Being a big fan of trashy reality shows, and a fellow resident of Essex, I was very excited to watch ex-TOWIE star Sam Faiers in The Mummy Diaries last week. In an interview, Sam had promised an honest, warts and all look at her journey as a new mum so I was looking forward to a good dose of realism. Sadly, what I got instead was a glossy advert for how to be the ‘perfect mum’, complete with stain-free clothes, flawless make-up and easy breast-feeding.
I attribute quite a large chunk of my postnatal depression and anxiety to the wildly unrealistic ideas I had about being a parent prior to becoming one. Ideas perpetuated by advertisements, rose tinted friends and family and, apparently, reality TV stars. When I discovered that actually not all births are beautiful and magical, breastfeeding is painful and sometimes impossible and that coping with relentless sleep deprivation is actually a tad different from clubbing until 3am, I came crashing down to earth with a terrified and mentally unwell bump.
I understand that experiencing a mental illness made the first six months of my life as a mum that much more difficult than it is for someone who is well, but the majority of mums I speak to, those who didn’t have PND, still struggled often during those first few months or years. Becoming a parent is an enormous and often unsettling transition, perhaps the biggest of anyone’s life, and coupling that with feelings of worry, isolation and lack of sleep makes it a tough time for many new mums, quite understandably. To make matters worse, our Western culture deprives many parents of the support networks from extended family and community that are often present elsewhere.
‘Perfect mums’ are taking a bit of a battering right now. The recent comedy Bad Moms smashed it at the box office and triggered a wave of knowing chuckles across the globe. Closer to home, the success of awesome books, like The Unmumsy Mum, definitely demonstrate a shift from mothers wanting to portray themselves as always having their shit together to being almost proud of their parenting failings. I absolutely applaud this and I’m a huge advocate for total honesty when it comes to child-rearing. If you’re a friend of mine, and a parent, rest assured that you are one of the awesome, honest ones because I make a conscious effort to only surround myself only with parents who are willing to rant with me about toddler tantrums and, therefore, make me feel better. Parents who judge can judge elsewhere.
On a similar vein there have been some questions raised about how healthy it is to be so negative about parenting, and have we shifted so far in the other direction that boasting about needing wine every night after the kids have gone to bed is a step too far? Maybe. In my mind, it’s all about balance and individuality. One person’s gag-worthy perfect mum moment is another person’s happy place. For example, I love to do creative activities with my son and I know many others who do too. Posting pictures of something my son and I have created on social media may be seen by some as a ‘perfect mum boast’ but the reality is that this is the side of parenting I enjoy where there are many other aspects I don’t. I try to make sure I share reality in this space, and reality is often a combination of rants and triumphs. And vitally, that’s okay.
I want to say thank you to the Good Enough Mums. Those mums who share the good and the bad with honest, frustration-filled words and who stamp their feet with me. Who love their kids with the ferocity of a lioness but admit that they sometimes don’t even like them. You make the bad days bearable and the good days even sweeter.
So do perfect mothers actually exist? Of course not. I strongly believe there must have been at least one moment when Sam Faiers was pacing the living room at 3pm with greasy hair. There just weren’t any cameras there for that, which is a shame. Do mothers attempting to portray themselves as perfect exist? Sadly, yes. My bitter, inner bitch would say these women are doing so with the sole aim of making other parents feel bad but really I’m sure they only act this way because they feel an unbearable pressure from society to hold it all together, and this can’t be good for anyone. Be brave, ‘perfect mums’; let the facade slip for minute and come join me for a cuppa and a cry – you’ll feel better for it.
And as for Sam Faiers, I’m hoping this week’s episode tames down the shiny a little and shows us more of the whole truth. The trailer contained a shot of her baby actually crying, in the night (gasp!), so that’s a positive sign. Showing us a perfect mum life doesn’t help anyone, but showing us the truth can save someone. I’d like more reality in my reality TV, please.