By JO CASE
When I was thirty years old, the first of my friends became pregnant. My son was seven. At last, I thought.
The other mothers in my son’s schoolyard mostly left me alone: I was different. They had mortgages and talked about renovations; they swapped recipes and tips for avoiding traffic. I rented my house, didn’t enjoy cooking, and rode my bicycle everywhere (because I didn’t have a driver’s license).
I longed for a friend I could talk to about the foreign land of motherhood, from the inside.
My pregnant friend had been my manager when we both worked at a city bookshop. Since then, she’d moved into publishing. She was hard-working and ambitious; that person who was always the first to arrive at (and last to leave) the office, who talked about work over drinks and on weekends.
My first clue that we would not, after all, be companions in motherhood came when she showed me the room she had prepared for the baby. There was a carefully stocked bookshelf, bursting with children’s classics. (So far, so familiar.) The room was colour-schemed and decorated with lovingly sewn cushions and appliquéd lamp covers. A cupboard was stacked with cunning little hipster clothes, ordered by colour and artfully arranged, as if for a photo shoot.
“I know it’s silly,” she said, her pride dissolving into embarrassment. “I’m sure it’ll be a mess once the baby arrives.”
But when the baby arrived, she remained composed and organised. If I came to visit, she invariably presented cakes, quiches or scones she’d baked while the baby slept. When she confessed to having a bad day, it was because she really wanted to clean out the kitchen cupboards and hadn’t been able to manage it. The sewing that had started with the cushions in the baby’s room became a creative outlet.
“She’s channelled all her ambition into doing motherhood perfectly,” I told a mutual friend, laughing. I spoke with an edge of scorn, but privately, I was envious. She did seem to be doing it perfectly.
And if her way is the right way, then I must be doing it wrong.
I suspect that thought is at the centre of the so-called ‘mummy wars’ – the hyper-competitive sniping between different ‘tribes’ of motherhood.
Helicopter versus free-range parenting, stay-at-home versus working mums, organic-everything-loving earth mothers versus mothers who embrace pop culture and i-devices.
Motherhood is a huge responsibility; the stakes are nothing less than the health and happiness of our children. It’s not surprising there’s such pressure to get it right – and that we experience such guilt when we feel like we’re failing to do so.
Outwardly, we all seem obsessed with picking holes in what other women are doing – at least, if the opinion pages and women’s magazines are any barometer. If you stay home to bake and sew and parent full-time, you’re endangering feminism. If you work full-time, you’re endangering your children’s welfare.