Competitive mothering, a non-contact sport

God, save me from the supermums

Forgive me my presumption for I am new to this mothering game, but as far as I am concerned, if I’m losing sleep over it, I’m qualified to comment.

The image of mothering most often presented in magazines and on television and by the other mothers you meet at Plunket is pretty and pink and totally under control. You have a problem, you identify an agreed solution, carry out said action, and you move on to the next freeze-frame moment of parental bliss. Simple.

If this impossible ideal is airbrushed to its zenith in magazines, it is most commonly spread by the other mothers you meet. It is there in the spiky offhand comments (“Oh look, you’ve forgotten a hat for your baby”) and the smug stories about pureeing vats of organic vegetable matter for baby and making educational flash cards to stimulate that little brain. It is an insidious form of oneupmanship and it is, in my opinion, really damaging, for no-one can maintain that level of effort and attention.

One day you’re going to stumble, perhaps after a night of waking every two hours with a teething baby, when you have just enough energy to move the centre of mothering operations from the bed to the sofa. You will decide to forgo the bath, to let the baby wear the same singlet for another day, to forget about trying to entertain him with books and musical toys but to let him watch television instead. You will, gasp, not give him any tummy time. You will not tell any of the other mothers about this lapse.

And you will feel like a steaming heap of cow manure.

For the past two weeks Deborah Hill Cone has written about supermums in her Business Herald column. Specifically, middle class mothers who feel pressured to do it all—work demanding and enviable jobs, raise rosy kiddies, be the supportive and attentive wives they always promised themselves they’d be, keep lovely homes, regain their pre-pregnancy figures, and maintain their sanity.

Not possible, she posits, and she’s right. It is refreshing to read a high-profile local writer’s take on this issue because, when you’re in the trenches, stewing at antenatal class while the educator witters on about the evils of epidurals while the other prospective mothers nod sagely and take notes, you could do with a different perspective. You could also do with a large glass of sauvignon, but that is by the by.

In addition to the working supermums Deborah Hill Cone speaks of, you have the stay-at-home supermums, who in my experience are even more formidable. At least working supermums are struggling with guilt, which makes them more human. Stay-at-home supermums have made the choice to pour all their time and ambition into their kids so are not troubled by the sense that there is anything more they could do.

They do not beat themselves up over Soviet-style regimented daycare for babies or worry about their children coming home from school to an empty pantry. And in some cases this sureness leaves them the mental space to pass judgment on the other mums, the ones with the dirty ponytails and tired, drool-soaked babies. Mostly, though, the stay-at-home supermums simply put pressure on themselves to perform flawlessly and their apparent perfection is what makes the other mothers feel crap.

I am in no danger of becoming a supermum. The signs of my ordinariness already loom large. I have repeatedly, horrifically, found streaks of baby poo up my arms after a thorough handwash, having changed a nappy and then decided to make myself a cheese sandwich. Ugh. I often let my baby fall asleep draped over my shoulder like a stole. Naughty! How will he ever learn to sleep on his own?

Pop round to my house in the late afternoon and you may find me passed out on the sofa with a home decorating show flickering on the box, my baby clasped to me like a bear cub, not slumbering in his cot where he should be. When I wake up I will power-snack on chocolate biscuits and instant coffee in an effort to re-energise myself. I realise neither is particularly good for the breast milk and yet...if I don’t get a quick energy injection I will tumble to the floor, just fall flat on my face and stay there.

For all us ordinary mums, columns like Hill Cone's are reassuring at a life stage when we need all the reassurance we can get. Nigel Latta's television show is similarly soothing. Basically he tells us that we know what we're doing and the kids will turn out all right. Stop over-thinking every parental choice, stop treating the kids like mini adults, stop freaking out.

Above all, stop freaking out. A new mantra for the fridge, perhaps?