Sunday, 13 March 2011

26. A Mother or Somebody who happens to have Children?

Extra Curricular activities in the 70s & 80s: if you couldn't be bothered to take your daughter to Brownies, were you a bad mother?
I read unpublished novels and film scripts for a living.  At least that's what I do with two under two at home.  It's very enjoyable, but time-consuming and not exactly as lucrative as I would hope.  I need to find some extra 'from home' income, preferably that utilises my writing and editing skills.  Answers on a postcard please!   But I digress.  I read an incredible manuscript recently by an up-and-coming American writer (his second novel has already been optioned and is being made into a film with a starry cast), but in the name of professional discretion, I cannot name either the book or the writer.  However, the mother of the novel's narrator made a fascinating point, something that I have been ruminating on all week.  She said some women are mothers, while others happen to have children.

It made me wonder, if being a mother (by that of course I mean  a 'good' mother) depends on doing most of it yourself?  Or can you be a good mother if you have loads of childcare, and immunise yourself from the mundanity of certain aspects of mothering (dressing, feeding and bathing are the three things that occasionally I could really do without, but maybe that's because I've got terrible-two-ish twins)?

Fragonard's The Good Mother
I remember my father saying to me 'your mother is so loving, please don't be rude to her.'  My mother is a complex woman, but that's beside the point.  My point is she was most definitely immunised from a lot of the nitty-gritty of mothering.  She was a SAHM but had a full-time au pair from my birth until my sister (seven years younger) was about twelve.  We barely ever went on our summer holidays (always to Italy) without an au pair accompanying us. 

There is no doubt that my mother loves me and my sister to bits, but during our upbringing it was a love that had defined limits.  For example, she wouldn't let me or my sister be a Brownie because she didn't want the commitment of taking us (I was allowed to do tap dance classes as the venue was only five minutes from home).  I don't mean to be mean - my mother did the best she could and is now a doting and very capable grandmother to three grandchildren - but perhaps I envy her prosperity that I think she took for granted? 

If I could afford more help, would I take it?  Most probably.  But because I can't, I realise that one of the greatest virtues of a mother is patience.  And would I have learnt the same degree of patience if I hadn't needed to?  Probably not.  And that surely is a good thing?


  1. I think our lives are far removed from that of our mothers; a different era with different values. We're more patient than our mothers, because we have a better understanding of our childrens needs.

    I'm not a SAHM, and have an au-pair, but her role is far less than the role of my childhood au-pair. I'd always swore that I'd never have one, but she adds a different dimension to our famiy....much like an older sister (who has an odd accent!)...but the nitty-gritty of mothering is my responsibility and pleasure.

    You have a beautiful blog and a beautiful family. I'm so pleased I found it. x

  2. Great post, good question.

    I began as someone who had children, and have been bashed and beaten about the head by my responsibilities and various small catastrophes into becoming a mother - which is why I take pride in it now - I've earned it the hard way. I would not have chosen the patience route had there been more help available. But now I wear patience like a battle scar - silly as that sounds.

    An interesting job, yours - I once worked as an editorial assistant for a very small fiction publisher. I got to read through stuff that (quite literally) came through the door - can be tedious work, depending on the content, but it sounds like you've got better manuscripts than I had!

  3. Mummy at the School Gate - thanks for your kind words. I'm sure at some juncture - when my girls go to nursery every day and when we've either extended or moved - we'll look in to getting an au pair of some sort, with some degree of spoken English! Nice to have found you too! x

    MM - I love the idea of wearing patience like a battle scar - that is a brilliant way of putting it and I must remember it! On the reading front - I do freelance for a big, successful UK film co, so I do read some interesting material, but since going back to this kind of work last September, I have only recommended a 2nd read for the book I mention in my blog! I read some good manuscripts, but mostly rubbish scripts!

  4. Patience is definitely a good thing and an essential virtue to acquire as we get older and (inevitably) slower! My mother worked outside the home and had TONS of help domestically but she did let me join the Brownies (*preen*) although I wasn't allowed tap classes which I YEARNED for. So you know, swings and roundabouts! x