IT'S ALL ABOUT THE VIBE NOT THE TRIBE
The rain at Camp Bestival was biblical. The mud was thick, the nights were cold and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t matter. I was with three girlfriends and five of their kids and we’d imagined early bed times for them and refreshing glasses of wine for us in the evening sun. I'd even daydreamed about locking eyes with a handsome divorcee whilst watching Dick and Dom on the main stage. But instead, nightfall involved us coaxing shattered children out of their warm onesies to do the toilet run, and wrestling with tents that threatened to blow away to the South of France, where they felt they deserved to be. I started the weekend as cool Niki, who painted faces with glitter and encouraged silly walks, but by the end I was like every other adult, shrieking, “For-the-last-time-no we are not going on the ferris wheel. Put your hood up! Stop walking in different directions!”, whilst the kids mourned the loss of the old me.
There were highlights for sure. We all worked on my friend’s ice lolly stand and it was a joy. Handing out (secretly healthy) Polar Pops to happy little faces was fun. We were dry and warm in there and the music was great too. And one evening I had a visit from some of my blogger friends, which was fab - hence the above illustration featuring Pascale, Nat and Alison (they all looked so glamorous, next time I am 100% boutique camping).
When I came back (smelly, muddy) some questioned why on earth I had gone to a kids festival (I mean, fair enough), but also asked how I had become friends with the ‘Instagram Mums’ despite not having kids myself. And this made me think about how social media has a way of making many people believe that it’s necessary to assign ourselves to / belong to a group, in a way which we would never do in the real world.
I don’t believe that you make a connection with someone purely because you are/are not a mother. Put me and Theresa May in the same room and I doubt we’d have much to giggle about (although I would have A LOT to say). And I know from friends who have done NCT that having childbirth in common doesn’t necessarily lead to a life-long friendship (in fact it often leads to feelings of inadequacy / wanting to wildly punch someone who questions why your three month old hasn’t yet grasped latin etc).
And so, despite the fact that I myself am over 40, single and child free, it doesn’t mean that my friends are have similar situations to me, I don’t just mix in some other wordly non-Mum circle. Sure, I talk with some friends about children but we also discuss running businesses, how to deal with those wiry under-chin hairs, how good nutribullets are for mixing cocktails, cats, the horror of the refugee crisis, awesome role models, cripplingly embarrassing accidental photo messages on What’s App. For me social media is the same. I interact with people who I’m intruiged by or who I admire or who I find funny. I like inspiring, authentic, accounts run by those who are often (but not always) like-minded. If they have kids, great! If they don’t have kids, great!
And it’s brilliant that motherhood has been given a rebrand and has cooler connotations now. To be described as ‘mumsy’ used to allude to a bad haircut, a frumpy dress and a penchant for a nice cup of Earl Grey. But now mums have women to look to who are sexy and fun, and the really popular accounts involve honest behind-the-scenes-witching-hour-realness too (as well as lots of talk of gin). In many cases, the visibility of mums on social media has become a lifeline for women who are indoors with nothing but a smart phone, a breast pump and a sleeping babe for company. There are recommendations for breastfeeding friendly clothes, tips on colic, suggestions on how to approach getting back into the workplace, open discussions about body image, confidence and anxiety. Then there is the humour, the illustrations from Hurrah for Gin and the smut from the Scummy Mummies. My number one favourite person to watch on Instagram Stories is Anna from Mother Pukka, she’s a genius with words and makes me laugh, she’s someone I can imagine myself being friends with. She just happens to have lovely baby Evie on her boob whilst she talks. And so when I’ve illustrated at events that have hosted ‘The Instamums’ (the phrase from the mouth of many a PR) I’ve naturally hit it off with a few women and become friends with them outside of the Instagram smokescreen, because we’ve realised we just have loads in common.
I know others who don’t have children at my age, yet none of those use this fact to identify themselves. They aren’t childless because they hate children, but because they aren’t fertile, or their partner isn't, or because their partner died, or they never met anyone, or the IVF with a sperm donor didn’t work, or they left it too late. I know people who carried babies full term but lost them, who have been affected by a disability themselves so decided against children, those who had to terminate because their baby was so unwell, or they have taken on step children instead of having their own. I know people who always knew that having kids wasn’t for them and I know others who so want to be mothers. And therefore it feels unnecessary to split ourselves in to these two groups online, the mums and the non-mums. I understand that people are proud of their children (I feel love and pride for my friend's kids, so I understand it), but I think there's a fine line between being proud and giving off an exclusive air of smug perfection.
Many also forget that choosing to be a mother is still what the majority of women do eventually, and so remaining child-free puts women in to a minority group. Negotiating life as someone middle aged who lives alone, comes with its own challenges. For example I relish my freedom (and my sleep), but there are times where I’d love to return home to friendly voices or have someone help work out how the hell the bills will get paid. But there isn’t a hashtag or an obvious group for single women over 40 (PLEASE DO NOT START ONE I WILL NOT JOIN IN).
But it doesn’t take much of a shift to make a brand's message more inclusive. Event company Mums the Word, makes it clear on their website that their services are available to “Mamas (and their families)” and Clemmie Telford recently highlighted a group called 'Support our Stepmums’ on her blog. A networking event that was set up by a local company with mums in mind, has now changed its tagline and is advertising that their events are ‘for women’. Anna from Mother Pukka is spearheading her Flex Appeal, calling for flexible working for all (not just for mothers). Nat from Style Me Sunday invited me to take part in her recent Warrior Woman Project photoshoot that many presumed was just for mums. There are brands like Don’t Buy Her Flowers who realise that often the people buying beautiful gifts from them are not necessarily mothers, but are more likely friends and family (many of who are child-free and have some disposable income) and so by slightly altering the copy on an Instagram post they allow more people to interact. It’s all great stuff.
And so just as I don’t want my identity hinged on the fact that I’m single and childless, the same is true for many mums. Nat from Style Me Sunday says, “I don’t really identify myself as a mum blogger because I rarely post about my kids. However, I know other people do classify me as such. I think with all the mum labels it’s a shame that once you’re a mum you’re deemed as a mumboss or mumpreneur or working mum or some other equally shit tag. It is rarely done so in the same way for men. Men are just entrepreneurs, not dadpreneurs”.
So let's abandon the tags and the labels and the unecessary hashtags on social media, and instead be as inclusive as we can. As my wise friend Lisa says, "It's all about the vibe, not the tribe". Hmmmm, there might just be a hashtag in that......