Mummy makeover, tummy, squad … Into the bin. “Give Mummy a cuddle” is perfectly acceptable in my book (with the caveat that the baby must be in room and the one being offered said cuddle). “Hello Mummy” when directed at me as a greeting from anyone besides my baby (and the occasional slip up from my tired Husband) is creepy, annoying and slightly reductionist. After all before this exciting new chapter in my life, I was never greeted as ‘hello front-end web developer’; Or woman / wife / sister / daughter … You get the idea.
Whilst reading about motherhood I started to come across different ‘Mummy’ labels. Like exclusive clubs, with groups of Mums neatly categorised based on their parenting styles and appearance. slummy, crunchy, yummy. We wouldn’t categorise women like that generally, so why does having a child change that? I’m as slummy as I ever was -pretty slummy to be fair- have a few life choices like not eating meat that may score the odd crunchy point. And with enough makeup and decent lighting, I could just about fake a yummy moment for my annual selfie. But what does any of that say about my parenting? Or who I am as a person? Zilch.
Parenting styles aren’t fashion statements. I had a mosher phase in my teenage years, this isn’t my ‘crunchy’ phase because I bought some organic formula. Wearing a messy bun and no makeup during the week doesn’t demote me from yummy to slummy. Just as bothering to slap on some highlighter doesn’t make me any better of a person or mother than the girl with a fresh face. In short, it’s bollocks.
If you’re a Mum who wears your Mummy title with pride, good for you. This post isn’t aimed at putting anyone else down. Labels mean different things to different people. They can feel inclusive and motherhood at times lonely, so I get that. But personally I find generalising about what a Mum should be like, a bit problematic. Those same labels which help create a sense of community and support can be used to make Mums feel guilty. They can be used to compare us to one another. And to pile on even more expectation as to what a ‘Mummy’ should be.
You can still be a Mummy to your small human whilst being whatever you were before. But you do have to fight for that part of you to stay at the forefront. And anything which discourages that is rubbish in my book.
The shift from standalone human to someone’s Mother is seismic. I knew it was coming, but couldn’t comprehend how drastic that change would be until it happened to me. Suddenly it’s not all about you, in fact it’s not about you at all. You have less time for your interests, your appearance, your relationship and most things that don’t involve feeding and nappy changing. Sleep is going to be illusive in those early months, making you feel less rational than ever. Throw into that mix the fact that your body is unrecognisable to you and you have a recipe for feeling like a gigantic sack of shit.
Survival is the only priority during that time, but eventually you find your new normal. I remember seeing photos taken by a visiting relative of me holding the baby, maybe two months after she was born. My body language would have been more fitting had said relative pulled out a gun than a camera. Hunched up as if I hoped the sofa might swallow me. I didn’t recognise the person in those photos.
It wasn’t the tired eyes which bothered me, because those are inevitable and understandable. It was the fact I had morphed into a person I didn’t recognise, wearing clothes that weren’t “me”, but I had clearly picked to try and hide the wobbly stomach I felt self-conscious about. My hair was greasy and over grown, pulled back into a ponytail.
Now I’m hardly a purveyor of fine hairstyles at the best of times. I spent my teenage years pissing about with MAC eyeshadows and must have skipped the bit where everyone seemingly learned to do these incredible braids. And messy buns which aren’t messy at all (and in no way make their owner look like Mrs Trunchbull). But even by my standards, this was bad.
Because in reality there are no Mummy clubs. Or neat categories of Mummys. We’re all just trying to work it out as we go along.
I realised in that moment that whilst my priorities had changed, it was still perfectly ok to make time for myself. I booked a long overdue hair appointment and rounded up all my maternity clothes for the charity shop. Small changes, just for me which did a world of good for my sense of self.
It helped me remember that whilst I’m -proudly- Aurora’s Mum, I’m still Amy. Not ‘Mummy’ to anyone besides her. And not trying to live up to whichever Mummy stereotype best describes my parenting style.
Like We’re All Just ‘Mum’
Speaking to other women on Twitter, it seems I’m not alone in feeling these Mummy labels are problematic. It feels as though they’ve been born out of labelling others rather than women identifying with them and referring to themselves.
Rosy pointed out: “I fall into many of the different categories, for example some days I’m all crunchy growing my own veg and making complex meals with it and using our own eggs etc, other days I’m like yeah here’s a happy meal please let me have 5 mins to play candy crush, some days I’m skipping through meadows singing about the glories of motherhood, other days I’m clock watching till bed time and this glass of wine time“
Which couldn’t be more accurate. One of the survival skills I’ve learned since having my daughter is how to jump between many tasks and roles. I have to go from playing with her on the floor to replying to emails in a matter of minutes. Some days I get everything done, others something has to give.
And whilst I can’t wait to hear Aurora say her first words and call me Mummy, I’m not alone in feeling a bit put out when it’s used by other adults in place of my name.
Rinica said: “No I don’t relate at all. In fact if I’m honest I still don’t associate myself as ‘Mum’ I’m still just me… always surprised me at how many baby groups / mum events I go too no one asks each other’s names just the babies name haha. Like we are all just ‘Mum'”
I’ve come across this too and found it strange, plus it makes it a lot harder to get to know the other women.
The expectation to fit into a certain style of parenting can pile even more pressure onto new Mums. Prior to having our children, we all form ideas about the kind of parent we want to be. I was determined to breastfeed, not buying any formula stuff or having any contingency plan. When I couldn’t I was devastated and despite having a healthy, chunky little monkey of a baby, I still feel prangs of guilt when I reflect back on it.
Having spent my pregnancy reading about the benefits and having this idea of the kind of parent I would be, it made me feel like a failure. My invite to the exclusive crunchy Mummy club would surely get lost in the post. And I’d never be one of those glam yummy Mummys I’d seen breastfeeding in the M&S cafe. I shied away from conversations with the other new Mums I knew who were talking about feeding. But that was my insecurity, not anything they had done.
And that’s where I think the issue lies. As new Mums, we chastise ourselves enough without labels creating the sense that everyone else is out to judge us too. Of course people are going to judge sometimes, stick their nose in and offer the constant unsolicited advice we have become accustomed to from pregnancy. But on the whole we are all walking a similar path, at the same time.
In reality there are no Mummy clubs. Or neat categories of parenting. We’re all just women trying to work it out as we go along.