Jane Caro has just written a rather charming article, “Over-mothered? No, over mothering” for the Sydney Morning Herald.
For birthdays, I bought two packs of 12 lamington fingers and stuck a candle in each one. They served a whole class.
I was very bad at any sort of preparation. I only once helped a daughter with a project – we couldn’t find a ruler, the glue had dried up, as had the textas, and the eventual product on creased blue cardboard looked like the cat threw up on it. The only photo we could dredge up of a marine creature was of brain coral. ”That’ll have to do!” I screeched at her. I think she’d had fantasies of whales, dolphins or seahorses. I went into the classroom a few days later only to see it displayed on the wall alongside other pristine, laminated dissertations on more glamorous sea creatures. Surprised to see it so honoured, I asked the teacher why it took pride of place. ”Ah,” she said, ”because she so obviously did it all by herself.” Once again, sheer incompetence came up trumps.
When it came time for the weekly swimming lessons, I invariably realised I hadn’t unpacked the cossie from last time. ”Oh well,” I reasoned as I forced them to don their damp, mouldy, smelly togs, ”they’re only going to get wet again anyway.”
There’s a lot I love about this piece but it reminds me that I am also a little skeptical of this stuff. I’m a big fan of slacker mums and relate to much of what the movement is expressing about unrealistic standards in mothering. But I want to raise a couple of cautions here given such confessions are becoming big in the media at the moment. Firstly, there’s a lot of in-built classism in slacker mothering, as I noted way back in 2008 when I first wrote about the ‘slacker mothers/mothers who drink’ phenomenon.
Almost certainly, a mother from a low socio-economic group wouldn’t get away with a book of this kind of humour, she’d risk being seen as neglectful rather than endearingly chaotic – imagine if the mothers in that New York Times article were drinking bourbon and cokes instead of Cavit pinot grigio, would this be seen as the emergence of a trend in sophisticated motherhood?
And as I also observed back then in 2008, the slacker mum movement often neglects to directly acknowledge the debt it owes feminism. It’s frequently liberation without the radicalism. This means the discussion can lack perspective and a sense of purpose. And that becomes particularly apparent when you read supposedly confessional pieces that are pulling their punches, something I refer to in this article of mine at Daily Life. If your ‘revealing truths’ reinforce how much you belong to the most powerful income/class groups of mothers then while you’re taking a risk in revealing them it’s not a particularly big one, and you’re probably not liberating a genuinely marginalised mother, such as a teenage mother, or a mother with a drug addiction, or a mother in poverty who wouldn’t get away with that same slackness without facing the threat of more serious repercussions.
Finally, the slacker mother movement seems to be taking a nasty turn lately towards judging mothers it sees as being too dedicated to the pursuit of motherhood. This begs the question what business is it of yours how another mother does her care work, because it’s inherently sexist that we routinely consider women’s lives our business and that we also have so many ways to criticise women? Also, are you sure she isn’t the oppressed minority, rather than you? In which case, step off her neck you big bully, she’s got enough on her plate. Lauren Rosewarne’s piece for The Drum was a classic example of this problem, in my opinion, as was Mia Freedman’s piece about birth activists, which I tackled in this article of mine at Essential Baby. Even Caro’s piece, which is notably about “over-mothering,” pictures ‘intervention-free birthers’ as some dominating group of mothers she is bravely breaking free of when, actually, having a medicalised birth is hardly taking the path of most resistance in Australia. (I should probably disclose here that I have a foot in both camps having chosen a birth centre ‘intervention-free’ birth for my first baby and a hospital birth with an epidural for my second baby).
If you actively engage with the feminist parenting community then you’ll find that breast-feeders, baby-wearers, home-birthers and even, the organic food types aren’t all the stereotypes you believe them to be. I’ve found many of these mothers have the more radical feminism of parents in the feminist community. And they are often political and quick to defend marginalised mothers, too. Maybe this is because I’ve found that quite a number of them are also, themselves, black or single or disabled or very young or a multitude of other identities that lead them to be marginalised. Mothers are rarely simple stereotypes. If slacker mothering is about liberating mothers then it’s important that it actually does.