Best-selling author Jo Furniss reflects on motherhood and the uselessness of the Mummy Wars. Here’s how to rid yourself of ‘Sanctimommies’
In the lead-up to Mother’s Day, we’re featuring a different first person essay or interview each day this week. Today, best-selling author Jo Furniss explains how she survived the ‘mom-pocalypse’ and drowns out the Sanctimommies…
Back in my early years of motherhood – two kids under two, a new home in a foreign country, a husband who travelled – I came across a blog post that spoke to me: “Having a baby,” another mother had written, “felt like my own personal apocalypse”.
Her comment resonated: my old life had vanished the moment a baby arrived. My job was gone, my social life was gone, my tidy home was gone, my wardrobe was definitely gone, my daily routine was gone – even the socially-accepted rhythm of day and night was gone! And although I treasured my babies and my time with them, some days the clock moved so slowly that it felt the world had indeed stopped on its axis due to a cataclysmic event, such as a meteor strike or tummy time.
Worst of all, I felt I was the lone survivor of this mom-pocalypse. Because all the other mothers lived in a different universe – they were all joyfully breastfeeding, baking Michelin-standard muffins, climbing Machu Picchu with a toddler on their backs, giving birth to triplets while simultaneously chairing a meeting of CEOs. At least, that’s what they told me in the playground. It was even worse online.
Wow, I used to think to myself, everyone is so much better at this than I am. They must be, or they wouldn’t be so opinionated, right? I am literally the only woman in the world who can’t mother in a way that is both pedagogically sound and aesthetically pleasing enough to go viral on Instagram.
But then I read one blogger’s honest account of her experience – “My own personal apocalypse!” – and I knew I had found another survivor in the wilderness. Hers felt like a voice of truth amid the boasting of Perfect Parents and the shrieking of Sanctimommies.
Now, I know that the majority of their heavy-handed judgments and passive-aggressive advice comes from a place of insecurity and anxiety – mothers are under such pressure to do the best for their children nowadays but there is SO MUCH information out there that we get stuck in a feedback loop of doubt and reassurance. Plus, we live in an era when even the mainstream media has confused ‘opinion’ with ‘fact’ and presents both with equal weight. Shout loud enough and you must be right.
But nevertheless, I find it sad when mean mums rule the playground. The #MeToo campaign and the recent anniversary of the British Suffragette movement are a timely reminder of the power of women’s solidarity. And yet the sisterhood lets itself down with sibling rivalry. And judge-y comments. And passive-aggressive sniffing at your choice of non-organic snack.
So how did I win the Mummy Wars?
First, I cut myself off from the mean girls.
Like my mum said when I was at school – ignore the bullies and they’ll go away. That mother who told me my child’s sleep routine was “like a Romanian orphanage” … I don’t hang out with her any more. And I don’t do online forums either. Instead, I surround myself with supportive women with whom I laugh about parenting fails and (rare) triumphs. In other words, friends.
Second, I wrote a novel and killed everyone off. All those Sanctimommies – dead.
I’ve always wanted to write a book and finally I had something to write about – motherhood. But that “personal apocalypse” phrase was still ringing through my mind, so I used it in my debut novel, All the Little Children. What if a mother was left all alone with her children after a terrible disaster? How would she survive?
It would be terrifying and exhausting to have no support, yes, but it would also be kind of liberating – imagine an end to the negativity: no one making her feel bad for having a career, no one nay-saying her personal choices, no-one turning motherhood into a competition.
Instead, she discovers that two mothers with different methods can unite for a common purpose – to care for themselves and their children.
And isn’t that the only winning outcome of the Mummy Wars?