You must have seen the Facebook ‘Motherhood Challenge’ doing the rounds over the last week or so – a mother shares 5 pictures that make her proud to be a mum, and then tags some friends who she thinks are also great mums and might like to take part as well.
It wasn’t long before the inevitable backlash started – Flic Everett posted this article on The Guardian, slating the smugness of these participants and their rose-tinted view of motherhood that apparently makes her ‘want to punch her computer screen’, and Daisy Buchanan wrote a slightly more sympathetic article for The Pool, although still criticising the challenge for it’s pressure on mothers to present themselves in a perfect light.
There appear to be two main criticisms that are being levelled at this challenge – the first being that it is insensitive to those who are unable to have children, who have had miscarriages, or to those who have lost their children. While I don’t want to minimise how difficult any of those situations are, it seems to be oversensitive to say that we shouldn’t share positive posts or photos of our own parenting experiences in case we upset other people. By that token, most of Facebook shouldn’t be posting – should I not share a photo of my newborn child to announce their arrival? Should I not post photos of me standing in case I upset friends who cannot walk? No photos of me smiling in case I upset someone with depression?
The second criticism of the Motherhood Challenge (aside from the word ‘challenge’ which I agree is a little misplaced) seems to be that it reinforces the need that many mothers have to achieve perfection. But I don’t believe there is a parent out there who believes that they can ever be perfect, or that believes any other parent is perfect either. Of course the 5 photos you share are unlikely to be ones that show the not so pretty side of motherhood – I’m not sure that a photo of my son having a meltdown at soft play really makes me proud to be a mum. But at it’s heart, this is a challenge that celebrates you as a mum, gets you to focus on the positive, and encourages you to give a virtual pat on the back to a few of your friends and say, “Do you know what, I think you’re a great mum”. Because the fact is that we don’t do that in our society. We’re quick enough to tut when we see a mum in the supermarket struggling with a tantrumming toddler, or to criticise someone’s feeding choice, or to judge someone for choosing a particular discipline method, but it’s very rare that you ever hear a ‘well done’ in person. We view motherhood as something to sneer at (revealed in the Guardian article’s condescending attitude towards ‘mummy bloggers’) and nowhere is this made more clear than in Flic Everett’s statement that:
The idea of tagging people you think are ‘great mothers’ is as offensive as tagging people you think are great in bed
I’m so staggered by this statement that I’m still questioning whether it’s tongue in cheek, or if I’m missing a joke, but I really can’t see it. Is it really so offensive to tell a friend she’s a good mum? Are we that unsupportive of mothers as a society?
When you become a mum there is no-one to give you feedback other than your kids, no performance reviews, no bonuses. And whether you’re a working mum, stay at home mum, part-time working mum, we all need to hear this kind of positive reinforcement. We need to both tell ourselves ‘You’re doing a good job’, but also we should be freer in telling others the same.
The whole issue brought to my mind a quote that was shared with me by an old singing teacher, and which has always stuck with me:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? … There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do… And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Taken from Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles
I don’t see the Facebook Motherhood Challenge being about judging, being smug, or about attaining perfection; just about celebrating motherhood, acknowledging that it’s a difficult job, and finding those moments that make you proud. What could possibly be offensive about that?