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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 05-Nov-15 13:13:26

Guest post: "Digital mothers - who do we think we are?"

The criticism of mothers online is based on the belief that they should be doing something other than expressing themselves, argues Blogfest '15 speaker Catherine Mann.

Blogfest, our annual celebration of sharp writing and big ideas, returns on November 21 - book your ticket here.

Catherine Mann

Head in Book

Posted on: Thu 05-Nov-15 13:13:26


Lead photo

"Along with the new life we create when we become mothers, we start to create ourselves all over again."

I still have the first thing I wrote as a mother.

It's a slip of paper, torn from my diary on the second day of my son's life, while we were both still in hospital. Almost ten years on, the paper feels thinner, somehow; the biro ink dulled with age. It doesn't look like much, this jumble of numbers and cryptic scribbled notes, but every time I see it, I am drawn back to that strange, surreal time when I was lost in a strange land, the signposts written in a language I hadn't learned to read.

It's such a change, becoming a mother. No matter the other roles we have had up to that point, we are no-one else's "significant other" in quite the way we are when we realise who our child needs us to be.

Before my son arrived, I dimly thought that a new mother-me would be born as he was, and be there to take over where I had left off. It was only afterwards that I realised there was another labour ahead of me before she - whoever she was - would emerge. Because along with the new life we create when we become mothers - however our children come to us - we start to create ourselves all over again.

It has always been that way, of course. That seismic shift from before to after is as commonplace and miraculous as life itself. But perhaps these days, when we soak in the narratives of a thousand people a day via reality TV and magazine front covers and the endless, seductive chatter in our phones, we do so more consciously than ever before.

The arrival of children is supposed to be the death knell of creativity. The iconic image, after all, is that of the pram in the hall: attention distracted, inspiration diverted into Doing Something That Really Matters.

It's the done thing to sneer at the mums of Instagram; at the women clogging up Facebook timelines with catalogues of their families' lives and meals and decors; at those who meet up from the comfort of their sofa to gossip and argue and engage with others they'd walk past on the street without a flicker of recognition.

Who do we think we are, after all, we, the first generation of digital mothers? Woman have been having children for millennia without finding the need to tell the world about it, haven't they?

Well, yes and no. I suspect that the need has always been there and that all that has changed is the ability that some of us now have to make sense of our new life and our new selves; to record - and, perhaps, recreate - our reality. Who is to say that among the cave paintings of fearless buffalo warriors there may not be one or two faint sketches of a perma-squalling fur-clad infant; a small, savage figure protesting that her sabre-tooth tiger steak had been cut the wrong way?

The arrival of children is supposed to be the death knell of creativity. The iconic image, after all, is that of the pram in the hall: attention distracted, inspiration diverted into Doing Something That Really Matters. It would be silly to argue that babies don't act as little attention-hoovers, sucking up along with their milk any capacity in the adults around them for sustained thought and the ability to envisage anything beyond a full night's sleep.

It was an image that stayed with me when there really was a pram in my hall; when I knew, with a sinking certainty, that a wail would accompany the first stroke of pen on paper or fingers on keyboard. What strikes me in that image now, though, is not so much what is happening inside the home, with all the piles of unwashed laundry and the never-ending socks to sort. It is that the front door behind that pram is shut, keeping the world out and the mother in, tidied away into her new pigeonhole, dreams and personality alike subordinate to the needs of her family.

I can't help but wonder if some of the criticism of mothers online - whether they are crafting a Halloween activity or crafting a punchline out of an interminable day with a toddler - is based on this sense that it's all somehow frivolous and self-indulgent. That mothers should have something better to do with their time than frittering it away expressing themselves, whether on their ideas of the meaning of life or just on whether or not they can make it to bedtime.

There are a handful of talented mothers who have used their online platforms to launch careers in writing, presenting or art. But there are hundreds and thousands of the rest of us, who have an outlet that wouldn't otherwise be there. Whose words are for the speaker, not the listener; whose photographs remember, rather than tell. We know we're not creating a masterpiece. Or, at least, not one that anyone else can see.

By Catherine Mann

Twitter: @headinbook

megletthesecond Sat 07-Nov-15 15:27:29

I agree, it's an outlet. Shared experiences, venting, bouncing ideas off each other.

BugPlaster Sat 07-Nov-15 17:31:44

This post has been good for me. I drafted a reply but went off to post something about my family Facebook instead. I do restrain myself, fearing it's boring for others or whatever, but actually this is my life and this is what I have to share. Censoring should be for caution and self respect, not for fearing others might think I'm a solely a parent-head or smug.

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