When Samantha Dooey-Miles had her daughter, she vowed she wouldn't be like all the other mums. But her plan backfired...
If you’ve seen Mean Girls - know I am judging you if you haven't - you’ll remember the scene where the amazing Amy Poehler appears in a very trendy (at the time) baby pink Juicy Couture velour tracksuit. She plays Mrs George, the mother of head mean girl Regina and proclaims “I’m not like a regular mom, I'm a cool mom”. Everyone rolls their eyes and feels pity for her in this instant. This is a lesson to us all; if you set out to be cool, you will never be cool. Yet when I became a mother I still thought to myself 'Oh, I'm not going to be like all the other mums. I'm going to be a cool mum.’ I was doomed from the start, no better than Mrs George - although I did wear better loungewear.
Here are five ways I tried, and failed, to be a cool mum.
1. Thinking I didn't need mum pals
Over the years I’ve worn my friendship group down like an ocean shapes a huge rock into a perfectly smooth pebble. I’ve taken the mass of acquaintances I had when I hit the town every Saturday night in my early twenties and shaped them into a tiny group of friends I love in my thirties. The idea of expanding my carefully crafted crowd to include mum pals seemed unnecessary. Forcing myself to connect with people based solely on events which happened to their vaginas at roughly the same time they happened to mine sounded super lame.
You are reading this on Mush, you already know getting a mum gang together is vital. I quickly realised this too when my lovely childless chums couldn’t assist with questions about nap time routines and were unable to meet me on dull Wednesday afternoons for breastfeeding, coffee and cake because they were not on maternity leave.
I now have a motley crew of mum mates who I could not have got through the first year of my daughter’s life without. It turns out meeting new people and bonding over the shared experience of parenting is much closer to cool than shutting myself off to making more friends.
2. Wearing my old jeans as soon as they ‘fit'
Due to a penchant for loose-fitting clothes, I was able to squeeze my empty sausage skin belly back into my pre-pregnancy jeans within a week or two of giving birth. I messaged my husband and my mum with pride to alert them to the news. When meeting friends I’d casually drop it into conversation, letting them know I was totally physically unchanged by the process of bringing a child into the world.
This did not last. After a few days I returned to my maternity jeans and leggings. This was because it had become clear there’s a reason why new mums don’t tend to force their still tender loins (yeah, I said loins) into their pre-pregnancy clothes so soon. In my case the rather substantial denim of my old jeans placed an unbelievable amount of pressure on my hips which were still not where they used to be. This difference in hip location coupled with the beautiful incontinence pants I was wearing for my lochia meant the jeans were so tight they really bloody hurt. To top it off they irritated my poor private parts which, frankly, had been through enough.
This episode did teach me something that is definitely not cool; scratching and tugging at one's crotch whilst wondering if you're damaging tendons with every step.
3. Not talking about my child
During pregnancy a friend said to me, in a tone of mild outrage, “You’re not going to post endless pictures of your baby on Facebook are you?” This was a weird thing to say. Firstly, I don’t post all that much on Facebook; I didn’t post one thing indicating I was pregnant through fear of jinxing it. Secondly, this same person regularly posts pictures of their cat doing nothing special. Should I have posted daily baby pics, I think a tiny person I grew with my own body is more worthy of appearing on a couple of newsfeeds than a cat who is sitting next to a laptop or on the floor of a nondescript sitting room.
I’ll blame my hormones as I tell you that despite this warning being unnecessary I took it to heart. I was resolute I was not going to be a baby bore, certainly not on the internet and definitely not in real life too. So I did what I thought was the cool thing, rarely posting pictures of my child and not turning any conversation onto the topic of my daughter unless the person I was talking to brought her up. While it is a good idea to think how much you are sharing of your child and to whom, to be practically mute about the best thing in your life is ridiculous and not cool.
4. Pretending having a baby did not make things more complicated
In all of my adventures to try and achieve cool mum status, this is the issue I still struggle with. When people invite me and my daughter to things, without a second’s pause I very enthusiastically say, “That sounds great, we cant wait!” without asking a single question about what the event will entail. Dutifully I pop the date in my diary without another word. For reasons I cannot pinpoint, asking questions to any invitation makes me feel like a sensible, boring, opposite-of-cool mum.
This has in turn led to me developing a habit which is much worse than checking if there’s space for a pram in the bar or if there’s a kids menu or a playground or other children attending. I have become unreliable.
About a week before the event I’ll come across the note in my diary in my undecipherable to everyone but me scrawl. This prompts me into looking where the party / picnic / lunch / etc is taking place and working out how I’m going to get there with a toddler who hates being in their pram or carseat for more than ten minutes. Almost always I discover the venue is further away than I thought, that it’s not really an appropriate place for a child or that the trains are off that weekend and it’ll take two hours to get there. An echo of the headache I will experience as my daughter screams her lungs out on a crowded tube carriage on her way to a child unfriendly bar in Walthamstow or somewhere else too far away from my house means I sheepishly send my apologies that we can no longer attend.
If I only checked these things in the first place, I could plan better so that the complications do not derail our attendance at the last minute. It’s far better to be a sensible mum than an unreliable friend.
5. Trying to be more than ‘just a mum’
If there’s anything women’s magazines and large sections of the internet like to tell you about maternity leave, it’s that it’s the prime time to start a business. You are not doing maternity leave right if you are not using the time to both care for your child and become a 'mumtrepreneur' too. If you become a 'mumtrepreneur' you are deemed a wonder woman. If you do not, you risk becoming ‘just a mum’.
I certainly did not want to be ‘just a mum’. Which is a shame as I do not have a single business-building cell in my body. In lieu of any brilliant money making schemes, but determined not to dedicate my year off solely to childcare, I made a list of projects I’ve always wanted to work on but never had the time to. I kept my ambition low, only wanting to learn to crochet, finish a first draft of a novel and learn French in the space of twelve months. Surprisingly, it was difficult to fit all of this in and care for a newborn.
I was incredibly disappointed in myself, annoyed that I was the sort of person who would settle with being ‘just a mum’. Except, and this took a while to sink in, there is no such thing as being 'just' a mother. Being a mother is an all encompassing role which takes more energy and passion than any paid position I’ve ever been employed in. It’s fine not to be able to come up with, then develop, then open and run your own business whilst getting used to being a parent. Speaking French can wait. Unless you live in France, or a French speaking country, or are a French person - in which case the French speaking is probably non-negotiable.