(Published in the December ’15/January ’16 edition of Little Treasures Magazine. This is an extended version of the published article)
When I was pregnant, a colleague told me in sage tones that having a baby was the most competitive activity she’d ever gotten herself into. The alarming tales she told of coffee group bake-offs and veiled queries about whose baby was first to smile/roll over/talk/play the violin certainly took my mind off my swollen ankles. Fortunately, the two local mother groups I fell into (via antenatal classes and a Plunket PEPE course) were more of the “grab a packet of biscuits on the way and let’s have a laugh about how many times this week we’ve opened the front door to visitors with our maternity bras undone” variety.
Nevertheless, via an increased consumption of social media, my eyes were opened to the battleground that is motherhood. Natural birth vs. c-section. Breast feeding vs. formula. Co-sleeping vs. own bed. Vaccinators vs. anti vaxers. Cry it out vs. rock to sleep. The “vs.” list was seemingly endless, and my eyebrows nearly shot off my face on more than one occasion taking in the utter passion and vitriol behind so many of the comments. Mainstream media fuel the fracas, such as Time Magazine’s antagonistic “Are you mom enough?” headline next to a photo of a mother breastfeeding her four year old. Tempers flare, someone declares “MUMMY WARS!” and we’re all invited to pick a side and thrash it out in online forums.
My mindset is usually “can’t we all just get along?” but even I got a bit excited when someone I didn’t know challenged my parenting style on a flippant Facebook post I’d written: I’d turned the extractor fan on full, despite not actually cooking anything at the time, so that I could legitimately tell my three year old I couldn’t hear her asking the same question she’d already asked 47 times in the last five minutes. Mummy Challenger had a go about how you should always answer your children’s questions or else they’ll feel unloved and turn into criminals. Or something like that. I don’t doubt that her children are better nourished and less criminally-inclined than mine.
But in the midst of all this parental side-taking, there is a much more positive upshot… babies are actually life’s great unifiers. The things that are unique to having a baby bring people together in ways they never imagined. My existing relationships with friends and relatives flourished when I had my girls. I had a whole new level of respect for the women in my life who’ve paved the way ahead of me, and am endlessly grateful for their practical and emotional support. Before you know it, you belong to your own little tribe, and it has nothing to do with how viciously you can slag someone off on social media, and everything to do with feeling supported.
I have a facebook messaging group with a set of girlfriends, and we save each others’ sanity on a very regular basis. When we’re not discussing important matters such as who we think will win MKR, or scheming ways to take a child-and-husband free holiday together (it WILL happen, and no kid is allowed to get sick and thwart our plans), we’re commiserating with hard times, offering advice, celebrating milestones, or giving each other a laugh. Some afternoons while listening to the dulcet tones of a child in time out and making a dinner that will likely be flung on the floor, a message will flash up from one of our group: “Today has been one giant tantrum, how will I handle a teenager?!” or “Oh, God, we’ve got a poo smearer!” I’m reminded that my friends are right there in the trenches with me, which makes everything feel a lot less lonely, and wine o’clock seem not quite so far away (and it reminds me that no matter how bad my day was, it wasn’t “there’s poo all over the walls” bad).
I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen in years when we happened to have babies at the same time. There’s something quite surreal about swapping parenting tips with old school friends you used to giggle with in health class every time the teacher said the word “penis” decades ago. One day, I got an email from a teenage boyfriend after he’d seen my name at the end of a review on a sleep consultant’s website. His baby was a dreadful sleeper, and he wanted to know if we’d really found the consultant to be worth it. I found it completely hilarious to be discussing the relative merits of shh-ing, patting and swaddling techniques with a guy I hadn’t seen since he gave me glandular fever in high school.
As well as friends, you find yourself in moments of bonding with complete strangers. Conversations are struck up in playgrounds all over town – you don’t care how they vote, all you care about is that you talked to another actual adult that day while your babies giggled on the swings. Sympathetic expressions are exchanged between parents over children thrashing on the floor in supermarkets. Spare nappies are offered to a panicking mum in the airport changing room by another mother who knows the horror of an unexpectedly empty nappy bag.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re Miranda Kerr in New York choosing organic wooden toys after a morning of green smoothies and baby pilates, or Megan from Mt Albert racing into Pak n Save after inhaling coffee and the kids uneaten toast crusts: a telltale smell will waft, and supermodel and suburban noses alike will sniff at their small person’s bottom to see if they’re the source. The thing is, we’re all just muddling on through trying to do our best at this parenting gig, and there are some wonderful people to meet in the process.