The annual celebration of “Mother’s Day” – held in March for much of the Arab world, held in May in the West – should be renamed “Super-woman Day”, or “I keep the whole house running and still smile” Day or possibly just “who else is going to do the laundry if I don’t?” Day.
Yes, it’s that annual festival of chocolates and flowers, symbolising how utterly amazing mothers are. But whether you’re a mother’s day cynic or not, I would still have that cup of coffee in bed, and a day – a whole day – to myself. Until an emergency at 11am only mummy can fix.
It’s tough to be a mother, it always has been. But it feels like it’s harder now than ever. Alongside the fact more women are working, we are still in charge of the majority of the world’s housework. And of course, being a mum is itself a full-time job. We get verbal recognition of this, but it feels like when we’re being awarded the medal, the pedestal we’re put on is ever higher and more exacting.
I’m not complaining that being a mother is lauded. If anything, the challenges of motherhood need greater accommodation in our social structures and attitudes. The problem is that motherhood has become airbrushed. The days when we’re covered in vomit, haven’t slept for 48 hours or will scream just as loudly as our toddlers are our shameful secrets, rather than just part of the ebb and flow of motherhood.
Instead, we’re supposed to manage motherhood and domesticity without breaking a sweat, look like we have stepped out of an advert for yummy mummies, cook gourmet food in our nightgowns like Nigella and still be the exciting women that our husbands first married.
A recent survey found 97 per cent of Millennial mums (those born after 1980) said their children are more important to them than anyone else. By comparison, only 86 per cent of Generation X mums (those born after 1960) feel the same.
And yet more than ever before, this all-consuming motherhood seems to be a source of stress, and something that mums might want to (at least occasionally) escape from.
One quarter of Millennial mums say they find parenthood a burden compared to 8 per cent of Gen X mums. And 30 per cent of Millennial mums feel like they’ve lost some of their identity compared to 10 per cent of Gen X mums. A whopping 34 per cent of Millennial mums say if they had to stay at home day after day with their children they would lose their minds, compared to 18 per cent of Gen X mums.
There’s clearly a conflict in the reality of day-to-day motherhood. Because when it comes to the grand overarching experience of being a mum, there is no doubt at all: 92 per cent agree that motherhood brings happiness. But beyond that it seems like mums are struggling to balance their own self-definition with that of being a mother.
This is a not a problem that critics of women working might characterise as women complaining when they try to “have it all”. This is a problem that when we put motherhood on a pedestal and define it as having to be 110 per cent engaged in children while looking perfect then a sense of failure is inevitable.
Motherhood is messy, unpredictable and a roller-coaster ride of successes and failures. If we want to recognise motherhood then we should celebrate the fact that sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s terrible, and once in a while it’s just fantastic to sit in bed with a coffee and no kids at all. And that’s fine.