Words by Sarah Turner, @theunmumsymum | Illustration by Camille Léa Pearson, @camille_fleur
Being a ‘bad mum’ is trendy these days, apparently. It says so in the papers. The ‘good mums’ have had their day and we’re now witnessing the dawn of a new era celebrating the less-than-perfect mums who are not afraid to rant and swear and post Instagram pictures of the large G&Ts they’re enjoying after wrestling the kids into bed. Being a bit rubbish at mummying just got cool, by all accounts, and I am all too familiar with the ‘rise of the slummy mummy’ type articles because I am widely credited as being part of this movement. I’m one of the slummy ones. Yay.
“How does it feel to be at the forefront of this shift where being crap at motherhood is now in vogue?” I was asked last week.
What kind of a question is that? Is that really what people think of me? That I’m a crap mum? That I aspire to be seen as a crap mum? Crikey, how depressing. Yet my biggest beef with these sweeping statements about parenting ‘types’ is not that I have been labelled a ‘slummy mummy’ or a ‘bad mum’ it’s that I have had to be labelled at all. Is this not just another way of putting women in boxes? Good mum or bad mum? Pick a side.
I’ll admit that at times I have foolishly allowed myself to see crafting, cupcake-baking, uber-organised PTA mums as the enemy but that’s only because I have felt like a failure in comparison. That’s not their doing. At no point has a mum wielding crochet hooks and handing out passionfruit meringue cupcakes ever gone out of her way to make me feel lousy. I have felt lousy because I am shit at crafts and baking and because I have the day-to-day organisational proficiency of Dory the fish (if Dory had two kids and a moderate hangover).
I make a living out of documenting my experience of motherhood - warts and all - and mocking my own incompetence is a big part of that. I have taken great comfort in the fact that sharing my own failings has helped other mums to feel brighter, that it has made them laugh and reassured them that ‘we’re all in it together.’ But when I hear that parenting ineptitude has become fashionable somehow, that it’s something to be celebrated, well then I can’t help but wonder if I have unintentionally assisted in flipping the coin so that mums who derive pleasure from doing the activities I am rubbish at feel like they are on the losing side. That it’s now in some way uncool to be a ‘good mum.’
The most ridiculous thing about the fictitious ‘good mums versus bad mums’ divide (after the obvious problem of deciding what makes a mum good or bad) is that it is simply preposterous to assume that anybody would fit neatly into either box. If I herded up all the mums I know and tried to put them into ‘good mum’ and ‘bad mum’ pens, like sheep, I would struggle. Is there a scorecard somewhere? Do we earn points for certain things and forfeit points for others? What if you enjoy a whole host of crafty activities but also enjoy getting a bit pissed on a Friday night? What if you’re Chair of the PTA but swear like a trooper at your kids’ football matches and feed the kids freezer tapas more than twice a week? Which pen do you go in then?
I stand by my assertion that it is good to share the trickier bits alongside the glossy bits and that it is healthier to be honest about our feelings of weakness than it is to put on a front and fall apart behind closed doors. By some people’s standards I probably am a bit slummy but it’s never been my objective to be viewed that way - I struggle to comprehend why anyone would actively strive to be regarded as a shoddy parent. I will probably never blog my ‘Top 10 Winter Soup Recipes’ or make nursery bunting or take a photo of everybody looking gleeful in a field of sunflowers. I’m much more likely to share my eagerness to crack open a bottle of wine after accidentally letting the swear guard down and witnessing the toddler say, ‘Fuck’s sake!’ clear as day for all to hear. I share these things in the hope that a snapshot of my real life puts another parent at ease and if a subsection of the Great British media chooses to interpret that as a celebration of mediocre parenting then perhaps I just have to roll with it. It doesn’t mean I’m ‘proud to be at the forefront of the shift’ and it certainly doesn’t mean I agree with putting mums in boxes. I think that’s total bollocks, if truth be told.
Motherhood is a common ground unlike any other. It’s a club, a society and though there may not be a secret handshake or a formal initiation ceremony, at some stage you will exchange a nod of empathy across the park with another mum whose toddler has self-activated tantrum mode (because the sun is too shiny) and you will know in that moment that you are part of something much bigger than those ‘good mum’ or ‘bad mum’ labels.
Parenting by its very nature just isn’t like that – you should never be expected to pledge allegiance to one camp over another. You need not pick a side.
I’m not always a good mum.
I’m not always a bad mum.
But I’m always a mum.
And if I’m forced to choose a box then that’ll do.