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?


Comments (7)

by Craig Brown on August 22, 2009
Craig Brown

Horray for a cry for common sense - our "child acceleration industry" is booming, all fostered by the "Supermums".

By the time you fork out for those critical life skills lessons for your children you will not get much change out of $250,000. But that is the Average.  If you want your child to excel you need to get ahead of the pack and there are plenty of ways to do it.

Private Kindergarten, music lessons , French and Spanish (quickly being replaced with Mandarin), swimming, rugby/soccer/netball and cricket, and then they start school.

Ha - you won't beleive how many ways your kids will be deprived if they don't get all the extramural activities to ensure they "excel". Ballet or Jazz, drama and acting classes (there's a difference), tennis, art, more swimming, athletics, gymnastics, and then there are the academics - maths and reading coaching, spelling and typing. And no childs education is complete without annual international travel (for "educational purposes" as these trips are during the term). Then you need horse riding, sailing, kite board racing just to keep up with the neighbours.

It is a wonder that generation (X or Y) have even made it to adulthood - as we never had all these life lessons when we grew up. Imagine what it will be like in 2040 when our children are wondering how they provide for their offspring?

Kind of makes todays world look easy.


by Kaila Pettigrove on August 25, 2009
Kaila Pettigrove

One of my instructors in the School of Education used to say, "The only way to win a tug of war with a child is to let go of the rope."  I think it is that way with competitive parenting.  Wear those smudges and smears like a badge of honour.  Yesterday, a mum pointed out that my son had an alarming red spot on the back of his scalp.  I blandly explained that it was just where his sister had dribbled powdered chalk on his head.  I did not elaborate on how many days it had been there or that they were grinding chalk in an effort to amuse themselves since I had neglected to arrange an after-school activity for half the days of the week.  SHAME ON ME!

If you shared the cheese-sandwich-with-poo-on-the-arm story at a Plunket playgroup, it would be very amusing to count how many faces would be horrified versus relieved.  I'm guessing you'd start a barrage of poo stories that would curl your toes.   

I say we leave the Supermums on their end of the playground and assemble under our own banner, "REAL MUMS, UNITE!"  Hopefully they can read it through the spilled coffee on the bottom left corner!

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