It occurred to me after having my children, but before I started work on my first book, Mothers Work! that as a society the UK needs to get better at mothering our mothers. I say get ‘better’ but what I really mean is start mothering our mothers; looking after, lending a hand, doing favours, taking time to nurture the women who are nurturing others. Mothering the mother is also about facilitating her having space and time to play out her identity beyond that of mother and worker.
“Mother the Mother”
It’s been said that “it takes a village to raise a child”, that we “get by with a little from our friends” and that a “happy mother mothers a happy home” which is why I’m starting this call to action to get the UK mothering mothers. I need your help to get this “MOTHER THE MOTHER” movement moving.
How can you get involved? It’s simple: take an action today to care for a mother you know. She will be pleased even if a little taken aback, embarrassed or initially insistent that ‘you needn’t have done that.’ Forget the protestations or thinking that she doesn’t need help because all mothers can do with extra help. She may appear to – or actually – be handling everything marvellously which means she could definitely do with being taken care of. Keeping a family together does not come without a tremendous amount of hard work so if she looks like she’s doing effortlessly then she is almost certainly running at max capacity and could do with time out and off. And what if you feel silly or embarrassed offering some help? Get over it, this is about her not you. Tell her you’d read an article about what mothers need or that you’re road-testing a new idea for David Cameron’s Big Society – I mean our big society (what use would it be if it were just David’s?) Just do it. All mothers can do with positive actions like this, especially new mothers and those without supportive family nearby.
To make it a little easier I’ve produced a set of “Mother the Mother” vouchers that you can download, print out, fill in and pass to three mothers you know. If you’re feeling particularly abundant you could go wild and help four, five or ten mothers out. Let there be no bounds to what we can do here.
Here are some ideas of how you can mother a mother. Some of these would make a perfect gift you could give via the “Mother the Mother” voucher:
- Take the children to the park to give mum daylight time to herself (particularly relevant in winter time)
- Bring a meal round that’s suitable to go in the freezer (in case dinner’s already organised)
- Organise and pay for a one-off clean of the house
- Learn the children’s bedtime routine so you can do it in future and allow mum an early evening out
- Pick the children up from school/childcare once a week to allow her to travel back from work at a leisurely pace/go for a swim/gym/drink en route home
- Encourage us to go out for a coffee with a friend or get our hair done whilst you spend time with our children – many mothers feel they couldn’t possibly ask someone to babysit for these reasons
- Be in to take delivery of the online shopping and put it away
- Come round and do the ironing or better still come and take the bag away so we don’t feel guilty watching you do it
- Be ‘active’ company – getting involved in chores alongside us when you visit
- Come round to entertain the children early on a Saturday/Sunday (as early as 6am in many households would be perfect) so mum can stay in bed and read or get up to what led to baby in the first place
- Come and cook dinner whilst we play with our children
- Organise a reciprocal babysit-playdate at the weekend where you have a friends’ children along with your own and the favour gets returned later on
- Invite a young family for tea and bath-time at your place (especially good if the father works long hours and usually isn’t around for this)
- Take over the home for a day – take care of the thinking and doing to allow us to be playful with our children and our partners
- Hold the baby for 90 minutes and pack mum off for a relaxing bath and/or sleep (especially important in the first weeks of a new baby’s life when she is shattered but will tell you she’s fine)
- Tell her she’s doing a great job with her children by highlighting two or three things she’s doing well
- Call round with a bunch of flowers/scented candle/book/magazine
- Come and cuddle the baby so mum can spend 1:1 time with her older child(ren)
- Lend a hand between 4-7pm any day of the week – it’s the time that most mothers of pre-school children have had enough
- Buy the new mums in your life a copy of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work - pop a book mark in the final chapter, ‘Do What it Takes to Thrive’
As well as giving a mother time and space to herself, what’s critical for all families is time for the mother and father to focus on their relationship. This is something family, friends and neighbours can easily facilitate by giving the gift of time to play and care for the children of that couple so they may take time to care and play with each other.
They say charity begins at home which is why I regularly invite my mother-in-law for dinner, take her shopping and run her rubbish to the tip. Mothering the mother can mean mothering upwards – that is us younger ones taking care of our mothers – but ultimately it’s about looking after the (on average) most exhausted, over-worked demographic of our society: mothers of little ones.