It is a bizarre fact that both your saviour and your nemesis, as a mother, is another mother.
Other mothers can literally save your skin with medical advice, recommendations, a sympathetic ear, the loan of a nappy, a blob of sunscreen, money. They will lie for you, blag for you, get you in, get you out, big you up, calm you down, back off, be up front.
And they are also motherfuckers. They will try, actually on purpose, to make you feel bad, be bitchy and snide and unsympathetic, patronising, presumptuous. They will be plain rude and self-righteous, cliquey and nasty. Or just annoying and smug.
The truly evil, stay-back-100-feet mothers are quite rare. But we all have it within us to be a saint and we all have it within us to be a total bitch. It’s just life, normal life, magnified. Because the women you will come across when you have very small children are people you are thrown together with through accidents of geography and timing – it is, literally, like school.
The truly evil, stay-back-100-feet mothers are quite rare. But we all have it within us to be a saint and we all have it within us to be a total bitch.
If I were writing a magazine feature rather than a non-fiction e-book, I would now give you a list of mum ‘tribes’, with their attributes like ‘hippy mum’, ‘power mum’, ‘Sainsbury’s mum’ and so on. But it’s not like that in real life. We’re all a little bit hippy mum, power mum and Sainsbury’s mum. And truly evil mothers are not clearly identifiable – they look totally normal on the surface and just as you think you’re having a nice chat, they’ll suddenly stick you with a question like: ‘So how long did you breastfeed for?’ leaving you stunned and reeling.
I’ve changed my mind, I will give you a magazine featury-thing, but it’s not a list of tribes, it’s a list of evil motherfucker things to never say to another mother if you don’t want to be cursed and hated by her for all eternity.
1. I had such a magical birth
2. It was crazy how fast I lost weight after the birth! I was walking down the street and my trousers just started falling down!
3. I have got so much breast milk. My breasts are fecund
4. Thomas knows his days of the week already
5. We don’t let Thomas watch television
6. We’re having fish fingers tonight! Well, sort of – I make my own with haddock and a
7. I’m so lucky, Grace is a really good sleeper
8. I’m so lucky, Grace potty-trained herself
9. Jack loves Calpol
10. Yeah, bit tired, I was up late making cheese and chive scones for Matilda’s lunchbox
11. You have got such an interesting style of parenting
12. Amelie can count to fifty
13. Are those two boys yours? I thought you should know they didn’t say thank you just
now when I held the door for them
14. I know you’re having trouble with Milo’s tantrums so I printed this out for you …
15. Do you think he might be, you know, on the spectrum?
16. Yes, but you’ve only got one
17. Any permutation of ‘Just you wait’
18. ‘What school will Lucy be going to …? Oh …? I know someone who just took a
child out of there’
19. Another boy! You must be livid!
20. I couldn’t be a stay-at-home mum, I like being a real person
21. Oh you work full time? Every day? Poor Oscar
That is a collection of awful things that mums have been reported to me as saying, or that
otherwise perfectly nice mothers have confessed to saying.
Anyway, so here is a bold suggestion: you don’t have to be friends with other mothers.
You really don’t. It makes everything a bit harder, as an hour of childcare never goes more quickly than when you’ve got company, but it’s just not necessary, especially not immediately.
If you were never into being in a clique at school or always found it hard to make friends generally, the fact that you’ve had a baby doesn’t mean you’ll find it any easier, doesn’t mean that you will be able to bond with other women just because they have chosen to start a family at the same time as you.
- This extract is taken from Esther Walker’s new book Bad Mother. We’re going to be serialising it over the next few weeks but if you can’t wait for the next instalment, buy and download the whole book here.