Friday, June 01, 2007

The Battle of the Mammies

A reader forwarded me an article this week about the new war being fought at school gates all over the country. As I started to read, my heart sank because again dear reader we were entering the domain of women fighting in a rather undignified manner between themselves as to who is the better parent. I
t seems, according to Lauren Booth (you know that one who was on I’m a Celebrity... and is a sister of Cherie Blair and.... well....nothing else really) the battle lines are now drawn between the Alpha Mummies and the Beta Mummies.
For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon an Alpha Mummy is the working mother who dashes between work, home and her off-spring’s many extra-curricular activities with military precision. Her children are raised on organic food and designer toys shunning the Tellytubbies and Tweenies for ‘Baby Einstein’ and classical music. She is always perfectly groomed and her children are dressed from the likes of Bennetton and speak several languages before pre-school.
According to Ms Booth the Alpha Mummy sees the home environment as a hot house for raising highly educated, well turned out children and mess has no place in her life. The Beta Mummy on the other hand doesn’t work. Nope she has chosen to stay at home with her children because she believes childhood should be about having fun and (of course) children can’t possibly have fun unless they are hanging off their mammy’s legs the whole time.
The Beta Mummy is wonderfully creative and the walls of her house are adorned with the brightly coloured masterpieces of her free spirit children. Lauren Booth likes to argue that it’s unsightly that parents seem to be arguing amongst themselves about who is the better of the two- but at the same time she shows quite clearly which side her bread is buttered on.
She is a Beta mummy and proud. Her daughter Alex is a free spirit and a “caring, loving child”- those children raised by working mothers on the other hand are destined to be “grade-obsessed, moneymaking machines”. What galls me most about the whole thing is that it’s obvious to everyone that not all stay at home mummies are free spirits who let their children do whatever they want - and not all working mothers are only interested in having perfect children who are prodigies in the making.
I, like many others, fall somewhere between the two. I work full time through necessity but that doesn’t mean I hot house my son or am only interested (as Ms Booth suggested) in having him as a status symbol or fashion accessory. (Which is a damn good thing given that usually he is kitted out in Tesco clothes covered in tomato sauce.)
It most certainly does not mean that I work because I “actually don’t want to spend time at home”. Yes, he did have a Baby Einstein DVD when he was wee, which incidentally he hated and I subsequently sold for a tidy sum on Ebay and yes, getting him out of the house in the morning requires a degree of meticulous planning but that doesn’t mean I don’t spend time with him painting silly paintings, jumping around the back garden or running along the beach letting him enjoy every ounce of his childhood.
I don’t think the fact that I encourage him to read books with me (well I read, he points and asks a thousand questions) means that I am impacting on his childhood in a negative way. If anything, it’s quite the opposite - our storytime is our favourite time of the day when we cuddle together and I get to make a plethora of funny voices without anyone looking at me as if I’ve completely lost the plot.
People seem very, very keen these days to box parents (and mothers in particular) off and call label them bad or good, dedicated or not, selfish or selfless. The reality is that very few of us fit into these neat wee boxes. There are days when I’m in uber mammy mode and I feel virtuous. Those are the days I take the wee man to ‘Toys R Us’ AND swimming, not to mention sitting down and letting him paint my kitchen floor, table, walls and encourage his free expression.
And then there are times when I’m just a normal mammy who raises her voice the odd time, threatens the naughty step, sticks ‘Cars’ on the DVD player for the jillionth time and melts to mush when he gives me a bedtime cuddle.
Through it all, be it a good mammy day or a normal mammy day the one common thread is that I am doing the best that I can. That, I would say, is true of all mothers. Some of us work out of necessity, some stay at home because they have no choice. Some are lucky to be able to make the choice that best suits them but very few of us set out to have a child without intending to love and nurture him or her the very best we can.
I would like Ms. Booth to know that there is no rule book for a happy childhood. A parent staying at home does not necessarily make for a more interested and loving parent, nor does a working parent mean that the child is not loved utterly and without reservation.

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