Mum Tribes- Fact or Fiction? An Interview with Helen Hamston

When by one of the UK’s best-known writers and broadcasters on all aspects of modern family life, Liz Fraser, asked if she could interview me for the Sunday Telegraph (oooooooo, get me!!), of course, I said ‘hell to the yes’. When she said she wanted to ask me about ‘Mum Tribes’, my heart sank. Not this again, another media outlet harping on about the alleged ‘divide amongst women’, the ‘battle at the school gates’, ‘the Instamum Vs the Business mum’.

Luckily for me, that wasn’t the case and the article actually celebrated the diversity of motherhood. It did get me thinking though, is there really such a thing as a ‘Mum tribe’? And if so, which one are we?

You can see the full article here (it was on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph supplement, don’t you know!).

Read on for the full, un-edited conversation:

Liz: What ‘type’ / ‘tribe’ of mum would you describe yourself as? (Entrepreneur, Instamum, campaign mum, slogan T-shirt mum, vegan mum, gin mum, nature mum, solo mum….etc!)

Helen: I am the #nomumleftbehind mum. I am the sort of mum who is constantly introducing people to each other, making sure that no-one feels left out. I am the one in the playground flitting between groups of mums, switching seats 6 times during the assembly so I can talk to everyone and bringing people together. I am the mum that always has a gang of 10 kids behind me – like some kind of Joules-clad Jemima Puddleduck – because I get bored if my house is too quiet. I’m in the middle of everything and constantly rabble rousing big groups of mums to get together and do stuff: big stuff, little stuff, fun stuff, educational stuff, face to face stuff and online stuff. I cannot bear to see anyone left out, so I’ve made it my personal mission to eradicate maternal loneliness on my patch.

I’m also the mum who over-shares the stuff that goes wrong, trying hard to laugh at our daily disasters and make everyone feel better about the fact that none of us have had a wee with the door shut for over a decade. I swear quite a lot and drink Gin to numb the pain of 4 kids who never sleep through the night. And then I bore everyone with my tales of sleep deprivation. And then I do it all again the next day.

Liz: What do you think is good/bad about the many different types of mums around today – does it divide/clique people into ‘types’, a bit like the dreaded school playground, or is it good that we have so many ways of doing it?

There have always been different types of mum; different personalities, styles, beliefs and dreams. The only difference is that now women are more able to show their true selves. Women are allowed to say ‘I like going to work and I also like having kids’ or ‘I like being at home with my kids’ or ‘I like having one child and I don’t want any more’. Women have always had those thoughts, we’ve just never been allowed to express them. Of course, we still have a long way to go (yes flexible working, I’m talking about you) but we are on the right path.

Liz: Do you think mums mix well between ‘tribes’, or is it quite ‘you stick to yours, I’ll stick to mine, but that’s OK’?

I have yet to find a mum that I don’t have atleast 10 things in common with. Women are incredibly adaptable, resourceful and creative; we can be a big fan of one type of parenting style and yet still be flexible enough to nick bits of other styles that suit us. And, as we all know, babies don’t read parenting books – or care much about ‘tribes’ – so they force us to mix up our style anyway.

At MGF, I take great pleasure in sharing all the rubbish things that happen to me and all the many times that my parenting isn’t #blessed. That helps to show that, no matter what we may think, no-one is winning at parenting all the time.

The amazing thing about motherhood is that it’s a great leveler – who cares what type of job, education, upbringing, bank balance you’ve had: you’re still going to get puked and pooed on. The best thing about MGF is how genuinely equal all our members are. No-one cares what God you believe in (if any), where you were born, how many certificates you have – you are a mum (or dad) and we are all in this stuff together. We have almost 100,000 comments in our Facebook group per month and I’ve never seen anyone say ‘you’re not my type of mum’.

The events that we run at Mummy’s Gin Fund are packed full of every type of mum possible and I’ve never seen anyone being treated differently because of who they are.

Liz: Do you find the ‘mummy sphere’ welcoming, or hostile?

Mummy’s Gin Fund, home to over 35,000 mums, is the most safe, friendly and welcoming space I have ever been lucky enough to be part of. We all have the same goal: to make parenting – and life – as enjoyable as possible for as many people as possible. Our mums have made actual, genuine life changing differences to each other and – as far as I know – those incredible acts of generosity and giving have never started with a check to see which ‘tribe’ the receiver is in. A mum is a mum as far as we are concerned; every mum is ‘one of us’.

Liz: Is it different online to in reality at the school gate?

The great things about online parenting communities is the instant access to support and advice, 27/7. Plus, the numbers of people in Mummy’s Gin Fund mean that you will always find someone who has been through what you’re going through, is a professional in that area or has the opposite viewpoint. People are so open and willing to share both their knowledge and experiences but also their face to face support too. So often, online conversations on MGF spill into real life superhero missions, with mums travelling day and night to help each other.

So many of our members don’t have family close by – many are in a different county or country from their own mum or sisters – so we become their surrogate village. Many women don’t have the confidence to approach strangers at the school gates to ask for their advice, support or even if they’d like to go for a cuppa. Being online gives everyone an extra sense of bravery and it feels easier to reach out. We talk about sensitive, difficult and painful subjects with total strangers because we know we will not be judged. We share photos of the funny things that have gone wrong throughout our day because we know that everyone else in MGF will just ‘get it’.  It’s an incredible feeling to know that 35,000 women have your back, are waiting to hold your hand at times of trouble, to cheerlead you when you need a push and have the party poppers ready when your baby finally sleeps through the night.

I met the vast majority of my face to face friends online, through Mummy’s Gin Fund. That initial, safe and easy online introduction meant that when we bumped into each other at school, the ice had already been broken and we had loads to talk about. I even met my next door neighbour through MGF!

It also meant that every time I went to an event, meeting or class with my children, there were other mums who would recognise me from MGF and start a conversation. Online friendships are a real catalyst for face to face friendships: at MGF we have ‘friendship finders’ – small badges which our members wear so when they are out and about, they can find each other and have that instant connection. It’s a short cut to genuine friendship.

We also run face to face Meet Ups all over our community which are organized and advertised online. Without our online community, these would never happen.

Liz: What are the best things about motherhood the way you are doing it?

The fact that, at MGF, we share the realities of parenting provides a safe space for mums to talk about the highs and lows of their experiences. We are all in the parenting lark together and the sense of solidarity – through both humour and some pretty serious stuff – permeates from the online world into our day to day lives. By spreading a message of kindness and inclusion, we are making our little patch of Gin Territory a happier, more cohesive and less lonely place for us all

Liz: And the hardest…?

One of the hardest thing about being a mum nowadays, is that whilst women can do anything, we cannot do everything.

Somewhere in the ‘you can have it all’ message is the notion that we should ‘have it all’. It’s not physically possible to be every type of human being all at the same time. Yes, we have many options available to us, but we are not supposed to keep piling on more stuff until either our mind or body – or both – collapses.

The more exposure we have to different ways of doing things, the easier it is to believe that we are missing out – or even worse – failing – if we’re not doing all of them at the same time. Mums are people too – our kids might think we are superheroes, but we can only live one life at a time.

Liz: What do you think your grandmother would make of the way you’re doing motherhood?

She would say that I was spoiling the kids (which I am) and that I am too soft (which I am). She would be horrified by the state of my house and the fact that the kids’ birthday cakes come from Tesco. She’d be delighted that I have so many kids and would be overjoyed to see us having picnics on the beach instead of doing homework. She’d think I was too independent and argumentative and she would be absolutely horrified to see me talking about my parenting disasters in public. She’d be pretty proud that I am making a difference and so involved in the community but would wish that I ironed the school shirts a bit better.

Liz: How much has modern tech helped/influenced/impacted the way you are being a mum?

Immeasurably! I cannot imagine being a mum without Facebook! It’s where I get 90% of my advice, support, information and friendships. I ask where to take my children out, what to do about their behaviour, which classes are worth joining and whether this is ‘just a phase’. Mummy’s Gin Fund provides the virtual Gin that keeps me going. It’s where I laugh and cry with other mums. If I couldn’t ask my Gin Mums what or how to do something, I wouldn’t know where to turn!

Liz: What are going to be the NEXT mother tribes in the coming 5 years, do you think?

I think there’s going to be a lot more emphasis on face to face meet ups.

Liz: How much do you feel being a mum has grown you into who and what you are today?

Becoming a mum has inducted me into the most brilliant squad of women where I am reminded on a daily basis how flipping brilliant we are.

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Founder of MGF, Helen is a mum of four who spends way too much time on the interweb and not enough time in bed. She loves wearing her dressing gown, car boot sales and watching TV programmes featuring food. Her specialist subjects include 'how to overfill your car boot' and 'how to avoid dusting'. Follow her at Twitter: @Ginfund, Facebook: @MGFund, Instagram: @mummysginfund and online: www.mummysginfund.co.uk.

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