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Mother’s Day

Some of the LaptopMums contributors share their thoughts on Mother’s Day. We would love to hear yours in the comments section.

Puddlepie:I’m apparently the best mummy in the whole wide world universe. I’m even better than all the Alien mummies. But I don’t feel like it much of the time. So much of my life is compromise. Compromise between family and work, between mum and wife, and forget just being ‘me’! When the kids are ill, the first thought is so often about who can manage to wangle half a days leave, rather than about their welfare. Thankfully though, at the age they are, it doesn’t seem to matter. I tuck them into bed with lots of kisses and cuddles most days, and thats what counts. So this mothers day, I’m going to celebrate the things I do well, and try and do more of them.

LadyBlahBlahs: SiL2 was visiting on my very first mother’s day. I mentioned this to my darling husband who looked horrified, then said ‘Oh, never mind, SiL1 can take her out’. It took a while for me to realise that he meant his own mother, rather than his wife who had spent the last 5 months in a state of shock looking after his daughter with no sleep. I don’t think he’ll make that mistake again.

The other day when I did nursery pick up, children were coming out with bunches of paper flowers they’d made for their mums out of their handprints. I was instantly taken back to doing exactly the same thing for my own mother, sitting at the kitchen table with my sister. I like these long standing traditions, and my paper flowers will be far more precious than a card bought in tesco at the last minute.

I always find mother’s day is fraught with dilemma. Is it a time for me to make a fuss of my own mum and her mum or is it OK to be self indulgent? Should I spend the day doing something fun with my daughter or should I bugger off to the spa for the day? This year, we will be taking the little lady out to do something fun, and I’ve booked to go to a spa with some friends in a couple of weeks. Perfect!

BeeBeeF: When I was a kid we didnt ‘do’ Mother’s Day. Mum said she didnt want flowers or presents, just for us to ‘help around the house’. As a teen, I would have much prefered to bung her a bunch of daffs and continue to ignore her rather than actually have to lift a finger to help. Poor Mum. I did manage to send her a card this year though. Now I am a mum myself, I am happy to accept any and all gifts and treats from my daughters, even though at this stage we are talking stuff they have been forced to make at school. I think last year I treated myself to a daytime nap as well. But at their age it pretty much is all down to their Dad to organise something. I remember when my eldest daughter was a baby I got the serious hump with my husband as he had made no effort for Mother’s Day at all. When I challenged him about it, he was genuinely perplexed: ‘you’re not my mum!’. I asked him who our children going to learn about proper Mother’s Day etiquette from, if not him. He has been much better since.

Cassisdijon: This year is the first year that I’m going to get a proper Mother’s Day surprise. My eleven year old daughter and her friends have made a shopping date and they’re going to the shops tomorrow (on their own, eek!) to choose gifts for their mums. My girl has been unsubtly probing me all week about what I’d like, so I hope Mother’s Day will be heavy on the book tokens and light on the cheap chocolate.

Meanwhile, my pragmatic six year old boy has made me a delightful card that reads “to MY best mummy”. He’s under no illusion that I’m the best mummy anyone could get; just that I’m the best he has. Quite right too. And my tiny girl has made me oomething chocolatey at nursery, that I’m not sure about eating due to her hygiene habits.

At the end of the day, though, Mother’s Day for me is still about my mum, my tiny, fallible, loving little mum who does so much for me every day even though I’m nearly 30. My sisters and I like to present her with a table full of food she likes and give her a gift we know she wants, so she knows how much we love her despite the mistakes she may have made along the way. If my children still feel like that about me when they’re my age, I think I’ll have done an OK job.

Agnodice: My eldest child produced a hand made Mothers Day card from his book bag the other day and whispered conspiratorially that it was a surprise before dashing upstairs. His intention of hiding it under his bed faltered when he got distracted in the process and left it lying in the middle of his bedroom floor for me to find when I was tidying later! My middle child confidentially told me that he was making heart shaped biscuits for me at school on Friday but to keep it a secret! He has been well primed by his teacher, he has told me he will sing me a special song and tidy his toys away on Sunday. The household tyrant aka my youngest child is too young to know the significance of the day and it is unlikely she will gift me a few hours extra unbroken sleep from her. Nevertheless she will smile and gurgle and bestow upon me that look of adoration that infants reserve for their mothers.

Mothering Sunday is one of those occasions, like Christmas, where if you are a signed up member of the club it is a delightful day. However for those women who are struggling with infertility or anyone who has lost their own mother it is a day coloured with loss and sadness. I am thankful for my little brood and their heartfelt efforts and will try to be mindful of those who will for whatever reason find it a sad or poignant day.

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Yesterday on International Women’s Day, I thought back to a conversation I had with a friend about feminism and motherhood after reading this article.  It gave me a lot to think about because I’ve spent the last three years feeling pulled between being a feminist and taking the traditional ‘woman’s role’ in our household.

I’ve been the one who has looked after our daughter and most of the housework since she was born.  I cook the dinner, it tends to be more or less ready when my husband walks in from work, I do the washing and I plan our holidays. I never thought I’d be the kind of woman who thought there was any pride to be had in looking after a family, and yet here I am, loud and proud. (I should add here in case Lordblahblahs thinks I am doing him a dis-service, that he more than pulls his weight in the home in the evenings and at weekends).

Badinter’s viewpoint is, in my opinion, naive, and well, bollocks, frankly.  I simply can’t see how taking a few months or years out of work to care for your own children can really undermine a lifetime of education and employment.  As my friend said, if she’s that bothered by women pureeing a bit of butternut squash or changing nappies, why isn’t she instead championing family friendly policies at work, equal pay and better childcare etc.?  I’d go further and say why aren’t we championing the right for men to take equal time off (if they choose)?  Where’s the cultural shift towards fathers working flexibly and, ahem, don’t men have any say in their children’s upbringing?  We can’t just have children and leave them to bring up themselves after all, surely both parents are equally responsible?

Mostly, I want to cry:  why, why, why are the soft skills of looking after each other – whoever is providing the care, and surely the foundation of family life – not given the same value as the more easily measurable skills of who got the best bonus, who has the biggest house, who drives the biggest 4 x 4?

The way I see it, being a mum to pre-schoolers (because that’s all I have experience of so far) is a bit like any other job really.   You can make as much of it as you want.  Some will leave their kids with a bag of crisps for breakfast while they watch Jeremy Kyle.  Others will read all the latest research papers, plan their days with military precision to make sure they are fun-packed, educational and that their kids have nutritionally balanced meals every three hours, with lots of interaction and play in big groups as well as lots of one on one time with mummy.  Most of us are somewhere in the middle.  The vast majority of parents, whether we work full time, part time or not at all, are engaged with our children, we want to give them the best start in life and most of us want our children to be well rounded, compassionate individuals with good self esteem who will go on to contribute to wider society.

Being at home with a child doesn’t mean my brain will rot.  I can still read the paper, I can still do evening courses, I can still *shock* talk to friends about their lives.  Just as I never focused only on my (paid) job, I can still be interested in the world around me and not obsessed with how many phonetic sounds my daughter understands,as long as there’s a smile on her face when she’s happy and she has someone to talk to when she’s sad.

So, I read the papers over the weekend, like I do every weekend, and my word, the world seems to be in a depressing state for women.

First off, only 10% of directors in Britain’s top 100 companies are women and some of them have no women at all on their boards.  None of them have a female majority.

In television,   it’s not just whether you’re a woman or not, it’s how old you are.  If you’re a young woman you might be able to have a soft role in a soap or as a bit of fluff, if you get to 40 and still employed, you’ll be lucky.

It seems even Samantha Cameron and Sarah Brown – both intelligent women in their own right – are seen as extensions of their husbands.  Ed Vaisey has suggested that Samantha Cameron voted Labour in the last election – which she denies, but if true, surely she’s entitled to vote for who she wants at each and every election (I know, I couldn’t do it either, but I’ve heard of stranger differences in a marriage)?  Just look at Sally and John Bercow!

Melissa Kite of the Telegraph thinks that Sarah Brown should be ‘riding her husband to rescue again’, because she is more personable than he is and doesn’t have her own agenda, unlike Cherie Booth who had the audacity to have her own career as well as being married to the then Prime Minister.

Even the good news that Kathryn Bigelow has won an Oscar for directing The Hurt Locker leaves a bitter taste in my mouth – she’s the first woman ever to win a Director’s Oscar.  What???  So we’ve only got another 80 years to catch up!

Elsewhere in the tabs, we read about the Doormat Wives.  John Terry’s wife Toni Poole has forgiven his transgression – from what I can gather, sleeping with his team mate’s girlfriend and paying for her to have an abortion is just the tip of the iceburg for this man’s hideous behaviour .  Cheryl Cole apparently blames herself  for the fact Ashley couldn’t learn his lesson the last time he sent sleazy texts to a kiss and tell merchant.

I read this stuff and I wonder who we are trying to kid, women should have equal rights, but they don’t, and that’s to say nothing about domestic violence, rape, women dying in childbirth, genital mutilation or the many other issues affecting women in this country and around the world.  Nothing has really changed since I was studying A Level Sociology all those years ago (19 to be precise).  What am I going to tell my daughter when she asks me about equality issues?  What is the best way to bring her up to know that she doesn’t have to accept it?  Am I a good enough female role model (she obviously can’t look to television, celebrities, politics or the workplace for examples)?  How would I parent a son? These are the real things that trouble me, as a feminist, Elisabeth Badinter, not whether I remembered to put on a hot wash.

(and I know I sound like a bit of a miserable old bag, so I’ll post a blog later in the week about all the things that are great about being a woman in 2010!)

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A third of families use grandparents for childcare, according to the charity Grandparents Plus, often causing hardship for grandparents who retire early or cut their working hours in order to help out. The charity calls for these effort to be ‘recognised financially’ by the government, since free childcare often allows parents to go to work and pay tax where they wouldn’t otherwise be able. It seems only fair doesn’t it? The government encourages mums back to work, but often its not worth it if they have to pay childcare out of their wages.

The Benefits Minister Helen Goodman is reported to have said “However, we’ve made it very clear that we only expect parents to do this during school hours or during the hours they are entitled to free childcare. We absolutely do not expect grandparents to subsidise this work.” What a joke! Many mums of school age kids I know are looking for that elusive ‘school hours’ job and believe me, Ms Goodman, they are not easy to find. It is only having grandparents able and willing to do the school run, or a few hours of after school care that makes it possible to work.

Putting all that aside though, relying on grandparents for child care can be fraught with problems. My own mother doesn’t live close enough to provide childcare on a regular basis, but she does either come here or take our girls at various times to allow me to do work related things. Trouble is, I have a pretty complicated relationship with my mother (who doesn’t?!) and spent my 20s putting some distance, both physical and psychological, between us. All that has gone to hell since I had kids though and I have come to rely on her in ways I would rather not. As is so often true as a parent, I feel I have compromised what I want by choosing what works for my family.

I think many mums are similarly stuck between a rock and a hard place: use their mother (or often worse, the mother-in-law!) for childcare with all those strings attached or not work at all. Even if you have a good relationship with your mum, things can get strained. Its not long ago the news was full of witterings about grandparents contributing to childhood obesity through overindulgence. A friend of mine recently picked her child up from grandma with bruises all up his arm as he had been ‘difficult’. What can she do? She relies on grandma in order to do her job, but she can’t tolerate her beating her child. It’s a minefield.

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Janet Street Porter doesn’t like mumsnet, apparently (‘The daily discussions are usually pretty childish, and there’s a fair amount of bullying. There seems to be a received way of thinking, and woe betide anyone who disagrees.’ ) She hates Boden too. She’s a bit of a misery isn’t she? But alongside the usual bile she makes some valid points. Well documented by laptopmums and elsewhere are the political parties’ efforts to target the ‘Mum vote’ by advertising on, and generally engaging with, the mumsnet community. But as JSP points out ‘Mumsnet … represents a very narrow group of women.’ She suggests that single over 40s ‘hold the key to the election, not a bunch of middle-class, Boden-wearing yummy mummies.’ I think she mischaracterises mumsnet users, which I imagine to be a pretty diverse bunch (I don’t know for sure, I haven’t looked), but I take her point that there are many female voters out there who have no interest in so called ‘mummy issues’ (urgh!).

However, why should one group of women hold more sway than any others? I would suggest that politicians who want to court the female vote should understand that women are as diverse a bunch as men with as many facets and opinions. Not all female voters are mums and yes, amazing though it may seem, not all mums think the same either. Mumsrock wrote an interesting blog post this morning on attempts to pigeonhole mums: ‘Nobody should have to belong to a gang to have a voice, and no matter how well-intentioned Mumsnet is in it’s urge to politicise it’s members (and actually it’s sort of a good idea isn’t it?), having a herd mentality is never a good thing.’ Exactly. Just because we are all mums, doesn’t mean we share a brain or a conscience. I am starting to get really miffed at the media and politicians treating mums like an amorphous blob. We are individuals, just like men! Imagine that ;)

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Beauty is as Beauty Does

I have chills up my spine when I read yet another mother-grappling-with-daughter’s-beauty envy. How sad.

My mother was a great beauty in her day — a top model, so it’s not just my biased opinion. Yet she always made me feel that my puddingy, average looks were shiningly beautiful. Actually, while making me feel like a physical goddess, she also gently inculcated in me that looking good was the least important part of being me. I felt deeply valued for being a good human being, working hard, being creative. I never for a moment got the impression she envied me the gift of youth and unblemished skin, even when she was single again in her 40s/50s. And until the day she died she revelled in my *beauty*, which, quite frankly, only a mother could have seen.

So perhaps it’s what we’ve experienced that shapes our own attitudes. I managed to produce a daughter as beautiful as my own mother, and this has only brought me joy — and, like her, I see this as an unimportant part of the whole package. My daughter has much more important and more enduring qualities than the aesthetic. I’ve never felt a twinge of envy as I’ve gazed on her, only pleasure. And also a modicum of worry on her behalf. The beautiful women I’ve known, my mother and daughter included, don’t have it easy. They attract ardent attention that is purely about how they look, and have sometimes had a harder time of it than me and other average-looking women who men want to get to know because there’s something else about us they like. They’ve suffered from men who yearn for their beauty and aren’t interested in the woman behind it.

And now she has a daughter of her own. The most beautiful baby ever to grace this earth. But if she grows up to be as puddingy as me it won’t matter. And if she grows up to be the most beautiful woman in the world I feel sure my daughter won’t feel competitive, only protective. So far her nature is beautiful — sunny, warm and people-loving. What a gift from the fairies. That should see her through to old age and wrinkles very well indeed.

It makes me think: if mothers compete with daughters over who is the fairest of them all and make clear their distress about their own failing looks, how can we expect young girls not to be victims of our looks-iist culture that values youth, beauty and sex-appeal above everything else?

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