October 18th, 2007
Are you a new mum? Perhaps like me you’ve a new baby and you’re still finding your feet. Hopefully you’re enjoying this exciting new period of your life, and are able to get help and support if you are having any problems.
Nobody would suggest that having a new baby is easy, but all too often in our modern media there are bizarre swings from presenting motherhood as the most blessed occupation a woman can have or constructing it as the worst disaster to befall us.
Today there’s a classic example of misusing a survey to create a media panic about motherhood.
It seems that modern motherhood is far, far more stressful than our mothers or grandmothers experienced it. In fact modern mums are lonely, stressed and depressed. They have nowhere to go and noone to talk to.
That’s according to Tesco and Mother and Baby magazine.
Their survey of 2000 mums (average age 29) found…
- 2/3 respondents resented their partners for going out
- The first year after childbirth is the ‘loneliest time a woman’s life’
- Mothers only spend an average of 90 minutes a day with other people
- 1/4 stated their relationship had gone downhill
- 47% said they argued more with a partner
- More than half said they felt lonely and isolated
- 7/10 said their social life was non existent
- Londoners were the most isolated
Now most of these findings aren’t going to come as much of a surprise to new parents. Having a little baby in your home is stressful, tiring and can feel isolating, Because of the newness of the situation you may well argue more and certainly your social life may change considerably from what it used to be.
However, that doesn’t mean that all of new parenthood is doom and gloom, and certainly it doesn’t mean that your life is always going to be like this. For a short period of time when the baby comes things will alter and it will be challenging at times, but this survey makes out it’s an almighty crisis.
I suspect a lot of their findings are related to how you ask people questions. For example if you ask new mums things like
Do you feel lonely and isolated?
Has your social life become non existent?
Do you argue more with a partner?
Do you resent your partner for going out?
Has your relationship gone downhill?
then you can hardly be surprised if a fair number are led by the questions to say ‘yes’.
But if you were to ask new mums
How are you enjoying life with your new baby?
Have things changed since your baby arrived?
What are the good things about having a new baby?
What challenges does a baby bring?
How would you describe your relationship?
you’d probably get a lot more varied and a lot more positive answers.
It isn’t clear whether this survey was done online or via a phone interview, but whatever the method it was only representative of mums who either have access to the net, or who have a phone and are willing to answer a cold call survey about their mothering experiences. It also means they are mums who’re at home at the time of answering which may make them feel more isolated and affect their responses to the survey.
Much of the extensive media coverage of this story has been about how ‘career mums’ have so much to give up. But again this indicates either a biased sample or a biased view of motherhood since not all mums are career women before they have a baby (and the coverage kind of reinforces the stereotype that having a baby means you no longer have a job!).
Moreover the survey doesn’t give any indication of whether the women responding were new mothers to a first baby or had more than one child, and how old their babies were at the time of answering. Both are factors that would certainly affect how you percieve your new life and emotional wellbeing.
Of course we do know that loneliness is a problem for many new mums, and we do know that those who are living away from their extended families can feel more isolated. We also know that women who do feel unsupported and lonely can be more likely to suffer from post natal depression or experience post natal depression more severely. Yet this survey didn’t account for the fact that some of the mums they spoke to may well have been depressed before the survey began and made to feel a lot worse after it. You have to question the ethics of asking new mothers whether they feel bad about being a mum and yet not offering any support to those who are clearly struggling.
Sadly that’s standard practice for PR type exercises like this when the aim is to get press coverage and make money and to hell with those you’re studying or claim to be helping.
If you read the press coverage closely you’ll see in a few cases Tesco and Mother and Baby got what they really came to the press for, which was to promote “the Mother and Baby Local Campaign offering mothers the chance to meet up in the cafes at Tesco stores for coffee and a chat”.
So what do you do? You create anxieties about motherhood. You point out how lonely it is to be a new mum. You make new mums feel worried and then you offer them the solution. If they come to your cafe at Tesco you’ll stop them feeling lonely, isolated or unhappy.
I suspect the mum and baby local campaign won’t be able to help with all the other dismal aspects of motherhood this survey supposedly identified, but then they’re really after a lucrative market of new mums rather than truly offering help.
If like me you’re a new mum and you are feeling isolated or just sometimes going a bit stir crazy in the house remember there are many things you can do that don’t involve being scared by a made up survey or persuaded to go to a Tesco cafe.
Most Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) have a list of all mother and baby activities on locally. Your health visitor should give you a copy of this, but if they haven’t ask for one. This will tell you all about local clubs, mums groups and activities.
Your PCT should also have regular clinics when you can drop in and see a health visitor. These are venues when you can get support, ask if there are social events on, and meet other mums.
Your council will list all social events and activities they host – which might range from drop in centres to baby swimming. They also have information on childcare.
Your local library may well host a regular story or song time for babies and toddlers. They will also display lists of local children’s activities within the baby and toddler section of the library.
Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples all have mum and baby activities (and if they don’t ask your faith leader if you can arrange one with their help).
Surestart offers support, help and advice to new parents. As does the National Childbirth Trust and Meet a Mum. Parents with twins or more can get help from TAMBA.
If you are feeling lonely due to postnatal depression your health visitor or GP can give help and often refer you to a support group. You can find out more from MIND.
So what would be different if this were a kosher study on new motherhood? Well there would be care taken not to ask questions that might upset, frighten or further alienate mothers. And if any respondents to the survey reported feeling unhappy they would be offered a referral to support services. You would also provide information to all participants about the facilities and services available in their area so they could go and socialise or get support if they so wished. It’s interesting but not surprising to note in this case there was only the mention of the Tesco cafe as a source of help, and absolutely no information on existing services available for babies and new parents.
Obviously I’m not suggesting you avoid Tesco’s cafe if that appeals to you, but it’s important for mums to know there are already many excellent services out there that are not run for profit and are there to help mums meet friends and feel good about themselves and their babies.
Finally, remember there are other places to meet other mums like yourself. A walk in the park, trip the shops or using public transport are all activities that will bring you into contact with other parents. Even if you feel shy it’s easier to start a conversation when babies are involved since you can compliment their child or ask a question about their baby. You may not make friends with everyone you approach, but you may get used to seeing each other around and build a friendship – or even find that they know other mums you can meet up with.
New motherhood can be a challenge but it needn’t be all bad. We have a lot more services and facilties than our mums and grandmothers ever had, and in the UK we certainly have more help than mums in other parts of the world. If there’s not a mums group near you, why not set one up? You may well find you make a whole lot of new friends and a lot of difference.
And you won’t have had to make anyone feel worried or bad about themselves in the process.
If you run any mums groups, websites or clubs please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post any information in a future blog.Tweet