Shevonne Hunt is the host of Kinderling Conversation.
Do you know a ‘Happy Mum’? She could be a woman in your mother’s group who has retained her pregnancy glow. She is the mother for whom having children is a true blessing. Most likely they’ve been looking forward to becoming a mum for a long period of time.
For women like me, who didn’t so much yearn for parenthood, but decided to give it a try – such open gratitude for the miracle of childbirth can be grating. The early weeks and months of my baby’s life felt like I’d been body snatched. I had no idea where I was or what I was doing most of the time.
I have several Happy Mums in my life, and I’ll be honest, I used to view them with a mixture of envy and mistrust.
Happy Mums can make you feel like a failure
Having a friend like this can make you feel inadequate. Because sometimes being a mum is the pits. Especially when your baby is tiny and your boobs are sore, you’d give anything for three hours of unbroken sleep and all your clothes make you feel like a sack of potatoes.
How come that mum is enjoying an experience that is so clearly wearing you down? Surely it can’t be real?
There are plenty of parents (mothers in particular) who are quick to pull down a Happy Mum. Just look at my friend Jacinta Tynan. A newsreader for Sky News, Jacinta had her children later in life and was absolutely delighted with the whole thing.
When she wrote about it, she got so many emails telling her to get off her high horse that it inspired her to write a book called Mother Zen. It was her way of making sense of the deluge of hate for her authentic experience of motherhood.
I think some of the rage was a reaction to the perfect portrayal of motherhood in the media, and its dissonance with most mums’ experience. In years gone by it was ads of mums in the kitchen cleaning the muck and smiling with joy.
These days the message is more insidious. We’re lead to believe that social media is a window into another’s life. These perfect-looking mums, with perfect-looking children in perfect-looking houses are what it looks like if you’re doing it right. These photos always have a dream-like quality to them. Either through their pristine white cleanliness or the sunlight filtering through their organic, gorgeous lives.
We’re wiser to the tricks of social media now. Most of us know what we see is either highly curated by a team of stylists, or at the very least, the highlight reel of someone’s life.
Still. It leads to mistrust. How can your lived experience be so far removed from theirs?
Happy Mums aren’t like the perfect mums on Instagram
Happy Mums are different to these social media show reels. They don’t hide the mess from you, they just step over it and offer you a cup of tea.
I’ve come to realise that Happy Mums are a gift to any mum who is having a rough time.
The Happy Mum in my mother’s group contributed to a collective whinge about sleep deprivation by saying something along the lines of; “I don’t mind it so much, because I love looking at her face.”
We were all stunned. I’m sure one of us guffawed and said she had to be joking. But it struck a chord in me. There was something about what she said, a feeling, that I’d been missing in my misery and woe.
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We are hard-wired to focus on the negatives in our life
There’s a psychological theory called the negativity bias. Neuroscientist Rick Hanson describes our brains as velcro for the negative and teflon for the positive in terms of memory. In the past it kept us alive (the Neanderthal who thought there was a lion in the bushes probably lived longer than the one that chose to think positively). And so, for all of us, focusing on the negative is a natural thing to do.
In those early weeks and months (lets be honest, the first year) of your child’s life, everything is turned on its head. You lose the life you had before, the freedom to do as you please, the ability to pee on your own. It’s a massive shift and one that takes time to adjust to.
I strongly believe it’s important to grieve the loss of those things so we can embrace the new things this sacrifice has brought to us. Like a sleepy baby nuzzling into your breast at 3am in the morning.
Sometimes how we view parenting is a choice
I do think most Happy Mums have a joyful chromosome somewhere in their DNA (though I have no scientific proof to back this up). But, parenthood is a great leveler, and I know that all the women like this in my life have had their low points too.
No one thrives on lack of sleep. No one loves a poo tsunami. I think the Happy Mums I know make a choice. They don’t pretend that life is easy, they’ve just learned to laugh about it, pick themselves up and get on with the day.
Me. I’ve always loved a good cry. A bit of a wallow. But over the years I’ve noticed that dwelling on the harder parts of parent-life has not helped.
My Happy Mums inspire me to step back from the way I’m looking at my life and try to switch it around.
If you have a Happy Mum in your life, don’t be envious, be grateful.
Give them a hug and soak in some of their sun-shiny goodness, because Happy Mums are good for all of us.
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