“Back in my day…”
“In the old country…”
My sister and I use these phrases to joke about the older women in our family as we swap the stories they have passed onto us about when they were young mothers. We have ‘aunties’ who aren’t related but because they were a part of our own mother’s village, we grew up with a familiarity and connection that made them like ‘aunties’ to us.
There is a lot to be said for the ‘village’ when you are a mother. Mothering is so much richer when experiences can be shared, when we can support each other through the tough times (‘it does get easier’), celebrate the wins, however small (my baby slept 5 hours straight!), and laugh together at the absurdities (wondering, ‘where the hell did I get this kid?” And being told by one of the ‘aunties’, “she’s just like her mother!”).
Now though, mothers are all too often defined and divided by labels, usually for marketing purposes or ‘click-bait’ – free range mummy, tiger mommy, helicopter parent, attachment parent, crunchy mom, yummy mummy, SAHM, WAHM. Give them a label, divide them and then call ‘Mommy Wars”. Although most mothers would probably be a mix of this vast array of labels, women tend to define themselves and their parenting practices too.
Naming our villages gives meaning for those seeking their ‘people’ but it can also tear us apart. Some of us are pretty quirky and so are some of our kids so we don’t fit too neatly in any box. Some of us take bits and pieces from several boxes – you might do ‘baby led weaning’ but also offer food on a spoon (I’ve heard this likened to being a vegetarian who eats meat by puritans), or you breastfeed but your child is in child-care (lucky baby that you are working your tits off pumping to give him the good stuff!), or you ‘baby wear’ but also use a pram (how dare you feel ‘all touched out’ some days). If you don’t squash yourself neatly into the right box, there is a risk that you could feel as though you don’t really belong. That’s a lonely place to be when you are struggling with all the crazy life changes of becoming a mother.
Mia, a vegetarian who had a lotus birth and is breastfeeding her baby, ventured out to an attachment parenting group. Sadly, Mia was ostracised because her baby wasn’t ‘attached’ . You see, Mia has a prolapse and isn’t able to wear her baby so she had popped her in the pram. Mia was also in trouble because her baby had a dummy – an artificial nipple, heaven forbid! Never mind that this poor baby was overwhelmed by Mia’s copious milk supply but was calmed by sucking on the dummy.
Before you get your panties in a bunch because I seem to be attacking attachment parents, it can work the other way too. Elle, a mum of two small boys who baby wears, breastfeeds and co-sleeps was given an awful time by members of her mums group because they all had their babies on strict schedules. Another mum even wrote down her baby’s schedule and compared it to Elle’s baby, then poor Elle was ‘advised’ what her baby ‘should’ be doing by the other mums. Sensibly, Elle left the group.
Social media can influence how we find our village –or not. The pressure to be a ‘good mother’ is strong. People pin and post their perfect mummy photos of their perfect children and their perfect after baby bodies and their perfect cakes and their perfect gourmet dinners. Everyone looks fabulous! They get validation from being told, ‘your kids are gorgeous,’ ‘you look hot,’ ‘we love the way you have organised your playroom shelves,’ and ‘your gourmet dinner looks amazing!’ Really, who gives a stuff what you eat for dinner? We would all like some suggestions to perk up our boring meal plans but hell, some nights bread and cheese and a piece of fruit might be all we can manage – and hey, that’s three food groups and nobody is starved. The pressure is on. Is it any wonder that despite so many opportunities for communication and support, many mothers feel anxious about reaching out, so they stay isolated and lonely? It’s just too hard to find their way into the maze to reach their village?
While the internet can offer connection and it can help us find our tribe, we still need the real life village where mums can meet up in person – its messier, It’s real. We can’t hide behind stylised lenses of perfection – we see each other’s babies cry and poop and wee and we see toddlers losing their shit (I daren’t call it a tantrum or a meltdown because even these names can divide mothers – who cares, the child is overwhelmed and needs help with big feelings regardless what you call it). Toddlers push and snatch too, and we can see other mums with the tell tale shadows under their eyes that say ‘she had a tough night too’ and we can be honest.
Recently, Elle (the mum who was given a hard time because she didn’t have her baby on a schedule), was playing in the park with her toddler. She was invited to hang out with a group of mums who had met there with their little ones. Some of the mums were wearing their babies in carriers. When Elle asked one of the mums, “is this a baby wearing group?’ She was pleasantly surprised to hear, “we are just a group of misfits so we don’t have any labels here.” Elle was happy to have found a diverse and accepting group of mums. Dani, one of the mums in this group says, “most of us take a fairly gentle approach and we have had uncomfortable times when one of the mums in the group used to smack her toddler but now it seems she has relaxed and isn’t so conscious of trying to make her child behave. She doesn’t smack him any more when we meet up, most likely because she feels supported. We don’t pretend everything is perfect, we are honest about our struggles and frustrations and we talk openly about our kids. We share information and we encourage each other – we are all wading through this muck and learning together.”
Pinky McKay is an internationally certified lactation consultant, mum of five and best selling author of Toddler Tactics, Parenting by Heart and Sleeping Like a Baby. If you are looking for a gentle non – judgemental group of mums to hang out with, have a look at our Parenting by Heart Mummy Meet-ups.