This Mothering Sunday, what I’d really like is to sleep as peacefully as my husband does.
I don’t mean in a ‘I’m always the one who wakes to get the baby’ way (far from it, he’s actually much better at the night shift than I am). I mean in that totally at peace with the world, untroubled by any anxieties way that many men just have.
I can guarantee he never stays awake worrying about whether the school mums judge him because he didn’t make his daughter’s World Book Day costume from scratch (still a hit scarred by this year’s attempts tbh). That he never suffered existential angst at 2am about why he’s even bothered to have kids when he’s still going to work. That it never even occurs to him to feel guilty 3 weeks after forgetting to send his son to childminder with enough nappies for the day, wondering what she must think of him for being such a terrible parent.
I never knew the Cult of Motherhood existed until I started trying to have children, but it is real, and it’s a bitch. Our first child was a long time coming, and during those barren years I slowly began to see how much our perception of what makes a woman a good person is tied up in their ability to reproduce. Without children, I felt like my life would be a failure. My husband wanted kids too, but at not point did he feel a societal pressure to be fecund in the way that I did.
Even once I’d reached this dizzying heights of reproducing it didn’t ease off. If anything, it got worse. At the point of popping a baby out we’re somehow expected to transform into a veritable Saint. The first thing a man is expected to do is go wet the baby’s head. Us? We must master breastfeeding with ease (but always in a discreet and chaste fashion, so as not to offend The Men). We must pop back into shape instantly (lest the Daily Mail crew catch sight of our unsightly post-pregnancy curves). We must instantly know how to tend our baby’s every whim – and let me tell you, they have a lot of bloody whims – or people start whispering that ‘she’s not really coping’.
As they get older we must cook every meal from scratch, because heaven forbid we ever give them a fish finger or a piece of cake. We must be present at every school event, but also have an interesting and worthwhile career that somehow never interferes with our main job of child rearing. Our house must be immaculate and beautifully decorated. And of course we must never, on pain of death, ever dare go out, let our hair down and have some fun. Look at what happened to Lily Allen when she dared to have a few drinks on a rare day off from looking after her children. The way the tabloid reacted you’d think she’d been caught drowning puppies, not having a bit of fun while childfree.
The Cult of Motherhood is so damaging to all of us. It puts ridiculous pressure on mums to be perfect (men get praised just for showing up, that’s literally ALL THEY HAVE TO DO). It makes motherhood a paragon of virtue, and talks of sacrifice and hardship, rather than privilege and joy. It makes women who don’t have children, whether through choice or not, feel like they are somehow less (if Jennifer Aniston has to do one more interview about why she hasn’t had children, rather than her hugely successful career, I will personally fly over to LA and apologise to her on behalf of all womankind). And Mothering Sunday has become the Feast Day for this cult. One day a year to make up for the fact that the rest of the year we have to put up with this shit. Well no more. This year, I want to sleep like my husband does.