The recent campaign headline from Candies Foundation, as mentioned in my recent Telegraph post on the delightful twitter trend, ‘You should be changing the world, not changing diapers’ makes the assumption that a woman who is a mother is consequently unable to have a significant impact of the world, that her child rearing role automatically renders all other roles obsolete.  It assumes that childbirth leaves a mother’s brain comparable to mush, or incapable of balancing anything more than milk and sleep. Older mothers, expecting to be supported to continue their careers, have long been fighting this rationale; It’s often not until they become mothers that feminists realise they’ve been fighting the wrong battles all along.

While it’s hugely important to value the role of motherhood, few mothers have just one role in life. Multi-tasking may conjure up visions of ironing school uniform while watching the peas boil and sorting out BT on the phone, but it’s also about negotiating those longer term complex, different, sometimes competing, roles and staying sane!  For mothers, young and old, this challenge is rarely acknowledged. Becoming a mother rarely reduces roles, but has potential to increase them exponentially! Having children can often provide that impetus needed to kick start careers, discover new interests, or injustices that need addressing. Caring can take on a new meaning with recipients extending far wider than those you gave birth to.  Having a child is rarely the end of a parent’s own life, as posters about teenage pregnancy would have everyone believe. There is plenty of research suggesting that young mothers use the experience of motherhood to turn their (often difficult) lives around, that interest in education increases after having a child, and that, overall, teenage motherhood does not have a negative impact on longer term employment opportunities, even given the barriers they have to face.
But combing roles isn’t just about the visible ‘high flying career mums’. For most mothers, their daily lives involve the negotiation of invisible roles; The hidden carers who do it without thinking, those working or studying from home, the friend who listens when no one else has time, the mother who wants to change a system for others so they don’t face the same barriers, the neighbour, the peace maker, the writer, the blogger and the informal child minder. Many of these roles aren’t valued by society because they are less visible.  I recently got in touch with Pippa Best, creator of Story of Mum, who has been working on putting mums into high profile galleries around the UK and even in New York, to show everyone (including themselves) what an important job they do.
Pippa Best explains “Motherhood is a wonderful, difficult, contradictory experience that can both expand and diminish our sense of self. We want storyofmum.com and “Story of Mum: mums making an exhibition of ourselves” to inspire a global community of mums to come together to create and share our stories. The early years of motherhood can be very lonely – and once the kids are asleep, the web becomes a vital communication hub. By bringing mums’ experience into contemporary gallery spaces as well as online, we want to show mums of all ages and backgrounds that we are valued, seen and heard. Mums are amazing, and our experience matters.”

There is no such thing as ‘Just a Mum’ because motherhood doesn’t exist in a vacuum. One exhibition, called “I’m a mum and...” shows a wide variety of different mothers completing the sentence, encouraging them to recognise and share their experiences. If men did all this stuff I’m sure they’d be shouting about it! It’s time the everyday lives of mothers were valued too!
For full details of the Story of Mum: mums making an exhibition of ourselves programme, visit www.storyofmum.com/exhibition.