacy, however she chooses to off-set them?

I think it's interesting, given how damaging a mother's fears of inadequacy can apparently be for the child, how so many people are so keen to judge a mother's mothering quite ferociously, when actually, all that matters is the quality of the relationship.

And then we wonder why mothers have fears of inadequacy...

I can't help wondering whether what is going on here is that the Yummy Mummy somehow sparks in the non-Yummy Mummy some inadequacy fears of her own - those self-same ones that she then berates the Yummy Mummy for...

Dandelion said...

Also, prada pixie, I think parents have to fuck up pretty badly to make their child not love them.

Loving one's parents is one thing that very many children seem to persist with, even in the face of quite bad abuse, let alone mild inadvertent fucking-up.

bindi said...

now the phrase yummy mummy, I thought, referred to a mummy who was still sexually attractive (nothing to do with motherhood professionalism).

On the topic of the post, I whole heartedly agree with you. In case I was ever tempted to book up my kids time, I was given children who articulated their desire to not do too many things after school because they like chilling out with their sisters (and me too, I think, um hope). So they only did one thing after school until this year when at the age of 14 Kathleen has decided of her own accord that she wants to learn the guitar and do karate, and Rosie has decided she wants to do slalom kayaking and Emma has decided she wants to learn the violin and Sally also has decided she wants to learn the violin too. So you can see why I'm bloody thankful that I didn't push them to do stuff earlier - its a logistical feat! Why would parents CHOOSE to live like this when they can bring them home from school and watch them play whilst sipping a cup of tea? Oh those were the days.

Ms Melancholy said...

Hi trousers, I know what you mean. I say no more. By the way, I think I have a copy of Semiotics For Beginners - propping up my computer table.

Hi again Ms Pixie, I am a great fan of Winnicot's good enough parenting. He appears regularly in my posts about parenting. I think that is partly the point I am trying to make, that in our efforts to be 'perfect parents' we actually miss something quite vital. Thanks for dropping by.

Hi Ms Signs, yes, you have hit the nail on the head. Letting our children find their own stimulation is crucial for their development. At a certain developmental stage boredom stimulates their creativity, and their capacity to be alongside themselves in a healthy way. I know of some children who are utterly lost if mother is not providing them with something stimulating to do. I feel very sad for them.

Hi there Dandelion, I'm almost sure that I will agree with you eventually :) xxx

Hi there Bindi, I think here that phrase encompasses the sexually attractive mother too, but the one who also dedicates herself to the perfect upbringing of her delightful children. I know what you mean about the logistics - I get tired just listening to how much some parents play the taxi service. I sometimes wonder if I am particularly selfish, for not encouraging our children to do all of this after school stuff. (They do some of it, but not much.) Perhaps Dandelion is right. I am simply dealing with my own sense of inadequacy in a different way.

Mrs F said...

Hello Ms M, I remember we had this discussion. You made me realise that I didn't have to try and keep up with all the competitive mums and push my children to do 'activities'. So thank you for that. My little one loves to just potter and pick flowers and pretend to make potions and the big boy just loves to daydream. As for the Yummy Mummy tag, I wouldn't mind being called one in the context of 'ohh look at her, she's yummy'. Hope you are well.

Dandelion said...

Hope I didn't offer an interpretation too soon...

What bindi said about the phrase yummy mummy is interesting. I fear the phrase might have been co-opted by men with one thing on their mind, who weren't happy with milf. But to me, it's more a name applied by one woman to another, and therefore applies to all the aspects that women might judge or compete or compliment eachother over, including, but not only appearance.

l-q-s said...

I really don't like the appellation "yummy mummy." I know I may be cynical but I can't help feeling it's just another media-developed word to sell nasty magazines which encourage more 'boxing in' of women. Each woman will handle motherhood differently. Some of us can barely handle it at all!

And I feel that everyone suffers when children are pushed to take on more than they can necessarily cope with from a young age. I know that there are some afternoons when my kids just want to sit quietly and look at books or watch a video individually, and there are some when they want to invent complicated games with one another. Sometimes, they just need to take a looooong nap. Given the opportunity, they usually know what suits them best and can pace themselves fairly well.

I think, with alarming regularity, that I would give my right arm to be able to ferry my kids around from one thing to another. I would think myself lucky if I had the time to do that. I'm deeply jealous of women who can collect their kids from school. I think myself lucky if I get to take either of them in the morning!

Cheryl said...

I just have real issues with the word 'yummy'.
It conjures up a public school accent, a bit Berty Wooster / Just William / Biggles' pal Ginger.

It smacks of oily self-indulgence and wilful ignorance of how the world works for 'ordinary people', and seems to boast an overfed life where there is High Tea, and always at 3, and it always just appears 'because thats the way life is'. It oozes the self-satisfied and nauseating smugness of The Famous Five 'who never grew up'.

People who use the word 'yummy' should be taken out and shot.
Except the male ones would probably like it (unless they preferred infantilism; all spotted dick and spankings and nursey's displeasure).

Oops did I just let go of a little brain fart? Pardon me!


Dandelion said...

Oh Cheryl! Well said.

My objections to "yummy" are slightly different to yours, and I think it's ok for young children to use but otherwise, like you say, take 'em out and shoot 'em. Ditto for "mummy", actually.

In the context of "yummy mummy" though, I think it's different, and it's only included because it rhymes and it's positive.

My understanding of the concept is that it's actually a much-needed self-defined positive model of motherhood. All the new mothers I know (ok, which is 4) are people I would call yummy mummies, though all are very different, as are their mothering and lifestyles, and none of them would call themselves a YM, because they're too insecure and busy with it all. To me, if you call someone a YM, you affirm their value, both as a mother, and as a person, at a time when they might be feeling worn-out or inadequate as either or both.

I might be the only one that sees it this way, but I think there's a lot that's positive in it, and I don't see it as a short-hand for mothers who do Tumble Tots and hand-made fresh organic food all the time.

Cheryl again ;-) said...

In that case...
Yes! I don't see how a reference to being edible might endorse anything but their sexual attractiveness, but hell, thats the first huge chunk of a girl's self esteem to crawl away whimpering when jelly belly and 3am feeds and baby's all-day screaming sessions take their toll.
Thanks for a new perspective!

(Oh bugger; three exclamation marks. Tough.)

b said...

Continuing my theme of leaving comments here that have nothing to do with your post: I got my copy of Shaggy Blog Stories yesterday and finished it pretty much in one sitting. It was fab; all very funny, but not much actually makes me laugh out loud. Yours was one of them.

I'm sorry you had to go through that, though. But the pain and fainting went to a good cause in the end, so that's all good! Kinda....

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey Mrs F ;o)

Hi Dandelion, that really made me laugh! Very good! You have a knack of reminding me what it is that I like about you.

Hey l-q-s, I am inclined to agree that this is a media construction, rather than further evidence of women-hating-women. You say

And I feel that everyone suffers when children are pushed to take on more than they can necessarily cope with from a young age

I couldn't agree more. Everyone suffers. Mothers and children. But you know already that I am a great fan of relationship above all else.

Hey Cheryl, yes! Ginger beer and Enid Blyton (who was pretty dreadful to her kids, ironically.) I love your brain farts. Keep going.

Hi again Dandelion, funny, isn't it, how we can see things so differently from a 'feminist' perspective? Personally I think it is a construction that further oppresses women, and that is precisely why I don't like it. I know mothers who feel terrible about themselves because they can't keep up with professional motherhood.

Hi again Cheryl, good point well made, if I may say so.

Hi there b, cheers! In case you missed my post about it, I was utterly shocked to see its appearance. I was on holiday when the book came out and had no idea my post was in it. Still not sure quite how I feel about it. 'Good Causes' cause me some discomfort, if truth be known.

Dandelion said...

Now you put it like that, I see where you're coming from even more, Cheryl. I think any adult person who uses the childish "yummy" to denote a person's sexual attractiveness should *definitely* be taken out and shot. It's perverse. And I don't want to be sexist, but to me it feels even more perverse for a man to use "yummy" about a woman than a woman about a man. I really really hope this isn't what the phrase is about.

Böbø said...

Do you think that being part of a blog community is like a Play Group for the Gifted Adult?

It would be nice to think so.

And if trousers littlies would be quite properly called shorts. Would Ms Melancholy's be called Miss Mope and Master Mournfall?

Sorry, I'm too busy to think intelligently. I'm reading a sad uplifting novel by promising new author.

bye bye bellulah said...

Hi. Very much enjoyed this post and the comments extension.

Am trawling new (to me) blogs today and I'm amazed by the number of posts about motherhood, raising kids, lack of a decent childhood. When did it all get so complicated? When did the need for perfection over-run everything else? Is it sympotomatic of living in a multimedia-age? Do people now have too much money and too much time on their hands and need to be told what to do with it?

I feel sorry that mothers and kids are seemingly suffering for no good reason.

Surely parenthood is hard and/or straightforward enough as it is?

b said...

Oh. Yes. I completely missed that post about the book. I would be most upset if someone published something of mine without securing my permission. Sorry if that was a raw nerve...

rivergirlie said...

we wrote a whole book (accompanying the tv series) about this very topic - we tried to make it basically humorous because, actually, it's so awful and painful that it's the only way to tackle it, but i think it's a huge and growing problem resulting from a fundamental alienation from what becoming a mother is really all about. we're the most inexperienced generation of parents there has ever been. without nuclear families, under the impression that we are in control of our destinies, programmed to be high achievers and to despise the very qualities that are essential for nurturing, assaulted with contradictory information at every turn, we're are afraid to trust our instincts and instead suffer horrific anxiety about every detail of our children's lives, making us sitting ducks for marketeers, 'experts' and guilt-mongering politicians.
(the book's coming out in p/b soon)

austin said...

I'm feeling a bit of a yummy mummy.

I took my 5 yr old daughter with me to a session with the Dalai Lama entitled The Middle Way- a Peaceful Way of Resolving Conflict at a near by uni.

I was a bit worried that she would find it all a bit much. Two hours of discussion is a lot for an adult!

Anyway she coped well and at the end of it a woman reached forward over a couple of rows of seats to congratulate her for doing so well and saying that her friend had been tut tutting the presence of a child at the beginning of the session but now.....
Anyway the three Lindt chocolate balls, good sandwiches and lots of drawing paper had seen us through!!
And she seemed to sense the importance of the occaision too.

Boris said...

My children are quite happy playing at home, in the back yard with some sand and a few toys to destroy, or sometimes watching a DVD. I/we either sit and watch, or get on with things in the kitchen, just occasionally refereeing (sorry can't spell). They are both bright happy children who enjoy life and have fun.

We did try Tumblr Tots and Music Train, but they didn't really want to know.

I think most of those activities are designed for the mums to socialise/gossip/brag with/about each other. In my town (which is quite well off) it is often more about being seen in the right places with your little darlings. Sadly, this make many of the toddler groups hot beds of consumerism and greed, created by playing in the parents feeling of inadequacy. And if you don't partake, you are STILL made to feel inadequate by those who do go.

What are we teaching them?


Sadly the idea of I

Boris said...

Sorry, taht last bit under my name was a mistake. Please ignor it.


Dandelion said...

I know mothers who feel terrible about themselves because they can't keep up with professional motherhood.

Yes, Ms M! And they need to be reminded that they're wonderful and great (aka yummy mummies).

varske said...

I remember thinking having just produced my first, at age 37 that probably the only advantage I had over the (mostly) 18 year olds in the maternity ward was that I had the confidence to say out loud to my baby: well, sophie, this is the first time I have done this, and we will just have to work out this mother/baby thing together, by muddling through. I was given two very strong willed girls who never would have gone to anything they didn't want to do. As a single working mother, I simply didn'thave the energy to make them do things at the end of day. So I became expert in the art of persuasion and distraction. Or as they say to me in Eastern Europe, you have a very democratic family.

My sister in law took the opposite approach. Their kids have had activities scheduled in to make sure they have been exposed to a large range of activities (compared with which my kids have just slobbed out). They might have had a convenientally broader education, whereas mine have been dragged all over Europe. I cannot say they are such nice to be with,interesting, confident kids as mine. But I would say that, wouldn't I?

Cheryl said...

Off Topic:

Lowde is in custody (see link from your sidebar button)

Yay Hooray!

Liz said...

Reading this made me happy that I leave my boys plenty of unstructured play time. They really do need time to figure out what they like and what they don't on their own, without me micromanaging them.

Ms Melancholy said...

Hi again Dandelion, mmmm, yummy: it is pretty revolting isn't it?

Hey Bobo, Master Mope and Miss Mournful are quite delighted with their new nicknames. Thank you so much for your insight :)

Hey Bellulah, great name by the way. Glad you stumbled across us here. And yes, when did it all get so damn complicated?

Hey rivergirlie, I think I may have missed the TV series. Perhaps you could give me a link to your book? You were far too modest in not including it in your comment! I would love to read it.

Hi there Austin, the Dalai Lama? How wonderful! Did she enjoy it?

Hey Boris, I fear you are right that these places can become hot beds of consumerism. I have no objection in principle to tots being taken to music groups or play groups, but their function is becoming increasingly dubious as far as I am concerned. My best friend runs one of these groups. She is fabulous with kids, and runs them because she wants to introduce kids to music at a young age. She despairs at some of the adult behaviour.

Hi again Dandelion, ;o) !!!

Hi Varske, I think I am with you on this one. Over structuring somehow limits their capacity to really experience life, I think.

Hi again Cheryl, yes, just picked up a message from Rachel. Good news indeed.

Hi Liz, I wonder if you have this phrase in the States? And I love the phrase, 'micromanaging them'. Isn't this precisely what we are tempted to do, and doesn't it just smack of the corporate sector?

Gledwood said...

Hi, I wonder whether I've not dropped by before?... recollections are hazy... what a fascinating blog you've got here... as a therapist you yourself must surely be in therapy as it passes itself around that way, doesn't it? ... I agree with what you say about motherhood ... the world we live in today is so confused ...
... come to my blog, I think you might like it: gledwood2.blogspot it is the story of my personal "battles" ...
... see you there hopefully ...
all the best to you
vol 2 ...

rivergirlie said...

not sure i'm clever enough to do links. i'll have a go ...

oo-er. good luck

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