Motherhood brings unique joys and pains to every mum, and we are better off acknowledging that. In this series called Mum Truths, mums reveal their secret successes, miseries and gripes about parenting in a no-holds-barred first-person recount.
In the lead-up to International Women’s Day (IWD) earlier this year, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Based on the pitches that were filling up my inbox, it really began to feel like we were really focusing on “lifting up women” one day a year. Many detractors of IWD argue that it’s largely a branding exercise that goes through the motions of supporting women. It’s also become a commercial event, with high teas, fashion brands and everything in between offering IWD discounts and events.
Personally, I’m OK with the discounts and events. If I’m going to have a high tea with my girlfriends and leave the kids at home, why not do it with the IWD tag attached?
What I can’t stand though is how IWD treats mothers.
When you focus on the work achievements of women, it makes sense. We are underrepresented in this area and face constant inequality (lower paying jobs, less recognition, fewer management positions).
Motherhood is more complicated. It’s a job on its own and there’s no financial remuneration, no guidelines and certainly no laws to prevent being overworked and underpaid. But on IWD, it seems important to push the notion that women can have it all. Essentially, mothers should have a successful career, a curated home, be gorgeous and happy all the time, and have lots of friends.
And as any mum knows, that just isn’t reality.
Motherhood is messy, ugly and most of the time, unfashionable (I’ve never worn yoga pants as much as I do now, and it’s not for yoga). And there’s value in the truth of this, but only if other mums can see it. You can’t say “motherhood is ugly” and attach that to a perfectly pretty image.
But mumfluencers don’t have the impetus to present the ugly (and real) sides to their viewers. Their motivation – or shall I say, value – is in selling a lifestyle that looks good. To be fair, this isn’t true for all of them, but for most, the lifestyle they present is just not believable for me. When I see a mother, beautifully dressed, playing with her well-coordinated children, in a room casually strewn with wooden, Montessori-approved toys, I have a lot of questions. How long did it take for her to get ready? Who looked after the kids during that time? How many helpers does she have? How come none of her kids like VTech?
The more serious question that comes up is of course, how come I am not as put-together or as “perfect” a mum as she is?
Before I became a mum, I actually believed that this could be a reality. That I could buy my children stylish toys and clothes, and would still be able to apply makeup every day. It gave me anxiety when reality hit and everything was literally a mess. Now, with two kids and three years into motherhood, I know better than to believe what’s on the ‘gram.
Social media, for many mums like me, is fraught with picture-perfect mumfluencers and their perfectly clean kitchens, using a hashtag-sponsored baby steamer with a caption purporting how said steamer can help busy mums have it all. Why not instead, a post about how long it took to clean that kitchen and get it to look that minimalist, plus some truthfulness about how the iPad is currently babysitting the baby? That’s something I’d hit “like” on.
Karen Fong is a new mum to two young girls and is surviving motherhood by applying a wry sense of humour (and a lot of eye-rolling and complaining) to the weird and wacky situations that come her way. DM her at @karentanfong to commiserate about party goodie bags, sick babies and travelling with a billion pieces of luggage (but she doesn’t have her kids on her account because this.)