Relative mothering

relative mothering“Commercial tosh” mutters my mother every year when it’s Mother’s Day – but heaven forbid that I shouldn’t send a card. My eldest son assures me that Mother’s Day is the special moment in the year when all those mummies could make a little extra effort to show they really care. I always liked the idea of girls in service skipping home on mothering Sunday to share a slice of Simnel cake – in my mind they have little posies or cute baskets of spring flowers. The reality was that they probably crawled home to sleep and have their laundry done. Mother’s Day undoubtedly gives an opportunity to reflect, like Janus, on transition moments particularly for women.

On one hand of course you love your mother and are grateful for all she has done, does and might do. And as a mother you love your children and hope they are grateful for what you have done, do and might do. On the other hand “Lovely Mum” might not be the complete epithet you seek. Sometimes when I see a hearse driving by with an enormous wreath spelling out M U M  I wonder whether the woman in the box would like to be defined by her relationship to others rather than just as a mother. If, however you have been doing full-on mothering, what Mumsnet calls sahm (stay at home mum) for any length of time an alternative epithet feels as if it is floating away from your reach with each year.

If you have found a way of combining a job and children there are inevitable compromises. A friend of mine recently quit her job as a financial controller at a double glazing company. On reflection she says the best bit is not feeling guilty all the time that she was not always there for her daughters. But listening to her there are also hints that she misses her financial independence and now her Candy Crush levels have got to dizzying heights. She has started to mutter about how her husband’s business might be better marketed… I suspect being a “sahm” will not remain her status for long.

There’s a funny thing about the rate at which families age relative to each other and when individuals move from one stage to another. Say you have a baby when you are 27, when the child is two it will have doubled in age from when it was one – but you will only be 2/27th older. In that time your child will have learnt to communicate, walk, eat and have strong opinions. You will not have doubled your skill set.

At the end of life, hopefully after a long golden age it seems the generational distinctions disappear. Memories of the person relate to events and times not to age. When I was 25 I remember going to a school tail-gate picnic for my much younger brother. My husband and I had a pea-green Citroen 2CV into which we had packed Pimms, smoked salmon sandwiches and strawberries and cream. A swanky picnic because we were taking my 82 year old grandmother. She was a very stylish lady from Glasgow, always beautifully turned out, kind and clever. As we got to the parking area there wasn’t much space between all the Rolls-Royces, Landrovers and Volvos. Right in the middle was a small gap “This will do perfectly for our car” announced my Granny. And we put out the folding chair, travel rug and she sat in state – an elegant woman, proud of her family and sure of herself: Jenny McMurray – legend, as her great-grandchildren would say.

Seduction of Inadequacy

Lwonder womanupita Nyongo gave a speech at the Essence awards a few days prior to winning her Oscar for supporting actress in “12 Years a Slave”. Her speech is a very moving description of the nature of beauty, specifically for her as a young, black woman but much of what she says has resonance for anyone who has ever felt disappointed by their reflection. (links below)

During her speech she used a phrase “the seduction of inadequacy” which has given me additional pause for thought. It’s a phrase which can be applied to our behaviours in so many contexts. One example which I notice, working with women applying for jobs, is a tendency to sell their skills and themselves short. Actually it’s more than a tendency – I’m underselling there – it is one of the key obstacles women have to overcome in order to get the job they want at the rate of pay it deserves.

A simple Google search takes one to over 500,000 entries relating specifically to “women underselling themselves at interview”, but that’s nothing compared to the number of entries relating to “women lacking confidence” – over 70 million (“men lacking confidence” comes in at just over 10 million). A Google search isn’t necessary to find a list of why this should be the case. Most women have a whole metaphysical rucksack of inadequacies they lug around, and it is the matter of nanoseconds to open it up and group, review and add to them. Not enough experience, not the right kind of experience, not enough patience, not enough courage, unable to cope, too fat, too thin, too old, too young, too dim. Like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, we are seduced by our perceived inadequacies “So bright… so beautiful… my precious”.

Enough. Let’s skip the bit where we try and find the right self-help book to over-come our problems and go straight to the Power Pose. Stand like Wonder Woman for two minutes and feel your cortisol levels go down (anxiety) and your testosterone levels go up (can-do attitude and up for a risk). And say NO to the seduction of inadequacy.

Not confident this will work? – check out Amy Cuddy’s TED talk (link below) or just give it a go anyway…

Lupita’s speech

Amy Cuddy’s TED talk