Wednesday 17 September 2014

Mums, listen up: It's time you gave yourself a break

The supermum myth has left Irish mothers feeling more stressed out than ever before, says Kathy Donaghy

Too high a standard: Images like this one, of supermodel Gisele Bündchen breastfeeding while getting her makeup done, only serve to fuel the myth of the supermum
Family affair: TG4 presenter and mum of four Róisín O’Hara says nobody puts pressure on her except herself. Photo: Martin Maher

As women living in a First World country in 2014, we have more choices than ever before. Yet so many Irish mothers spend so much of that time beating themselves up. Whether they have chosen to stay at home, work full-time or juggle a part-time job with childcare, mums today are a stressed-out bunch who find themselves trying desperately to live up to the supermum myth.

The era of hothouse parenting means that many parents, particularly mothers, are getting stressed out that they are not doing it "perfectly".

The parenting website offers a snapshot of the state of mind of mothers today. There, several new mums poured out their feelings at the expectations currently being heaped upon them.

One mother wrote: "I think we put ourselves under pressure to have a good baby, have the house spotless and snap back into shape and make it all look effortless"

Another said: "I'm not sure where the pressure comes from; partly from ourselves, celebrities, the in-laws. I know that I have had to take a step back and say 'I can't do it all'.

A third mother said she felt more pressure since she returned to work. "It's probably more from me than anyone else. I have to work but also try to be a supermum at home to compensate being away from them. This means I never rest at the weekend as I'm trying to do things with the kids as well as the housework. I'm my own worst enemy."

Tric Kearney, a mother of four from Carrigaline, Co Cork, says that after years of experience she realises this pressure mothers feel is mostly coming from themselves.

Mum to Aoife (22), Tiarnán (19), Naoise (16) and Caoimhe (12), Tric believes that some of this pressure stems from the way motherhood has changed in the last 50 years.


Family affair: TG4 presenter and mum of four Róisín O’Hara says nobody puts pressure on her except herself. Photo: Martin Maher

"If you look at the evolution of motherhood from my mother's time to mine there's a big difference. It was very easy years ago. Society recognised that being a mother was what you did. Mothers didn't need to justify themselves," she says.

However, Tric did find it very difficult when she first became a mother over two decades ago and gave up her job in nursing to stay at home.

"I tried to be the perfect mother, and I found it incredibly isolating. I spent the first six months after my daughter was born at home with no car and there was no bus, with three channels on the TV. I felt like I was 92 years old instead of 24," she says.

However Tric, who writes a blog about her parenting experiences, 'My thoughts on a page', says now she can look back on that time and smile.

"I no longer feel I have to justify what I do all day. I no longer feel I have to prove that I am not lazy. I no longer feel I am less of a person. I no longer feel I might have made a terrible mistake."

As her children began to grow up, she realised how close they were and her original perspective started to change. She began to appreciate the value in her role as a full-time mum. "It was then I understood that for me the issue all along was not so much that society undervalued me, but that I undervalued myself.

For Róisín O'Hara, a journalist and mum to four children Ríona (7), Fionán (4) and twins Éanna and Marcus (3), being happy in yourself as a mother is paramount.

But she is all too aware of the pressure she puts on herself. While it requires a lot of juggling with four kids, she says that stopping work was never an option for her.


Too high a standard: Images like this one, of supermodel Gisele Bündchen breastfeeding while getting her makeup done, only serve to fuel the myth of the supermum

"If I'm happy and fulfilled, then I can find that balance. It's an important part of my life to be a working woman. Nobody puts pressure on me except myself. Of course, it's very stressful and sometimes I feel like I'm not doing anything right, that I'm not giving anything my full attention," says Róisín, who presents her own current affairs show on TG4.

But she knows how important it is to have a life apart from family commitments.

"I enjoy having something for myself. Whether it's going for a walk or meeting my friends. I think it's really important for mothers to maintain their own identity outside of the children."

However, Róisín says that conflict is there for women in the choices they make.

"I remember when I first left Ríona into the creche. I found it so difficult to let her go. I remember that inner conflict and feeling what am I doing and I found it difficult to reconcile that.

"I really feel women should stop beating themselves up and be happy with what they're doing. The main thing in life is to be happy. If you're not happy with the way things are, then you should change that. I think women should stop looking outside themselves and start looking more inside and decide what makes them happy. At the end of the day it's your life and your family's life."

Helen O'Keeffe from Dublin, mother to Ruairí (4) and Méabh (2) and newborn baby Dathaí, says the support mums give to one another is amazing and says mothers shouldn't hold themselves up to things that are unachievable. She says while images of supermodel Gisele breastfeeding her daughter as she got her make-up done don't help, most women are sensible enough to know that this isn't the reality for other mothers.

She adds that while the media is quick to pit women against one another in fake "mommy wars" most women are actually very kind to one another.

Helen, who also writes a blog called 'The Busy Mamas', says for her it's about acknowledging she's not perfect as a mum.

"The vast majority of people in my circle would say they're doing their best – you just can't do everything and be everything," she says.

Irish Independent

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