Esme has just started school and now I have a new ‘game to play’ – it’s the ‘who’s, who’s’ in the playground game. It truly is some kind of sociological study – I feel about 5 again and like its me starting school, with all the social awkwardness that, that means for me. There is a high proportion of Cath Kidson (not that I object – I like Cath Kidston a lot – but this seems to be a symbol to some of identity), a whole lot of super-duper buggies and more subliminal competitiveness than exists before an Olympic line-up. I am as much part of this as everyone else, its hard not to be. The pressure to be ‘yummy mummy’ is subtle but tangible.
The playground scene made me think about an incident in the summer – the ‘yummy mummy picnic’. I took my two children to a farm with a friend and her two children during the summer. We both brought a picnic with us, complete with chocolate cakes (of which the girls merely ate the icing) and crisps. We were joined on the picnic bench by two other mums each with a baby about weaning age. Whilst our children devoured home-made sandwiches (which looked it) and smeared blackberries all over their faces, the other mums’ children sat pristinely in buggies savouring the taste of mum’s home-made salmon fishcakes (sculpted into perfect circles – restuarnt style). The paradox was evident. We, our children and ourselves, were met with raised eyebrows and looks of utter disbelief. White bread! Peanut Butter! Crisps! Chocolate cakes! Dirty faces! We were certainly not the strongest advocates for the perfect yummy mummies that day. I felt rebellious in my normality – I hadn’t made enough effort with my farm picnic.
The advent of ‘Yummy Mummy’ is to some, I am sure, a really liberating, endearing and complimentary way of life. To me it is only oppressive and constrictive. Not only am I expected to love all aspects of being a mum, I should be befixed with constant smile, done out in latest fashion, domestically capable, no – domestically excellent, hands full of plates bulging with home-made cupcakes, serene, never flustered, intrinsically and instantly bonded with baby, home-maker, love-maker, never tired, never-failing, never begrudging. Yummy Mummy is a label to be bashed with – as if I don’t already have enough guilt! Yummy Mummy is a corset to keep me in – a new form of oppression. ‘Let’s get the women back to the children, back to the kitchen, back to the home by making these things appear devastatingly easy, gorgeously attractive, and instinctively natural’. The trouble comes when this story, woven through the media and perpetuated through various avenues – mum’s groups, churches, school gates…….- does not ring true, when it fails to resonate with reality. What happens then? When I fail to bring a home-made cake to a child’s party? When I put my daughter in front of the TV again because I can’t tidy the house and entertain two children? When I am pretty much still in my pyjamas during the school run? When I am angry that my life always takes second place to others? I am more ‘scummy mummy’ than ‘yummy’. And I don’t want to be shackled to that ideal. I want to be able to enjoy family life in partnership with Nick. I want to have time when I am not domestically tied. I want to be able to pursue being me – trying to live in the fullness of that-as well enabling those around them to become fully them.
When someone becomes a mum for the first time I think the pressure is obscene. There are so many messages about what you should do, how you should be and very little about just relaxing and trying to find glimmers of hope and enjoyment in those hectic, hormonal, sleep deprived, surreal first few months. I am personally a bit past ‘post-baby celeb photos’ showing unrealistic ideals and congratulatory comments of tiny women who have ‘got their figure back straight away’. That is great for them but signalling it as triumph is debilitating to so many others and could take their focus off trying to learn to be mum, to trying to be thin. I am also pretty tired of this celeb ‘parent of the year’ deal. Parenting is hard work and to start with quite scarce on reward. Parading beautiful people, who are surely human too but we don’t get to see that bit of them, again seems crudely unhelpful. Very cynically I am not that worried to hear about what kind of parent you can be when you have the resources to buy in a personal trainer, child-minder and dietitian!
So what’s the harm of the ‘yummy mummy’ message? Isn’t it just another marketing ploy? Isn’t it just helping people be better mum’s – more capable of feeding and looking after their family, and more dedicated to doing things well at home? Possibly – but for many people it may be a stifling corset that hems them into a belief that unless they parent this way, unless they are perfect their children will suffer, their relationships will break down and they will be branded a failure. For someone like me, prone to perfectionism to a potentially crippling extent, the label ‘yummy mummy’ is tantamount to the label ‘failure’. I am choosing to ignore it lately and finding freedom in that – but my concern is that if it has effected me, it may well have had similar effects on others. The shackles of being a women come in a variety of forms and guises, some dressed in Zara, carrying cupcakes and accessorised with Kidston!