A funny thing happens when you become a mum for the first time. When you look into your baby's eyes, all sense of your personal history starts to drift slowly away. You start to forget the parties you've been to, the partners you had, the mistakes you've made. None of it exists anymore. You were never a party person. You were never a socialite. You were never that girl throwing up in the kitchen sink after too many tequilas.
You don't even have a name. You are simply just 'Mum.' Loving, caring, baking, scraped-knee-dressing Mum, with hands as soft-as-your-face and hot jug of Bisto ready for the table.
Or that, at least, is the way many advertisers have it. Recently Procter and Gamble came out from behind the shadows and launched a campaign loudly declaring themselves 'The proud sponsor of Mums' during the Olympics. Good for them -- I'm awaiting my check in the post.
Their well-made but rather cloying lead ad focuses on a series of mothers taking care of their kids -- getting them ready for school, washing up, soothing various injuries and cheering various sports days -- all the way up to watching them win at the Olympic games. The tagline? "The hardest job is the best job." Tell that to a sewage worker.
I can't help but find this sort of reverential treatment very odd. I'm exceptionally proud to be a mother, and I would obviously do anything for my kids, but if there's a moment where motherhood turns you into the kind of selfless, viceless, paragon of virtue regularly seen in these sort of ads, I'm still waiting for its arrival.
I was at the cinema with another mother recently. After the film we wanted a catch up, so I invited her back to my house for a coffee. 'Or', she replied 'We could go back to my house for a line of coke.' After my initial shock, I couldn't help but laugh. Why, when there are mothers like this, should the character of 'mum' be pigeon-holed into the wholesome, family values stereotype? Mothers have vices too, and we shouldn't be afraid of that fact. So long as their kids are now their priority, why should we ignore the years of mistake-making and risk-taking that has done so much to make them who they are?
Everyone loves their children -- but at the same time I don't know a single woman who happily conforms to the stereotype of motherhood to the extent that it defines their personality. Being 'mum' is only one part of their lives and only one aspect of a personality that took years to form before they even dreamt of having children.
Sanctification of the sort seen in P & G's campaign sets unrealistic expectations that mothers can never live up to. Why should women feel be made to feel like bad parents for, God forbid, having a life outside their kids? The whole thing is depressingly reminiscent of Persil's famous (and recently, bizarrely, revived) 1950's 'What is a mum?' advert, which reliably informed us that "A mum is someone who saves to buy a pretty hat, and then spends the money on a cricket bat...". How sweet of her.
If advertisers really want to start getting through to mothers, the time has come to stop portraying us as St. Mum the Wonderful and start talking to us as what we are: living, breathing, smoking, drinking, farting, partying people that also happen to have children.
Now pass me another glass of wine, and make it a large one.
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