'World’s Best Mum', 'You’re the best', 'Number one Mum' and 'You’re my superhero' the cards rejoice. Of course, they communicate huge pride and love, but they also make me think about the pressure to be a supermum. The received idea that we should absolutely nail every aspect of parenting, on top of all of life’s other demands and in a troubled and rapidly changing world.
Supermum dictionary definition: an exemplary or exceptional mother, especially one who successfully manages a home and brings up children while also having a full-time job.
This pressure comes from:
- knowing how formative the early years are and wanting the best for our children
- absorbing a huge number of (often contradictory) ideas about what an exceptional mum looks like from society, culture, the media and advertising
- feeling it would be impossible to meet all these criteria, so we are set up from the start to feel that we're somewhat below-par, winging it or failing
Motherhood is a social construct that we enter. The individual woman doing the mothering can get lost. It's still a taboo to express our deeply mixed feelings about motherhood or maternal ambivalence. And there is pressure to define ourselves primarily as mothers, which can lead to mothers of young children neglecting themselves. The intensity of raising a child can be a personal, complicated and triggering experience.
We've got much better at discussing mental wellbeing, and new parents are much more familiar with postnatal depression, anxiety and where to access help and resources. But early motherhood can be too intense for anyone to take it completely in their stride, and so many struggle, keeping their suffering private.
I work with so many mums of babies or young children who outwardly have it all together but privately are incredibly self-critical, thinking they are not doing a good enough job as a mum and blaming themselves. This undermines their confidence and impacts their mood and relationships. They are surviving not thriving.
Mum guilt is joked about and considered to be inevitable. I don’t think it is, I think it's a product of mothering under contemporary conditions, including supermum pressure, and it can be alleviated with focussed attention and support.
This Mother's Day is the first one without restrictions since 2019. Let’s make it an extra special one. Mother's Day can accidentally become more about the children. Make the celebrations really personal to the mum you're honouring and tell her specific things that you love about her. I’d encourage everyone to take it as an opportunity to really check in with themselves if they are mums - it’s a good prompt for a mum MOT. Ask mums how they are and what they'd really enjoy doing on the big day. Chocolate and flowers are excellent, but also what a gift it is to deeply listen to, support and celebrate someone or yourself. Could we stretch it into a Mothering Weekend?
Views expressed in this article are the views of the writer and not necessarily the views of BACP. Publication does not imply endorsement of the writer’s views. Reasonable care has been taken to avoid errors but no liability will be accepted for any errors that may occur.