Where Did All The Wild Mums Go?
The recent ‘Mumstock’ conference organised by Mumsnet and Saatchi & Saatchi included some interesting findings about the key emotional roles of modern Motherhood. Part of the core findings were based on an ethnographic study conducted by Flamingo, where Mums were asked to document some of the roles they played day to day. Using our Field Notes app to upload video and text we managed to get a real insight into their everyday lives. Interestingly the roles that were more about ‘cutting loose’ and ‘having fun’ were often the more aspirational ones. These were roles that Mums wanted to do more rather than less of.
But do we actually see any of these depictions in TV, films and advertising? All to often Mum is still the one who calls ‘Time Out’ on family fun. She’s hovering in the background with a mop. She’s tutting to herself as the messy snacks roll under the sofa. Or rolling her eyes whilst Dad lets his son ride piggyback round the front room. ‘Those crazy guys!’ her expression says. And she goes back to cleaning the oven, perusing the fridge or staring out the window with a half-smile like someone’s zapped half her brain out.
This touches on a nerve because all too often domestic chores are still conducted by women. And these stereotypes are also deeply un-aspirational. Just like the Dad who lets the home descend into chaos because he ‘can’t cope’ so the ‘rigid, no-fun, tidy Mum’ feels old-fashioned and out of synch with our times. Who wants to be remembered as someone who had a super shiny kettle? Don’t we want to be the ones doing more of the ‘rough and tumble’ and creating some of the chaos that makes childhood so liberating?
Don’t we want to be the ones covered in mud and flinging our clothes into the machine for Dad to wash?
Maybe part of the problem is it seems to go against a Mother’s nature to create mess that she then has to go ahead and tidy up. It’s counterproductive and feels slightly masochistic. But it would be great to see more depictions of Mums that encouraged women to put themselves out there and to be more physical with their kids. And that also celebrated the wilder side of our nature and said – ‘Come on Mums, kick that sponge to the curb and get some mud on the floor! Throw some worms in the air! Live a little.’
It’s encouraging to see some slightly more interesting depictions of Motherhood starting to creep in. Caitlin Moran’s new TV series, ‘Raised By Wolves,’ is refreshing in that it has a Mum as a central character who clearly doesn’t care about keeping things neat and tidy. She takes her kids to the park so they can forage for food. She wears khaki dungarees and a lumberjack shirt like she’s just come in from fixing a broken toilet. She has an axe in her car boot. She doesn’t give a hoot about the messy paw prints trailed across the kitchen floor.
And Julianne Moore’s character in ‘The Kids Are All Right’ also is in the same sort of category of ‘wild and chaotic Mum’. She’s physically robust, spends her time being fairly hopeless at landscape gardening and you just know she’s got loads of mud under her fingernails by the end of the day. She’s more likely to bounce up and down on the bed with her kids than sink her face into the linen and get lost in a reverie because they smell so good. She has a rich and fully engaged relationship with her children. She is part of the action rather than sitting on the sidelines watching.
Sometimes we need to show a looser, wilder, less regimented style of femininity. A Mother who has fun, fully engages with her children and forgets about the hoovering is highly aspirational. And in our angst-ridden, neurotic parenting culture we need to allow ourselves to live a little.
Ultimately we want to be remembered by our children for the fun we had together rather than the mess we tidied up so well.
- Article by Anniki Sommerville